Kniphofia gracilis, Graceful Poker; Grasieusevuurpyl (Afrikaans); icacane ncane (Zulu)
This is a tough, medium-sized grassland species which inhabits the coastal grasslands right down to the shoreline and reaches up into the midlands of KZN and the northern Transkei. Its 500cm to 1 metre long leaves blend into the other surrounding grasses.
It flowers in late summer during March and April. The flowers tend to be a pale to bright yellow but as you move inland, they change to an orange colour. The flower spikes are around 1 metre tall and resemble yellow spears sticking out between the grasses. The short flowers give the flowering spike a narrow, round appearance. These flowers are great attractors for our stingless or solitary bees as well as the local honey bees. Sunbirds do visit the flowers but not as frequently as other kniphofias due to the flowers being shorter.
I have found that this species does well in cultivation. They will grow in dry sections of a garden bed but like most pokers, they prefer damper soils along seepage lines or wetlands in our grasslands. Sadly, our coastal grasslands are rapidly diminishing with the waves of human disturbance caused either by agriculture or housing.
This plant also does well as a container plant. Use a 30cm pot, or a shallow and wide pan or tray about 50-60mm deep and 40-50cm diameter. Just be aware that in containers, the roots of these plants can be attacked by mealy bug which are difficult to control without using an insecticide.
Like many of our bulbs they are prone to attack by mole-rats and porcupine who eat the underground rhizomes. When dug up the roots are an acid yellow colour and are semi-succulent which helps to store resources underground away from the fires that sweep through the habitat during the dry winters.
Allow the plant to dry off or rest during the winter months. The leaves will wither and die off but at the beginning of Spring, if the plant is in a container begin watering again. If in a garden, the spring rains will be enough to trigger the plant to resprout and flower during the late summer.
(You can allow the leaves to keep growing in winter by watering the plant once a week. The plant won’t grow much but it will keep its leaves and be able to respond rapidly to the spring rains.)