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What is a Kaffir Lily Plant and How to Care for It?

Beautiful funnel shaped kaffir lily flowers growing in a bundle beside evergreen leaves

Clivia Miniata

Living in Canada can be hard. Montreal, more specifically, is covered in more than a few inches of snow for about half of the year and all signs of life are completely obliterated by winter.

So, in these times of minimal amounts of daylight and cold so severe it hurts your nostrils to breathe, writing articles about tropical plants brings me great relief. As well as jealousy, for those who are fortunate enough to live in those tropical areas that can hose a plant such as clivia miniata.

This flowering plant is better known as the bush lily or natal lily, though they aren’t at all part of the lily botanical family! They’re actually members of the genus clivia, and the amaryllidaceae family. Their common nomes simply come from the similarity of flower shape to lilies!

Through this article we’ll go over some important details of the kaffir lily: where it comes from, how to grow it, and tips on how to keep it happy! Keep reading to learn all about this esteemed member of tropical plants!

Related: Sun-Loving Flowers | Water-Loving Flowers | Shade-Loving Flowers | Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flower Colors

What do Kaffir Lilies Look Like?

Amazing bright orange kaffir lily flowers growing in a cluster amidst evergreen strap like leaves

Flowers

The kaffir lily is truly something to behold. Each kaffir lily flower is a very showy, tropical looking specimen. It grows in a funnel-like shape and flowers will usually be either red, orange, or yellow, and will usually have a yellow throat as an accent.

Kaffir lily flowers are borne in an umbel shaped inflorescence. There will be anywhere between 10 and 20 flowers in each inflorescence. Flowers will usually bloom in the early spring or late spring, depending on the temperature of that year.

Once a kaffir lily is fertilized, it will produce fruit in the form of small berry that is bright red in color and contains multiple seeds. Seeds are then dispersed by various animal and insect species.

Be aware that kaffir lilies are particularly fast growing plants and if they are planted from seed or bulb; it can take a good 2 to 5 years before flowers actually go to blossom. Growing kaffir lilies requires patience!

Leaves

Another attractive aspect of the kaffir lily plant is its leaves. They are evergreen, meaning that they will remain green and persist all year long, regardless of the temperature or time of year. This adds ornamental interest even after the flowers have blossomed.

Each kaffir lily leaf grows very long leaves, usually anywhere between 18 and 28 inches in length. Each leaf is shaped like a long strap and they are arranged in two opposite rows.

Image of amazing long evergreen leaves of kaffir lily plants growing in a line

Growth Habit

Starting underneath the soil, kaffir lily plants grow from underground rhizomatous stems. Rhizomes are basically fleshy tuber root systems that can host all of the nutrients and moisture a plant needs to survive and go dormant through the winter.

From these rhizomes grow many leaves and flower stems, and plants will commonly grow together in many clusters and clumps. This growth habit makes them great for mass planting.

Where is the Kaffir Lily a Native Plant?

The kaffir lily is originally a native plant to the woodland habitats of South Africa and grow very commonly in the wild in the eastern Cape of South Africa. They have also become naturalized in New Zealand, Japan, China, and the warmest regions of the United States and Mexico as well.

Kaffir lilies can only exist in USDA growing zones 9 through 11 and should otherwise be kept indoors as a house plant or in a greenhouse. They are a very common cultivated landscape plant in the suburbs of Australian states, and can be seen growing all over California as well!

What are the Growing Conditions of the Kaffir Lily Plant?

The care of a kaffir lily is right in that range of being sort of high maintenance, in that it requires rather consistent attention from its gardener, but the tasks aren’t so specific that it may deter a gardener from growing one. Once they are established they are wonderfully resilient, making all that initial effort more than worth it!

Amazing clusters of kaffir lily plants with red flowers growing in a garden

Soil Type

As it goes with many plant types, the kaffir lily can tolerate a great many soil types. Whether it is sandy or loamy, it is very important that the kaffir lily can exist in soil that is very well drained and evenly moist.

