Indigenous bulbs for shade gardens (2)

Scadoxus puniceus

Common Names: Red paintbrush, Blood lily, snake lily (Eng), rooikwas, seerooglelie (Afr), isiphompo and idumbelentaba (Zul).


The outstandingly beautiful  paintbrush lily must rate as one of South Africa’s most striking bulbous plants.  They grow naturally in shady areas in coastal bush, ravines and forests of the Eastern Cape, but they can also be found in the northern provinces.  When we lived in Bryanston, I had a few growing naturally in the ‘koppie’ area of the garden shaded by Rock elders  and Gwarrie trees.

Photo: Esther
Photo: Esther

Every year at the end of winter/beginning of spring the naked flower stalk would push through the ground;  the young inflorescence protected by bracts appears first, followed by the stem which bears six to eight leaves. Once the dark purplish red bracts open,  numerous small scarlet flowers with bright yellow anthers  are revealed. Sunbirds, weavers and other nectivorous birds feed on the copious nectar produced by the long lasting  flowers.  Clusters of orange-red berries form soon after flowering and can be very decorative. The thin, undulating leaves, which have purple- or brown-spotted sheaths, elongate tremendously when flowering is over to form a leafy column up to sixty centimetres high, resembling a maize plant.

I did ‘import’ a few of the bulbs into the forested area of our garden here in Knysna.  They have since multiplied and yearly they never fail to delight me.  They like well drained soil and should preferably not be disturbed as it will affect the flowering. They are  easily propagated from seed, the plants are slow growing and will only flower after 4 to 5 years. Keep an eye out for Amaryllis borer which can cause severe damage to the whole plant; slugs and snails are other pests that can damage the foliage.

As with many other amaryllids, the bulbs are poisonous and deaths have been reported.  However the bulb is used in traditional medicine for the treatment of coughs and gastro-intestinal problems.


  • Scadoxus – Named by Constantine Rafinesque, the ‘sca’ is described by some authors as being of obscure origin and meaning, others as being Greek and meaning obscure. The ‘doxus’ however is clear, from the Greek word for glorious or splendid.
  • puniceus – is Latin and means purple, scarlet or carmine.

Pronunciation:   ska-DOKS-us   pun-IK-ee-us

Contributor: Esther