Kniphofia – Growing South African Plants in Maine

Yes, we are growing South African plants here in Maine. They are growing outside in the ground and we leave them out all winter. I am referring to the plants in the genus Kniphofia. I wrote a post earlier this year on Kniphofia and this is a follow up to talk about how some of them have done at CMBG this year.

I have always liked Kniphofia because they have a flower unlike any others in our northern hemisphere, east coast gardens. On the west coast, where folks are lucky enough to be able to grow aloes, then they are blessed with a spiky abundance of flowering plants. Not us, here on the coast of Maine. Let’s see… we can grow Liatris  and, and… Kniphofia. That is about it. Maybe there are others and I am sure to see it tomorrow in the garden.

Kniphofia 'Lola'

Kniphofia consists of 70 different species of flowering plants native to the southern parts of the African continent. There are not a lot of plants from this area that are cold hardy so Kniphofia definitely breaks the mold. Also called red-hot pokers or torch lilies, these plants are somewhat distant relatives of day lilies. The leaves are vaguely similar but the flowers are what definitely set them apart. The spikes of red, yellow, and orange tubular flowers are eye catching to all who encounter them. The tubular flowers provide nectar to bees and small birds.

Kniphofia 'Cool Knip' W.Cullina

Some species are hardy to zones 5 and 6 but in these areas, some winter protection should be provided. At Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, we have several clumps of Kniphofia northiae that survived this past winter when we dipped to zero degrees F and had a week when we did not get above 20 degrees F. Inspired by the appearance of this red-hot poker, we planted even more Kniphofia to see which ones would survive. One big winner that has just begun to flower is Kniphofia ‘Lola.‘ Every time I mention this plant, I think of the 70’s song by the Kinks. Oh, well, regardless of her (or his) name, Lola has large, strapping leaves up to 3′ in height and flower spikes up to 5’ in height. It is a real show stopper. In the next month or so, I will be sure to cover K. ‘Lola’ with a winter coat to ensure that it returns next year. Also, this winter, we will be on the lookout for more Kniphofia to try in our gardens.


Photos: Rodney Eason, William Cullina

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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.
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  1. Of Gardens on September 11, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    I have kniphofia growing in my Massachusetts garden, in fact there are two stray spikes in bloom today. It survived a Massachusetts winter and an historic blizzard. We’ll see if it comes back next year. I know people who have successfully overwintered Crocosmia, which is a SA native, but I have not been able to.

    • rodneyeason on September 12, 2013 at 5:55 am

      That is wonderful. Do you know which Kniphofia you have in your garden?

  2. growgirl on September 21, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    novaledlights . com

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