Red-hot poker, torch lily

FAMILY: Asphodelaceae | GENUS: KNIPHOFIA

TYPE
  • Perennials
SUN EXPOSURE
  • Full Sun
  • Partial Shade
WATER
  • Regular Water
  • Moderate Water
PLANTING ZONES
  • US (Upper South) / Zone 6
  • MS (Middle South) / Zone 7
  • LS (Lower South) / Zone 8
  • CS (Coastal South) / Zone 9

Plant Details

Dense clumps of grasslike, finely toothed foliage send up bare stems topped by nodding, tubular flowers in tight, overlapping clusters. Flowering stems look like glowing pokers or torches, hence the common names. Blossoms open from bottom to top over the course of several days, changing color as they mature. Increasing numbers of speciesmostly from South Africaare now grown in gardens and hybridized. The old 3-ft.-high forms of K. uvaria in shades of coral-orange and yellow have given way to kinds with blooms ranging from coral-red through every conceivable shade of orange, peach, and yellow to near-white and light green, on plants varying in size from 1-ft. dwarfs to 6-ft. giants. The flowers attract hummingbirds. Not heavily browsed by deer.

K. caulescens. Blue-green leaves (purple at base) are 34 ft. long, 23 in. wide; they are produced in rosettes on short, branching, woody stems like trunks. Stalks 2 ft. tall bear heads of coral-red to terra-cotta buds that open to pale yellow flowers. Blooms from mid-summer into fall.

K. citrina. Smallish species with narrow, dark bluish green leaves and globular flower heads in various yellow shades on 2- to 212-ft.-tall stems. Summer to fall bloom. 'Lime Select' has bright lime-green buds that open chartreuse and fade to cream.

K. hybrids. Although they involve several species, these hybrids generally share the narrow leaves and summer bloom season of K. uvaria. A distinct departure is 'Christmas Cheer', a hybrid of the vigorous species K. rooperi. New strains are available as seed (be aware that seedlings will vary in color and quality).

'Alcazar'. Dark, bronzy stems to 312 ft., with brick-red flowers that age to pinkish orange.

'Bees' Sunset'. Stems to 3 ft. high, with glowing yellow-orange buds opening light yellow.

'Border Ballet'. Buds are a soft, dusty coral-pink opening to cream blooms. Stems reach 44 ft.

'Bressingham Comet'. Stems to 2 ft. high; flower clusters are orange with a yellow base.

'Christmas Cheer'. Brilliant orange buds open to deep gold flowers on 4- to 5-ft. stems. Blooms fall through late spring in mild-winter areas, fall until frost elsewhere. Give it room; leaves (to 5 ft. long and 2 in. wide) become lax and collapse on the ground, smothering any plants in their way. Clump increases rapidly to 68 ft. or more across. Divide in early summer.

Echo series. A group of strong, repeat-blooming selections with mango-orange, deep orange to red and orange fading to white blooms. Gray-green leaves reach 2 ft. high topped with flower stalks to 3 ft. high.

Flamenco Mix. Seed-grown strain that blooms in early fall in its first year, in summer in subsequent years. Flower colors range from coral through orange and yellow to creamy white. Stems to 2 ft. tall.

Glow series. Similar to Popsicle series. Flowers in shades of orange stand 20 in. tall. Repeat blooming.

'Gold Mine'. Glowing orange-yellow buds opening golden amber on 3- to 312-ft. stems.

'Little Maid'. Thin, grassy leaves and narrow flower stems to 2 ft. tall. Creamy white blossoms open from buds in buff-tinted pale yellow.

'Malibu Yellow'. Stems 56 ft. tall bear 8- to 10-in.-long heads of lime-green buds that open primrose yellow.

'Peaches and Cream'. Stems about 4 ft. high bear peach-colored buds opening to cream blossoms.

'Percy's Pride'. To 4 ft. tall, with green-tinted yellow buds opening cream.

Popsicle series. Grassy foliage to 1 ft. high topped with bright flowers in a range of yellow, orange, coral, and cream colors on stems reaching 112 ft. high. Excellent repeat bloomers.

K. uvaria. Leaves to 1 in. wide, 2 ft. long. Oblong flower heads on stems 3312 ft. tall. Coral-red buds open to orange or deep yellow blossoms in summer (in fall, in cold-winter climates). Most selections sold under this name are actually hybrids.

Red-hot pokers require adequate moisture when blooms are forming and will fail to flower if conditions are too dry then. In summer, they'll tolerate even marshy conditionsbut for winter survival, well-drained soil is essential. Most of these plants flower in summer, but some start in late spring and repeat throughout the growing season. Where winter temperatures drop to 0F or below, tie foliage over clumps in fall to protect growing points (or at least leave all foliage in place over winter). In milder climates, cut or pull out any ratty-looking leaves in fall; new leaves will replace them by spring. Crowns increase slowly, forming clumps 23 ft. wide (or wider) at base; you will get the best show if clumps are left in place for several years. Increase plantings by division in spring, except for types still blooming then; for these, wait until summer to divide. Protect from slugs and snails.

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