Plant of the month: Clivia

Clivias are probably  the most beautiful, best known and loved South African plants. The English naturalist William J Burchell is recorded as having been the first person to make a scientific collection of Clivia nobilis in the wild, which he did near the mouth of the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape in September 1815.  During the early 1920s, a Kew gardener and botanical collector, James Bowie, gathered plants of this species in the same area of the Eastern Cape and sent them to England. In October 1828, Kew botanist and horticulturist John Lindley described Clivia nobilis and named it after Lady Charlotte Florentine Clive, Duchess of Northumberland. Lady Clive had been cultivating many of Bowie’s plants in her conservatory at Syon House, just over the Thames from Kew.  One of South Africa’s showiest bulbous plants, the trumpet-flowered Clivia miniata, was discovered in KwaZulu-Natal in the early 1850s.  The original plants were received through Backhouse’s nursery in York and said to have come from one Andrew Steedman from KwaZulu-Natal. Clivia caulescens occurs in Mpumalanga where it grows  in leaf mould, even on old decaying branches of trees. Clivia gardenii is found in the Northern Province and also in Mpumalanga.    Clivia robusta occurs in the Eastern Cape growing in  marshes amongst forest species, it is a strong grower and thrives in swamp conditions. Clivia mirabilis was a fairly recent new discovery in the Nieuwoudtville area of the Northern Cape.


Cultivation:  Clivias are easily grown from seed or divisions. The pulp of the seeds should be removed when you are ready to sow.  Sow seeds in deep trays in a sifted  growing medium.  Press the seeds gently into the mix until they are flush with the surface.  It can take up to 2 months for the seed to germinate.  You can keep the seedlings in the tray for up to two years or until they are big enough to transplant. Plant it in dappled shade, it will respond well to regular watering during hot summer months. The newly planted seedlings can take a few seasons to flower. Beds of clivia can be given organic fertilizer and will also benefit from a thick layer of organic mulch or compost.


Clivia plants are prone to the following pests and diseases.

LILY BORER  (Brithys crini):  Black caterpillar with yellow bands. Feeds on leaves and tunnels into leaves, stalks and bulbs of various lilies and amaryllids.

RED SCALE (Aonidiella aurantii): Red scale is potentially a severe pest of citrus. Although citrus is the main crop attacked by red scale, it can also be found on species from at least seventy-seven plant families. Scale insects of all ages feed by sucking sap.

MEALY BUG (Pseudococcidae): Small 3mm long oval-shaped light-pink bodied stationary insect covered by waxy threads with 2 long threads protruding. Found on tender growth. Heavy excretion of honeydew can cause growth of mould.  Often attended by ants. Transmitters of viral diseases.

RED SPIDER MITE (Tetranychus urticae):  Minute reddish-brown “spiders” with four pairs of legs of equal length and oval body. Weave a web on the underside of leaves. Eggs creamy white. Cause yellowing and bronzing of the leaves.

SLUGS AND SNAILS: Greyish-brown slimy legless soft-bodied creature. With (snail) or without (slug) coiled shell.  Leaves a shiny trail of viscid secretion. Feed on young succulent growth of a great variety of plants. Active only under damp conditions.

THRIPS (Order Thysanoptera): Minute insects with four long narrow fringed wings. Immature stages yellowish. Adults dark and very active, having the habit of turning up the abdomen. In order to feed they rasp the plant surface causing small silver blotches. Transmitters of viral diseases.

WHITEFLY (family Aleyrodidae): Small four-winged insects. Wings and body covered by fine white powder. Larvae minute oval-shaped and covered with short white waxy filaments. Suck sap from underside of leaves.

SNOUT BEETLE  (Curculionidae): Brownish-black weevils, with the head elongated into a distinct snout. Feed mainly at night and damage leaves and bracts.  Especially problematic in the Cape.

FUNGAL AND BACTERIAL DISEASES: Various pathogenic organisms externally present on the seed, plants or in the soil. They are the causes of diseases like seed rot, root rot, damping-off, rust, leaf spots and bacterial rot.

VIRUS: Viruses are microscopic organisms consisting of pieces of nucleoprotein, which have to multiply in living tissue. Virus particles can be transmitted by seed, infected gardening equipment, soil and various insects

bee backgroundWe do not encourage the use of any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.  If you are desperate, use an environmentally friendly product. The following links will give guidelines on the use of chemical products.


All parts of Clivia poisonous

Symptoms: Salivation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea; paralysis if large amounts ingested. Toxic Principle Isoquinoline alkaloids.

The plant is traditionally used to hasten childbirth, to treat fever and snake bite and to relieve pain.  The traditional use may lead to accidents through overdose.