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Swamp Forest Snake Lily

Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. Katharinae. Swamp Forest Snake Lily; Blood Flower; Bloedblom (Afrikaans): idunjana (Zulu)



A coastal species, occurring mainly in swamp forests along the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coasts, this is arguably the showiest of our local snake lilies. When this snake lily was discovered in about 1877, it was named Haemanthus saundersiae in honour of Katharine Saunders. This was revised in the 1980s to Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. katharinae. (There is another sub species of this amaryllid lily - Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. multiflorus, that lives in the Bushveld areas of northern Zululand and further north to Limpopo and which flowers in spring, before the leaves appear.) These plants flower in summer - from late November into February (later than the rest of the tribe) and then the seed is ready in early spring, timed to suit the first rains. The seedheads of this lily are pretty and ripen in late winter during June and July.

A theory that I have about this species is that it has been driven into the waterlogged, wooded wetlands, known as swamp forests, due to the fact that mole rats have not yet found a way of breathing under water! It is interesting however, that porcupines do not seem to eat the bulbs - I have a resident pair of these giant rodents in my garden and even though they can get to them, they have not, in the past 20 years, ever tried to eat these bulbs. In cultivation, this species does very well as a container subject in a 1:1 mixture of leaf litter and sandy soil. Feed the plants with a natural liquid fertilizer usually made from seaweed. Other liquid fertilizers work just as well but dilute the fertilizer as per the instructions on the label. The 10mm diameter seeds are collected in late winter around July and August. The seed is covered in a fleshy skin that begins green and ripens to a lovely bright red. The seed within resembles a creamy green pearl in shape and colour. Sow the seed immediately once you have cleaned off the red flesh, using the same potting mix mentioned above - gently push the seed into the mixture until it is just level with the surface. Germination happens within about 10-14 days. Seedlings usually, under optimum growing conditions, flower in their fourth growing season from seed.

Under extensive or wild conditions these plants seem to attract the Amaryllis caterpillar. In your gardens if you have too many plants close together, the moth will find the concentration of plants and lay its eggs under the leaves and before you know it, the caterpillars have eaten all your prized plants. The only real protection is vigilance by checking under every leaf each day for the egg clusters laid by the night-flying moth. Crush and wipe the clusters of eggs off from under the leaves. I dislike using insecticides but at times I have been tempted. A double jeopardy is that if the moth doesn't get at the leaves, the mole rats will get at the bulbs. In my garden, a mole rat ate through the drainage hole of a plastic pot to eat the bulb of the swamp forest snake lily inside, so I now have put all my swamp forest snake lilies in clay pots with small drainage holes and the bigger plants up on a table made of a 10mm thick sheet of fibre cement.


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