Schizostylis coccinea are South African flowers, members of the Iris family and commonly known as Kaffir lilies. They grow naturally in wetter parts on the eastern side of the Cape, in stream beds and cliff edges, where summers are warm and wet and winters cold and dry. The South African terrain is mountainous and rugged. But the soil in the valleys, although poor, is ideal for bulbous and rhizomatous plants. Rainfall is heaviest closest to the coast, but much sparser inland. The flora is especially rich because the area escaped glaciation and the Cape region can boast 9,000 species in contrast to Britain’s 1,500.
In South Africa, schizostylis keeps its linear grass-green leaves throughout the year. But in most British gardens schizostylis dies back and then reappears in late spring, so marking its position is a good idea. Schizostylis is slow growing and takes many years to produce lots of flower spikes. But it’s worth the wait. Once established, each stem will produce between six and 12 flowers or more.
The earth laughs in flowers.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson –
There are many forms of Schizostylis coccinea. The copper-red ‘Major’ is the most readily available and a very good performer. There is a pure white form, ‘Alba’, which has narrower petals and seems to flower later for me. ‘Sunrise’, which is a floppy plant with large pink flowers, is also widely available. Two pale pink heritage varieties have smaller flowers – ‘Mrs Hegarty’ and ‘Viscountess Byng’. But perhaps the best pink form is ‘Sunrise’ because the full flowers are larger and a stronger colour. ‘Zeal Salmon’ is a showy, late variety with deep pink flowers. The stronger colours are dramatic and the pastels more elegant.
When growing these beauties try to remember that Schizostylis need moisture-retentive soil to perform well. They also need a sunny position so they can sparkle until the frosts arrive. They do survive in dry gardens, but they look miserable and flower poorly, if at all. It is possible to improve flowering by mulching them with a thick layer of gravel in spring after heavy rain. This will preserve moisture and allow them to flower.