Thursday, September 13, 2012

Plant Profile: Kniphofia

"Wayside Flame"
Latin name: Kniphofia ("niff-O-fee-ah")
Common name: Tritoma, Red hot poker, Torch lily or Poker plant
Originally from: Africa, Madagascar and Yemen.
Blooms: Red, orange, yellow, cream to lime green flowers on various hybrids.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed, but enjoys a little and flowers better with it.
Height x width: 3-5' wide x 2-5' tall.
USDA Zones: 6-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have several! One in almost every bed right now.

Kniphofia uvaria "Flamenco"
The genus Kniphofia was named for Johannes Hieronymus Kniphof, 1704-1763, who was a professor of medicine at Erfurt University in Germany, and whose impossible to pronounce last name makes many gardeners queasy about the Kniphofia's too. His name was pronounced KNIP-hoff. The plant?  nye-FOE-fee-ah, knip-HOFF-ee-ah, nee-FOE-fee-ah... choose any you like!

"Dwarf Yellow"
Kniphofia belongs to the family Asphodelaceae which comprises 17 genera (10 of which occur in South Africa) and about 750 species. About 70 species of Kniphofia occur in Africa. The genus Kniphofia is very closely related to the genus Aloe. In fact, the first Kniphofia to be described, namely K. uvaria, was mistakenly thought to be an Aloe and as a result was initially named Aloe uvaria.

Brought to the UK in 1707, they were kept carefully in greenhouses until 1848, when someone had the bright idea of planting them outdoors, and their great hardiness was discovered.

Tough and drought tolerant, these are a great plant for a low water garden - some species more so than others. They all like excellent drainage, and hummingbirds are attracted to their copious nectar, and if you keep them deadheaded they'll continue flowering for many months.

We have quite a few of these, as mentioned. Here's a rundown:

Kniphofia thomsonii
(Alpine Poker)
The species:
Kniphofia northiae “Octopus Red-Hot Poker”  Well worth growing for the foliage alone! Astonishing, Aloe–like rosettes, 4-6’ across, sport extremely wide leaves – to 6” across - with vibrant orange and yellow flowers. Ours is still a tiny baby, in the middle front bed.

Kniphofia thomsonii (Alpine Poker) is among the more strikingly distinct Kniphofia. The well spaced individual flowers, each gracefully down-curved, give the plant a unique look. Ours is planted at the top of the dog area, in front of a bronze colored Phormium tenax.

Kniphofia uvaria is a mostly winter rainfall species that grows in seeps, marshes, and streams on sandstone slopes and flowers in spring. We have a group of three in the brights bed.


The hybrids:
"Pineapple Popsicle"
"Dwarf Yellow" - tough,  bright yellow and a relentless bloomer from late spring to late summer in a somewhat smaller size. The middle back bed is anchored by this cultivar.

Kniphofia uvaria "Flamenco" - an early flowering type in yellow, orange and fiery red.  

"Pineapple Popsicle" - yellow to cream flowers on this one. It's new, and lives in the left bed.


"Wayside Flame"
"Wayside Flame" - bright, yet soft orange shades for midsummer excitement. The middle of the brights bed gets a dose of color from this one.

"Yellow Cheer" - dense yellowish orange buds, infused with chartreuse open to pumpkin-yellow flowers late in the season. I can't actually remember where I put this one...

UPDATE June 2016:
Well these are some super-tough plants but there have been some ups and downs. Dwarf Yellow, Pineapple Popsicle, Wayside Flame, and whichever one I put in the middle back bed are doing great. K. thomsonii - sad face! I would plant another in a less drastic spot though. K. northiae was presumed dead, but resurrected! Still hasn't flowered yet. I gave it some compost and a drink.

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