Kniphofia caulescens
Common Name: red hot poker
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Asphodelaceae
Native Range: Southern Africa
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to August
Bloom Description: Coral red to yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Hummingbirds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Rabbit, Deer, Drought

Culture

Grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Performs best in humusy, compost-enriched soils in alpine areas to 7,000’ in elevation. Tolerant of drought, but prefers even moisture in the summer growing season. Intolerant of wet, heavy soils, particularly in winter. Locate in areas protected from strong wind. Promptly remove spent flower spikes to encourage additional bloom and to maintain the integrity of the planting. Winter hardy to USDA Zones 6-8 (possibly Zone 5). Foliage remains evergreen in frost-free climates, but will show significant damage in colder winters. Crowns benefit from a protective mulch in winter in USDA Zones 5 and 6. Tie leaves together in late fall to form a canopy over the crown in order to prevent water from settling in the crown and freezing. Cut back foliage to 3” in early spring in anticipation of the new growing season. Established clumps are best left undisturbed. Plants may be grown from seed and will self seed in the landscape to form colonies.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Kniphofia caulescens, commonly known as red-hot poker or torch lily, is an upright, clump-forming, rhizomatous, evergreen perennial that is native to grassy slopes, often in marshy sites and seepage areas, in the Drakesberg Mountains of South Africa and Lesotho (landlocked country encircled by South Africa) at elevations above 3,000’ where it is often found growing in huge colonies.

From an 18-24” tall basal tuft of coarse, narrow, linear, sword-shaped, evergreen to semi-evergreen, bluish-green leaves (to 3' long and 1" wide) rise one or more thick, leafless flower scapes (no support needed) which soar well above the foliage clump to 3-4' tall. Each scape is topped with a dense, showy, bottlebrush-like spike (scapose terminal raceme to 6-10" long) of drooping, short-stalked, tubular flowers which bloom in summer (July-August). Buds and emerging flowers are coral red but mature to yellow (bottom to top), giving each spike a two-toned appearance. Flowers bloom in summer (July-August). Common names refer to the purported resemblance of each flower spike to a red hot poker or torch.

Genus name honors Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704-1763) German physician and botanist.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin words caulos meaning having a well-developed stem and -escent meaning like.

Problems

No significant insect or disease problems. Watch for root rot in poorly-drained soils. Thrips may appear in some areas.

Garden Uses

Specimen or small groups in the perennial border. Mass in large landscape areas. Alpine gardens. Foliage clumps are ornamentally attractive when not in flower.