Additionally, soil should be a little bit more on the acidic level rather than alkaline. They perform very well when there is either peat moss or organic matter (compost) incorporated into the soil at the beginning on the growing season.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to add a nice, thick layer of mulch to the soil to help protect those underground fleshy roots from freezing during the winter months.

Sun Exposure

Rather uncommon for plants that come from such warm and sunny places such as South Africa, the kaffir lily actually prefers to live in the shade! This means that they should be out of direct sunlight and bright light.

Shady areas and indirect sunlight are where the kaffir lily will truly thrive, which is a great option for folks who may have a garden that is covered by larger trees and they don’t receive much sun exposure.

If a kaffir lily receives too much sun exposure there’s a chance that it will get leaf scorch or flower blossoms may be less successful. Planting in a full shade area will ensure a happy plant.

Water Level

Now comes the most important part of kaffir lily care: watering. During the active growing season of your plant, it is essential that it receives enough water to keep the soil moist. Kaffir lilies aren’t particularly drought tolerant, though they can tolerant some temporary dry spells thanks to those underground tuber roots!

Once the flowers have finished their blossoming season, the plant will then go into a dormant state during the winter months. It is very important to let the soil dry out completely during this phase of dormancy, usually starting in the early early winter.

To wake your kaffir lily from dormancy, simply water the plant again in the late winter or early spring! Then continue to maintain soil moisture during the active growing season, and the cycle continues like this.Pink variety of a kaffir lily plant grow in a garden

Temperature

Unfortunately for us northerners, the kaffir lily is by no means a cold tolerant plant. It can only survive in temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit before it perishes. It will perform best in temperatures occurring between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and can only exist in USDA growing zones 9 through 11.

Anywhere outside of these zones and temperatures, the kaffir lily should be kept indoors as a houseplant, or it should be kept as a container plant so that it can easily be brought inside after the summer is over. Try to do this well before the first threat of frost.

Fertilizer

Kaffir lilies respond very well to fertilizer. Fertilizer can even help extend the bloom time for the flowers or encourage an entirely new bloom crop! Simply apply a diluted fertilizer every couple of weeks during the growth period of the plant. Make sure to desist fertilizing during the dormancy phase.

Pruning

Kaffir lily plants tend to grow in a very attractive and neath growth habit all on their own, and the only pruning that needs to be done for them is deadheading!

Deadheading a plant is basically just snipping away the spent flower blossoms. This helps the plant properly disperse its energy towards maintaining plant health, and can even encourage new flower blossoms!

Intolerances

As you can clearly see, though it will require some minutes of maintenance from you, there isn’t all that much that the kaffir lily can’t tolerate. Just remember that it doesn’t like to live in the cold, and that watering should be maintained during growing seasons, and should stop entirely during dormancy seasons!

How do you Propagate a Kaffir Lily Plant?

Bright orange kaffir lily flowers with amazing leaves growing in several pots

Now that you know all of the nitty gritty of growing a kaffir lily, let’s learn a little bit on how to actually plant one! Just remember: kaffir lilies are very slow growing and require patience from their gardeners. They can take anywhere from 2-5 years to blossom if grown directly from a seed or a bulb.

Pick a Spot

Sometimes, the trickiest part about planting a new garden specimen is choosing the absolute perfect spot for your plant! Simply ensure that your kaffir lily bulb is planted is well draining soil and that it receives mostly shade.

Plant a Bulb

The best time of year to plant a kaffir lily bulb is in the spring or summer. This way the plant has some time to grow its roots before the winter dormancy period.

Ensure that bulbs are planted at least 1 foot apart from one another. This will give them enough space to breathe, though they will still develop nice clumps, creating a robust kaffir lily patch.

Maintenance

During the spring and summer, make sure to keep soil moist for your plant. During the dormancy phase of winter and fall, desist watering completely.

You can continue to propagate your kaffir lilies by diving the entire plant, but this should only be done in the spring or summer after the flowers have finished blossoming.

How are Kaffir Lilies Used?

Close up image of bright orange kaffir flowers

Ornamental Plant

Kaffir lilies make for really wonderful ornamental plants. They can be planted in any capacity; in a rock garden, as a border plant, they make for a wonderful container plant, and they can even be kept as an indoor plant!

