The sunny orange blossoms on my Clivia miniata plant contrast nicely with the bleak landscape outside the window this time of year and give hope for spring. They seem to arrive just when we need them the most, after the craziness of the holidays has settled down and the cold of winter has settled in. Learn more about clivia!
What Are Clivias?
Most clivias are grown as interesting houseplants and, as far as houseplants go, there aren’t many that are tougher. Since they are drought tolerant, they can go for several weeks without water; in fact, they need a dry, cold period to initiate flowering.
A cousin of the amaryllis, clivia is native to sub-tropical South Africa, where it grows in the shade of trees. Semi-epiphytic, they don’t grow directly in soil, preferring the rich decomposing leaf mold found under the trees, between boulders, or on rotten logs. Their thick, fleshy roots store water like a sponge, enabling the plants to survive during the African dry season.
Their colorful trumpet-shaped blooms are similar to that of amaryllis but smaller—and they retain their foliage year round (unlike an amaryllis).
There are six species of clivia and many hybrids, but the orange-flowering C. miniata is most commonly grown. Yellow varieties are available, but they are very expensive—around $300! Plant breeders have introduced other colors, like red, white with green stripes or red edges, and yellow with orange tips. There are some clivia varieties with green and white striped leaves, too. All types send up a cluster of 12 to 20 small, trumpet-shaped flowers on a tall stem called a scape.
Clivia can be grown outdoors as landscape plants in Zones 9 and 10 (mainly parts of Florida and California), but in colder climates they love spending the summer outside and the winter indoors. Place them in the shade under a tall tree, as direct sunlight might burn the leaves. Be sure to bring them inside when frost threatens in the fall.
How to Get Clivia to Bloom
To get them to flower indoors, stop watering and keep the plant in a bright, cool spot, below 50°F (10°C) for at least 40 days and up to 90 days. (If giving it the long 90-day rest, you might need to water if the leaves start to wilt.) After it has rested, put your clivia in a warmer spot, resume watering, and it will flower in about 60 days.
I brought mine into our cool greenhouse (where night temps often drop to 45°F) around October 1, stopped watering it, never moved it into the warmth, and it started pushing up a flower scape in mid-December. My plant is quite large—not something I could balance on a windowsill—so it stays in the greenhouse until spring when I can safely put it back outside again. It often re-blooms several times.
After they are done blossoming, start to fertilize the plants by watering weekly with a half-strength, water soluble fertilizer. Remember to water weekly. Keep fertilizing until bringing it back inside in the fall.
Sometimes, the flower scape doesn’t get tall enough to clear the leaves and the blossoms can’t fully open—disappointing after waiting a year for it to flower! This can happen for many reasons—too hot, too cold, too bright, too shady, not a long enough chill time—but usually the fertilizer is to blame. Look for one that offers more potassium and phosphorus than nitrogen.
Pot ‘Em up
Clivia bloom best when they are pot-bound. Often, the roots will push up out of the soil at the base of the plant, which is okay. They can go 3 to 5 years without re-potting, but eventually your plant will outgrow its container, become crowded, and cease flowering. This is a good time to divide it and make some plants to share with friends. Once you knock it out of its pot, it is pretty easy to pull the fans apart without doing too much damage to the roots. Take this opportunity to remove any dead, brown, rotting roots. Be sure to use a light potting mixture that has about 50% organic matter and lots of coco coir or fir bark to aerate the soil. The fleshy roots could rot if kept in heavy, wet soil. Grow in bright indirect light indoors, like a north window.
Image: Clivia will develop seeds after the flowers drop. Clip the flower stem off to keep the plant from expending energy on forming seeds.
Clivia can be grown from seed, but it takes a long time! The seeds take about a year to ripen and the plant needs to grow for 4 to 5 years to reach a blossoming size. It is much quicker to divide an existing plant.
Keep Away From Kitty
Clivia contains the alkaloid lycorine which is poisonous to pets and people. If eaten, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The roots are the most poisonous part. If eaten in large amounts, they can cause convulsions, low blood pressure, tremors, and heart arrhythmias. Clivia was used medicinally by the Zulus to treat fever and snake bite, and to relieve pain.