Few houseplants can boast blooms as vibrant as the fire lily (Clivia miniata). After your winter holiday plants like poinsettias and amaryllis have faded, the fire lily fills a gap when the days are short and spring still seems far off. In spite of its exotic appearance, the fire lily is easy to grow as a houseplant, producing large clusters of blooms in the dry environment of the typical home. This tropical perennial can also be grown as an outdoor landscape plant in USDA zones 10 to 11, where it is often massed in large drifts, much the way daylilies are used.
The Clivia genus is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family of plants, a group that includes the amaryllis—the popular winter/Chistmas houseplant. They can be introduced into the home as potted nursery plants at any time; if planted in the garden in warm climates, they are best planted at any time other than the hottest part of summer. These slow-growing plants can take several years to flower if they are planted from seeds.
|Botanical Name||Clivia miniata|
|Common Name||Fire lily, natal lily, bush lily, clivia|
|Plant Type||Evergreen perennial|
|Mature Size||2 feet tall, 2–3 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Part sun|
|Soil Type||Average and well-drained|
|Soil pH||6.5–7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral)|
|Bloom Time||Late winter|
|Flower Color||Orange, yellow, cream, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||10–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Southern Africa|
|Toxicity||Highly toxic in large quantities|
Fire Lily Care
Like many South African plants, the fire lily is a tough and resilient specimen. Too much sun or water will cause the plant's demise; don't kill them with kindness. If you've purchased a fire lily and it won't bloom, it usually due to a lack of winter dormancy or immature plants. Fire lilies will grow for years in the same pot with little intervention.
When grown as houseplants, fire lilies require a rest period of about two to three months in fall and winter. For the first month, give them a temperature between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. After this, water just barely for six to eight weeks. When new flower stalks appear, you can give them more water and gradually acclimate them to normal room temperatures.
No pruning is necessary for the fire lily. You can remove dead foliage as needed to keep the plant tidy.
Fire lilies prefer partially shady conditions, which makes them valuable as a houseplant. If you grow your plant indoors all year, place it in a bright window. If you give your plant an outdoor vacation in the summer months, put it in a spot with dappled sunlight or morning sun.
Good drainage is important to a healthy fire lily plant. A chunky soil mix full of shredded bark, like those used for orchids, is suitable for a container-grown plant. A sandy cactus mix is also a good choice.
Fire lilies need moderate water. Allow the soil to dry between waterings. When it's time for the early winter dormancy period, reduce watering to keep the soil just short of bone-dry.
Temperature and Humidity
Average room temperatures and low humidity help fire lilies look their best. A cool dormancy period increases the beauty of fire lily flowering. You can achieve this by keeping the plants in an unheated shed or garage in November and December. Plants should be between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit during this time.
If moving fire lilies back and forth between indoors and an outdoor location, it's best to acclimate them slowly if the temperature range is substantial. Make sure to bring them back indoors before the weather approaches freezing.
A slow-release houseplant fertilizer can help your fire lily thrive. Use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer from January until August, then use a fertilizer designed to increase blooming in September and October. Do not fertilize in the winter months leading up to bloom time.
Is Fire Lily Toxic?
Like other members of the amaryllis family, the Clivia species contain small amounts of the poisonous alkaloid lycorine, which is also found in daffodil bulbs. Serious poisoning is fairly rare, however, since large quantities must be eaten to cause symptoms. In fact, small amounts of C. miniata are used in the preparation of certain folk remedies, and lycrine itself is the subject of research into its effectiveness as an anti-cancer medicine.
Symptoms of Poisoning
In large enough quantities, lycorine can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cardiac arrhythmias, and convulsions. Call a doctor or veterinarian if you suspect a person or pet has consumed any parts of a fire lily plant, especially the bulbs. Treatment may include induced vomiting or ingesting activated charcoal to absorb toxins.
Fire Lily Varieties
Most fire lilies sold in garden centers are orange, fewer are yellow, and the rare and expensive cream or pink varieties are usually found through specialty nurseries. 'Doris' is dark orange with a yellow throat. 'Jenny' is orange with a yellow stripe. 'Tiny Tim' has shorter leaves and miniature orange blooms with white throats. 'Solomone Yellow' is a bright yellow, while 'Vico Yellow' is a very pale yellow.
Fire Lily vs. Amaryllis
Fire lilies are in the same plant family as the popular winter holiday gift plant amaryllis (Hippeastrum). Both have the same strappy foliage, and both are from South Africa. The amaryllis has larger flowers and blooms earlier in the year. The amaryllis has several hundred cultivars, so you can find a greater diversity in size, shape, and color within the amaryllis group than you can in the fire lilies.
Potting and Repotting Fire Lily
Fire lilies will grow happily in a container for years. A porous terra cotta pot will help with air circulation around the roots, preventing rot. Do not place a saucer under the pot; rather you should use pot feet to let extra water drain away.
Fire lilies are slow-growing and like to be a little bit root bound, so you won't need to repot them often. However, if the soil mix you used is getting compacted over time, give the fire lily a fresh pot of soil to maintain good aeration.
Propagating Fire Lily
You can propagate fire lilies by gently digging and dividing them. The base of the plant will branch off into thick roots that are easy to cut apart. Remove the plant from its pot, and wash away the soil with a hose or sink sprayer. Each division should have one fan of leaves. If your plant doesn't have at least a dozen leaves, it won't flower.
Growing Fire Lily From Seed
Growing the fire lily from seed takes patience, as it may take several years for the slow-growing plants to bloom. Plant fresh seed collected from the fruiting capsule after bloom. Press seeds lightly into moist, sandy potting soil, and keep warm. Germination takes about three weeks.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Mealybugs sometimes infest fire lilies. The fuzzy white pests will hide in the crown of the plant and suck out its juices. Dislodge them with a spray of water, or use insecticidal soap.