Cyrtanthus

Commonly known as Fire Lilies, Cyrtanthus species are bulbous plants native to Africa, primarily South Africa. The common name refers to the fact that these plants typically bloom most abundantly after fires sweep through their native habitat. Flowers, which may be fragrant, are borne in umbels atop leafless stalks and are either held horizontally or are pendulous. Individual blooms are tubular or funnel shaped, with a long, narrow, somewhat curved tube and six short petal-like tepals that usually flare out. Typically, the flowers come in shades of red and orange-red. Plants grow from tunicate bulbs that are either underground or partially exposed and bear strap-shaped or linear leaves that may be deciduous or evergreen.

How to grow

Select a site in full sun with average to rich, well-drained soil. Like many South African species, these plants need regular watering from late winter or early spring through summer when they are growing actively, and drier conditions when dormant in winter. In areas where they are hardy and that offer dry conditions in fall and winter, leave the corms in the ground year-round. In areas where they are marginally hardy, look for a protected, south-facing site and mulch plants over winter with evergreen boughs, salt hay, pine needles, or another coarse mulch. In the North and anywhere winters are wet, grow these plants in containers year-round or plant the bulbs in spring after the soil has warmed up and overwinter in- doors. They bloom best when left undisturbed, so container culture is the best option in areas where they cannot be left outside year-round. Plant the bulbs in spring, setting them at a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Water regularly in dry weather. Gradually dry off the soil in containers in fall and store the pots in a cool (40 to 50°F), dry spot over winter. Or dig the bulbs in fall after the first light frost earlier if the leaves die back let them dry in a warm, shady spot for a few hours; brush off excess soil; and store them over winter in a cool, dry place. Propagate by separating and planting the offsets in spring or fall or by sowing seeds.

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