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There are 68 species in the genus Kniphofia, all originating in southern and eastern Africa. They form clumps of grass-like finely toothed foliage with strong stems rising above the foliage with flowers that look-like glowing pokers or torches, hence the common name. The blossoms open from the bottom to top over the course of several days and change color as the blossoms mature. Most varieties begin blooming by late June and some will re-bloom until frost.
Hybridizing has led to many different colors and sizes of plants for the gardener to choose from. Flower color ranges from coral red through shades of orange, peach, yellow to near white and light green, and size ranges from dwarf plants 1 ½ feet tall to large 6 feet tall plants. Some are evergreen and some deciduous dependent on the species.
Kniphofia are a plant that can be used in the garden to make a statement, such as the 6 feet tall K. northiae, or used as a vertical accent in the perennial border. It is also has a unique structural look with the flowers stems rising above the foliage that would be a great addition to a tropical garden paired with purple or red-foliage cannas, or a more xeriscaped garden planted with grasses, Echinacea, and Penstemon.
Some of the smaller varieties also make nice additions to containers for summer bloom, and evergreen varieties give year-round interest. Kniphofia are attractive to hummingbirds and make a great addition to the hummingbird garden. They also make a great cut flower.
K. ‘Apricot Souffle’ Spikes of apricot flowers bloom June through August above deciduous strappy foliage reaching 3 ft tall and wide. Zn 6.
K. ‘Bressingham’s Comet’ A cute, smaller Kniphofia with bright red-orange and yellow flower spikes from July to September. Fine, grassy deciduous leaves reach 2 ft. tall. Zn 5-9.
K. ‘Gladness’ This blooms early summer with apricot flowers emerging from deep orange buds. A smaller, evergreen torch lily reaching 30 in. tall and 24 in wide. Zn 6.
K. ‘Green Jade’ As the name implies, this Kniphofia blooms pale greenish-cream aging through cream to white on 5 ft. flower stems. Leaves are evergreen with mature size of 4 ft. tall and 2-3 ft. wide. Zn 6.
K. northiae This is a monster Kniphofia that reaches 4-5 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide with thick, broad, evergreen leaves with large, bold flowers stalks of orange and yellow. Zn 7.
K. uvaria ‘Primrose Beauty’ Great cut flower with buttery-yellow flowers on strong 3’ stems above evergreen grassy foliage. Reaches 3 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. Zn 5.
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Common Name: Red Hot Poker, Torch Lily
Origin: Native to southern and eastern Africa
Culture: Plant in full sun with moist, humus-rich well-drained soil. In the summer, Kniphofia can handle moisture, but they need well-drained soil during the winter. Also, they need moisture when the blooms are forming and will fail to flower if conditions are too dry. Kniphofia can tolerate wind and are a good choice for coastal plantings.
Maintenance: Diligent deadheading (removing spent flower blossoms) will prolong the bloom season. In the fall, remove the unsightly looking leaves and any dead flower stalks that are left. For the winter, do not cut the foliage back, but instead try tying it up over the center of the plant to protect the crown from winter moisture and help insulate the crown to extend longevity. Mulching in the winter is helpful. In the spring, once all the cold weather is past, cut the foliage back down to about three inches from the ground to rejuvenate, but avoid pruning too close to the crown.
Propagation: Dig up and divide clumps in the spring, unless it is flowering, in which case wait until after the plant is done flowering.