Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. katharinae
Scadoxus multiflorus (Martyn) Raf. subsp. katharinae (Bak.) Friis & Nordal (= Haemanthus katharinae Bak.)
Common names: fireball lily, blood flower, katharine wheel, poison root (Eng.); bloedblom, gifwortel (Afr.); inkupulwane (isiXhosa); idunjana, ubukhoswane (isiZulu)
This plant explodes into flower, producing huge orange-red flower balls in mid to late summer, it's a plant for semi-shade or shade in well-watered, frost-free gardens.
Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae is an evergreen rhizomatous perennial, producing up to nine leaves per season whose tubular leaf bases form a pseudostem, a false stem formed by the sheathing leaf bases which overlap closely and are pressed flat against each other. The pseudostem is sturdy and fleshy with a diameter of up to 25 mm, and is usually purple spotted but can be plain and almost white.
The leaves are large and thin-textured with a distinct midrib and an undulating margin. They encircle the pseudostem giving a single plant an overall symmetric shape. The leaves of a well-grown plant can stand up to 70 cm high with a spread of up to 110 cm.
The spectacular flowerhead is a huge spherical umbel consisting of up to 200 flowers, held clear of the foliage at the end of a solitary stem. Each plant will produce only one flowerhead in a season. A flowerhead can reach a diameter of 25 cm and a height of 110 cm, nearly waist height. Each flower is pinkish-orange-red with protruding stamens carrying bright yellow anthers. The flowerheads last for 1 or 2 weeks and make superb cut flowers. Flowering is in late summer to early autumn (December-March). The seed develops in the inferior ovary which is visible as a swelling of the flower stalk below the flower, at the tip of the pedicel. These will swell to form a green berry that will turn scarlet as it ripens during winter-spring (July - September). These decorative berries can remain on the plant for up to 2 months.
Least Concern (LC.). Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. katharinae is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
Scadoxus multiflorus has a wide distribution and varying habitat and is found predominantly in tropical Africa but its range extends from the Eastern Cape in South Africa, through KwaZulu-Natal, all four northern provinces of South Africa, into Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana and throughout all but the very driest regions of tropical Africa. It occurs in lowland to mountain forest, secondary forest, forest margins, savannah woodland, open grassland and is very common in the shade of trees at river banks. Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae occurs in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Scadoxus used to be included in the genus Haemanthus, but is now regarded as distinct. Scadoxus was named by Rafinesque, who commented "umb. glor.", which could be taken to mean glorious umbel, which is very apt. In Greek doxus means glorious, but sca means obscure, which rather confuses the issue. The specific name multiflorus means many flowered in Latin, which is self explanatory, and katharinae is after Katharine Saunders, the well-known botanical artist. Its former name, Haemanthus translates to blood flower, from haima, blood, and anthos, a flower (Greek), referring to the colour of the spathe and filaments in some species of Haemanthus.
There are nine species of Scadoxus, only three of which occur in South Africa. Other South African species in the genus include: Scadoxus membranaceus (= Haemanthus puniceus var. membranaceus), Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. multiflorus (= Haemanthus multiflorus, Haemanthus sacculus.) and Scadoxus puniceus (= Haemanthus magnificus, Haemanthus natalensis).
The fruits are eaten by birds.
These plants are poisonous. The genus Scadoxus contains alkaloid-rich, strongly toxic plants. Two species Scadoxus multiflorus and Scadoxus cinnabarinus are known to be used in Cameroon, Gabon, Angola and the Central African Republic in conjunction with a number of other plants, as an arrow poison. In Guinea and northern Nigeria the bulbs are used to make a fishing poison. The bulb is also used to treat dropsy, scabies and poorly healing wounds.
In South Africa, Scadoxus puniceus appears to be more commonly used where it is used to treat coughs and gastro-intestinal problems and forms part of a medicine taken during pregnancy to ensure a safe delivery. Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. katharinae is used to make love charm emetics, which men take as a cleansing, purifying medicine, before going to meet their loved one, in the belief that the medicine makes them more attractive and desirable.
Please be warned that these alkaloids are highly toxic and their indiscriminate use is potentially lethal. They are known to be lethal to stock, mainly goats and sheep grazing on them when other plants are scarce, and the leaves appear to have exactly the same toxic effects as the bulb.
Growing Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. katharinae
Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. katharinae is an evergreen, summer growing perennial that requires semi-shade and will flourish even in heavy shade. It may be deciduous and go dormant in winter in colder climates. It is frost sensitive and is not recommended for outdoor cultivation in areas colder than USDA Zone 10, i.e. with a minimum temperature of -1 to 4ºC.
Scadoxus rootstocks are planted just below the ground and are best left undisturbed in the same position for many years. The soil must be well-drained, rich and light, with plenty of leaf-mould or well-rotted compost. The plants benefit greatly from regular liquid feeding. Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae likes plentiful water when in active growth, but dislikes water-logged soils. In winter rainfall areas, it has no trouble surviving the wet winters, provided it is in a well-drained position.
This is a very useful plant for shady gardens, a handsome pot subject for a large container on a shady stoep, and it is recommended as an indoor plant. It looks particularly effective in large groups under trees, where they do not seem to mind competition from tree roots, provided the soil is good.
Propagation is by seed and offsets. The seed should be sown as soon as it is ripe. This does not necessarily mean that the berries must be removed the minute they turn red. If they are not under threat from birds, or curious children, they can be left on without harming the seed until they start to look a bit wrinkled, which should be around early spring. Clean the pulp off, with care as the seed underneath is soft and fleshy. The best is to rub or peel it off. Use a well-drained, light potting mix, press the seed gently into the soil, do not cover it but leave the tops just visible or level with the soil surface. Keep damp but not waterlogged. Flowers can be expected from the third season onwards. Offsets should be removed after flowering i.e. in autumn, and replanted immediately.
Watch out for the Amaryllis Lily Borer which can severely damage the whole plant. Slugs and snails can damage the foliage.
- Du Plessis, N. & Duncan, G. 1989. Bulbous plants of southern Africa, a guide to their cultivation and propagation. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Germishuizen, G., 1997, Wild Flowers of Northern South Africa, Fernwood Press, Cape Town
- Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. University of Cape Town.
- Neuwinger, H.D., African Ethnobotany, Poisons and Drugs, Chapman & Hall.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Snijman, D.A. & Victor, J.E. 2004. Scadoxus multiflorus (Martyn) Raf. subsp. katharinae (Baker) Friis & Nordal. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2016/01/21
- Van Wyk, B.E., van Oudtshoorn, B., Gericke, N., 1997, Medicinal Plants of South Africa, Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Late Summer
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Red, Orange
Aspect: Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy