Yellow Clivias

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones

Clivia miniata var citrina
Clivia miniata var. citrina.  Photo: Margaret Richards

Yellow clivias (Clivia miniata var. citrina) have always had a special place in our garden. Not only are they unusual and very beautiful, they also have a connection with Margaret’s family. Maud Saunders (born Eastwood), the sister of Margaret’s great-grandmother, was the first person to send the Kwa-Zulu Natal specimen to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

This happened in a rather round about fashion as was the case with many early botanical specimens collected in South Africa. The plant was found in a forest on the outskirts of Eshowe (now the Dlinza Forest Nature Reserve) by a servant collecting firewood. He was the servant of Chief Magistrate, Sir Melmoth Osborne, who was interested in the local plants.  Also stationed in Eshowe was Resident Magistrate Charles Saunders, son of the well-known botanical artist, Katherine Saunders, who often collected interesting botanical specimens for his mother. Katherine Saunders, married to Tongaat sugar planter James Saunders, was fascinated by the local flora and determined to publicise its beauty. She was in contact with a wide range of plant collectors and botanists both in South Africa and overseas. After making water colour sketches of the plants she would send both specimen and illustration off to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Sir Melmoth Osborn gave the yellow clivia to Charles’ wife Maud who sent it to her mother-in-law via post cart. After Katherine had painted the flower a ‘most lovely, delicate, peculiar shade of yellow, not orange, but like straw colour mixed with pink…’ and noting that the flower was ‘withering after being two days in the post bag’, she asked Maud to send it and the bulb to Kew. The sketch was dated 8 October 1893.* The bulb was successfully established and flowered in one of the Kew greenhouses.

Clivia miniata var. citrina by Katherine Saunders
Clivia miniata var. citrina by Katherine Saunders

There is an interesting article by Fred van Niekerk describing the various yellow clivias found elsewhere in Natal and the Transkei, entitled ‘Yellow clivia miniata from the Habitat’ published by the Clivia Society in 2005. The yellow clivias in our garden are however not descendants of the ‘Saunders’ clivia. They were grown from seeds picked up on a path in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve in Hermanus! We had no idea what sort of clivias they would turn out to be, as the pulp had already been removed from the seeds. So all that had to happen was to press the seeds gently into seedling mix in deep trays until they were almost flush with the surface, and keep moist. The seeds germinated after about four to six weeks and were left in the trays for a couple of years before being planted out. What a lovely surprise when they eventually flowered!

(*Flower Paintings of Katharine Saunders…Tongaat Group, 1979)