Beautiful Kei Lily

Kei Lily (Cyrtanthus sanguineus)

Photograph: Margaret Richards

Each year I find myself delighted and amazed by the flowering of this beautiful little lily with trumpet-shaped, orangey-red blooms.  All year it lives inconspicuously in dense clumps in its large pot until one day it bursts into flower.  The flowering seems to be triggered by rain, even watering with collected rain water does not encourage it to flower– the water must be proper rain from above! This year the blooms have arrived much earlier than usual – on 12 January – triggered by the steady rains early in January.

The first year we moved permanently to Knysna and a largely neglected garden, these little lilies appeared to be half dead, so, not knowing what they were, we cleared them out of their pot intending to use the pot for something showier! The lilies were put onto the compost heap. Imagine our surprise and shame when after some time and some proper rain, they burst into flower, in spite of their bulbs being half exposed.  We immediately settled them back into their pot where they love growing tightly packed together.

Unlike their more famous cousin the George lily (Cyrtanthus elatus), they seem to be resistant to the Amaryllis caterpillar – a real bonus!

The Kei lily grows wild in the Grahamstown area, as well as in KwaZulu-Natal (where it is known as the Inanda lily) and up to East Africa. They are found in some of the older Leisure Isle gardens dating from the mid-1970s. I imagine that an Island resident from those years must have brought some bulbs back from a visit to the eastern Cape, and in true gardening mode, given some to friends. How lucky we are to be able to continue enjoying them 40 years later.


Article by Leonie Twentyman-Jones