Red Hot Pokers

Red Rocket red hot poker
In case you have not noticed a trend, I am being drawn to red hot colors and tropical foliage as the Maine winter comes in upon us. I am looking out the window now from my office with about 8″ of snow on the ground. I get the feeling that the snow might be here for a month or two, judging from the future temperature forecasts.

This would be a good time to dream about one of my favorite genera of plants, Kniphofia or “red hot pokers.” Their common name comes from the spiky, bright colored inflorescenses. The flowers can come in various, brightly hued shades of orange, red, and yellow. The first time that I saw Kniphofia was at the exit ramp of Interstate 40 West from Raleigh to the Durham Freeway in North Carolina. There, in the triangular shaped median was a mass planting of Kniphofia. I loved the colors along with the fact that it was different from the ubiquitous mass plantings of anemic daylilies that you would normally encounter along the sides of the highways.

red hot poker

Kniphofia are in the Asphodel family or more exactly the Xanthorrhoeaceae (if you want to impress your friends) and most are native to South Africa. Among the extremely diverse flora of South Africa, most of these plants should not be hardy in New England, but some of the red hot pokers do grow and thrive at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine. That is pretty amazing considering that Kniphofia‘s closest relative are the aloes. The major difference between the two genera being that Aloe have the fleshy leaves renown for their burn soothing abilities.

We are currently growing three different Kniphofia at CMBG. In this new year, I would like to add more of these spectacular plants to our gardens. One plant on my wish list is Kniphofia uvaria ‘Red Rocket’ PP21905. This is supposedly an improved selection of ‘Nancy’s Red.’ It was bred by Pieter Schreurs from the Netherlands. I am also planning on growing more Kniphofia northiae. We have a few plants of K. northiae growing in our Alfond Children’s Garden but I would love to add some more. This red hot poker is worth growing for the large, strap-like foliage alone.

North's red hot poker

Have you grown Kniphofia before? What are your thoughts on the plants and do you have any favorites?

Rodney

Images: dancingoaks.com, jparkers.co.uk, and www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.

2 Comments

  1. rochelle on January 1, 2013 at 8:48 am

    my mom used to grow red hot pokers in colorado when I was a kid….so I subsequently think of them as a 70’s style flower (I see them so rarely these days – though used to see them a lot more in UK gardens). I need to shed that connotation…because they are perfect for a tropical look when you aren’t in the tropics….and the name, well, “red hot poker” (which my non-horty husband thinks is too silly to be real) is reason enough to have it in the garden.

    • rodneyeason on January 1, 2013 at 9:13 pm

      When you start digging in, you’ll find some really interesting red hot pokers. I saw a huge, blue foliaged plant at Heronswood over 10 years ago. I still want to try that one, too.

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