There are tons of different cultivars available, allowing you to choose your preferred color for these showy flowers. Kaffir lily plants are also appreciated for their evergreen foliage that brings color to gardens when the rest of the perennial plants are fading in the late summer.

FAQs

Are kaffir lilies deer resistant?

Though not entirely resistant to deer grazing, the kaffir lily isn’t the first choice of snack for this large garden muncher. No plant is entirely resistant to deer, though it isn’t a common issue with kaffir lily plants.

What are the damaging agents to a clivia plant?

The clivia plant doesn’t have to deal with many insect or pest issues, but most of the damages they will face come from improper watering or waterlogged soil. Moist soil is ideal, saturated soil is not!

Do kaffir lilies grow from bulbs or seeds?

Starting underneath the soil, kaffir lily plants grow from underground rhizomatous stems. Rhizomes are basically fleshy tuber root systems that can host all of the nutrients and moisture a plant needs to survive and go dormant through the winter.

From these rhizomes grow many leaves and flower stems, and plants will commonly grow together in many clusters and clumps. This growth habit makes them great for mass planting.

Is the kaffir lily an evergreen plant?

The kaffir lily is an evergreen plant. This means that it has leaves that will remain green and persist all year long, regardless of the temperature of the time of year!

When should a kaffir plant be divided?

You can continue to propagate your kaffir lilies by diving the entire plant, but this should only be done in the spring or summer after the flowers have finished blossoming.

Are kaffir lilies annual plants or perennial plants?

Kaffir lilies are evergreen perennial plants. This means that they will continue to blossom year after year as long as their ideal growing conditions are maintained.

What USDA growing zones does the kaffir lily grow in?

Unfortunately for us northerners, the kaffir lily is by no means a cold tolerant plant. It can only survive in temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit before it perishes. It will perform best in temperatures occurring between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and can only exist in USDA growing zones 9 through 11.

Anywhere outside of these zones and temperatures, the kaffir lily should be kept indoors as a houseplant, or it should be kept as a container plant so that it can easily be brought inside after the summer is over. Try to do this well before the first threat of frost.

Is the kaffir lily poisonous?

All parts of the kaffir lily plant are considered as toxic if consumed. This is a very important thing to know if you happen to have a pet that has a habit of nibbling on your garden plants.

Should a kaffir lily be fertilized?

Kaffir lilies respond very well to fertilizer. Fertilizer can even help extend the bloom time for the flowers or encourage an entirely new bloom crop! Simply apply a diluted fertilizer every couple of weeks during the growth period of the plant. Make sure to desist fertilizing during the dormancy phase.

How should you prune a kaffir lily plant?

Kaffir lily plants tend to grow in a very attractive and neath growth habit all on their own, and the only pruning that needs to be done for them is deadheading!

Deadheading a plant is basically just snipping away the spent flower blossoms. This helps the plant properly disperse its energy towards maintaining plant health, and can even encourage new flower blossoms!

What is the preferred soil type of a kaffir lily?

As it goes with many plant types, the kaffir lily can tolerate a great many soil types. Whether it is sandy or loamy, it is very important that the kaffir lily can exist in soil that is very well drained and evenly moist.

Additionally, soil should be a little bit more on the acidic level rather than alkaline. They perform very well when there is either peat moss or organic matter (compost) incorporated into the soil at the beginning on the growing season.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to add a nice, thick layer of mulch to the soil to help protect those underground fleshy roots from freezing during the winter months.

How often should kaffir lily plants be watered?

During the active growing season of your plant, it is essential that it receives enough water to keep the soil moist. Kaffir lilies aren’t particularly drought tolerant, though they can tolerant some temporary dry spells thanks to those underground tuber roots!

Once the flowers have finished their blossoming season, the plant will then go into a dormant state during the winter months. It is very important to let the soil dry out completely during this phase of dormancy, usually starting in the early early winter.

To wake your kaffir lily from dormancy, simply water the plant again in the late winter or early spring! Then continue to maintain soil moisture during the active growing season, and the cycle continues like this.