Hesperantha coccinea (Backh. & Harv.) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning
Common names: scarlet river lily, crimson flag (Eng.); rooirivierlelie (Afr.); khahlana (Sesotho)
Hesperantha coccinea is a marvellous, water-loving, perennial, bulbous plant, occurring naturally in saturated soils on stream banks growing in full sun.
A clump-forming plant, 400-600 mm tall, with long narrow leaves and a rhizomatous rootstock. It is deciduous, growing in summer and dormant in winter. Bright red, star-shaped flowers are borne in profusion in summer during the warm and wet months between December and April. Although they are normally bright red, there are also pink and white forms.
According to the Red List of South African plants, Hesperantha coccinea is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
Hesperantha coccinea is a species from the summer rainfall area and is widely distributed through the eastern provinces of the country, and in Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. It is always found growing near water, on streambanks, in seeps an on the edge of marshes.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Hesperantha means 'evening flower' and the genus comprises 65 species which are distributed through both the summer and winter rainfall areas of South Africa.
The species name coccinea means 'scarlet' and refers to the bright red flowers typical of this species.
Until 1996 this species was considered to be in a separate genus, and was known as Schizostylis coccinea. It is now considered to fall within the genus Hesperantha because it shares all the characteristics required for Hesperantha and differs only in its rhizomatous rootstock and red flowers.
The flowers are pollinated by large butterflies (mainly Aeropetes tulbaghia) and long-proboscid flies.
Hesperantha coccinea is a popular garden plant in the United Kingdom and Europe. It is also a good cut-flower.
Growing Hesperantha coccinea
This attractive garden subject is a frost-hardy, low-maintenance plant and will seed itself around the wetter areas of your garden. It forms dense clumps and, given a few years, will create a stunning display in the garden when in flower.
It should be grown in full sun in compost-enriched soil and ideally should be planted at the edge of a pond or in some other area where the roots are constantly in water. It can also be planted in a pot, submerged in water up to soil level.
The scarlet river lily is fast growing and can be propagated easily from seed or by splitting the clumps. Seeds can be sown during the early months of spring from late August until early November. Seed can be sown directly in the flower bed or in seed trays on a suitable seedling medium and should be kept well watered. The best time to split and transplant plants is from January to April.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Late Summer, Autumn
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Red, White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average