Chasmanthe floribunda (Salisb.) N.E.Br.
Common names: cobra lily, chasmanthe (Eng.); kapelpypie (Afr.)
Chasmanthe floribunda is a vigorous bulbous plant producing robust, pyramidal spikes of vibrant orange flowers that makes a bold statement in large plantings.
Deciduous geophyte, 500–1200 mm high. Corm flattened-globose, 60–70 mm in diameter when mature, with firm, papery tunics becoming fibrous with age. Stem erect, usually branched. Leaves sword-shaped, medium textured, with a prominent main vein, mostly 25–35 mm wide.
Spike erect, with flowers in two ranks, mostly 30- to 40-flowered; bracts (9–)13–15 mm long, green flushed red on margins or entirely. Flowers bright to deep orange with lower half of tube paler or yellow, unscented; floral tube trumpet-shaped, slender and spirally twisted below, abruptly expanded above into a wider, cylindrical upper part slightly pouched at the base and 20–25 mm long; tepals unequal, dorsal largest and spoon-shaped, (21–)24–26 × 6.5–8 mm, upper and lower lateral tepals 12–15 mm long, lower median tepal ± 10 mm long. Stamens 3, arching under dorsal tepal, median stamen slightly longer; anthers and pollen purple. Capsules flattened-globose, 3-lobed, showing outline of seeds, 10–15 mm long, tapering to a nipple-like point, surface slightly warty. Seeds up to 12 per capsule, globose or somewhat angled by pressure, ± 5 mm in diameter, bright orange, coat hard and shiny. Flowering from midwinter to midspring (July–September in southern hemisphere).
According to the website http://redlist.sanbi.org, checked on 4 December 2015, the conservation status of this species is Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Restricted to the coastal and near-inland parts of the winter-rainfall zone of South Africa, extending from coastal Namaqualand in the Northern Cape, south to the Cape Peninsula and east to Hermanus in the Western Cape, most commonly on rocky outcrops along the coast and along the coastal mountains, favouring sandstone and granite soils, but in dolerite outcrops near Nieuwoudtville. The species requires cool temperate growing conditions with moderate watering in winter, and dry or well-drained soils during the summer dormant period.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Chasmanthe foribunda is the largest and most floriferous of the three species in the genus, as reflected in the specific epithet floribundus, Latin for ‘producing many flowers’. All three species are endemic to the winter-rainfall region of South Africa; the other two species are C. aethiopica and C. bicolor.
This species was illustrated as early as 1635 in a volume of woodcut illustrations by Jacques-Phillipe Cornut, Canadensium plantarum, under the polynomial Gladiolus aethiopicus flore coccineo (red-flowered gladiolus from Africa) but was confused with the smaller Chasmanthe aethiopica until the early years of the nineteenth century.
Available DNA evidence suggests that Chasmanthe is related to the genus Freesia but it is most likely to be confused with orange-flowered Crocosmia species.
The leaves die down completely during summer and the plants soon form large clumps by producing offsets from the corms. The bright orange, tubular flowers are adapted to pollination by sunbirds, which visit them for nectar. The curious twisting of the lower part of the floral tube may serve to prevent the sharp beak of the bird from piercing through the base of the flower and injuring the ovules. The Malachite Sunbird is the most frequent visitor in the wild, but Lesser-double Collared Sunbirds, are also seen. The hard, shiny orange seeds seem to mimic colourful berries and are probably dispersed by fruit-eating birds like starlings and bulbuls.
Chasmanthe floribunda is very attractive when in flower, producing tall branched stems with pyramidal spikes producing a succession of orange flowers over a several weeks. Even the fruiting spikes, which turn reddish, are attractive and are useful in dried arrangements. A variant with watery yellow flowers is known as var. duckittii.
Growing Chasmanthe floribunda
Both colour forms are excellent garden plants in areas of mild winters, especially those with Mediterranean climates such as California and Western Australia. They also thrive in the South African Highveld where they tolerate light frost but must be watered during the growing season. The dormant corms seem to be tolerant of some moisture during the summer months, and will survive general garden irrigation as long as the soil is free-draining or dries out between watering.
The large corms multiply rapidly, forming large clumps that benefit from regular feeding or replanting to encourage flowering. Plants do best in light shade or full sun, but higher temperatures induce dormancy, and the species is thus not suitable for tropical conditions. It thrives in any soil. The dead leaves should be cut down in early summer. Seeds should be planted in autumn.
The species is especially valuable in rockeries and as an interplanting with low-growing summer-flowering species such as agapanthus, ensuring colour in the garden for much of the year.
- Brown, N.A.C. & Duncan, G.D. 2006. Grow fynbos plants. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J.C. 2004. Royal Horticultural Society plant collector guide: Crocosmia and Chasmanthe. Timber Press, Portland.
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Northern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Winter
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Yellow, Orange
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy