They came with the property. Under the twinings of Japanese honeysuckle, wild grapevine and privet shrubs gone beserk were imposing pointy rosettes of thick dark green. Their identity was unknown, but the cluster was divided and moved to a blank space by the side of the house to wait and see what would develop.
As the stout stalks arose, excitement escalated. As the tops formed titillatingly, there was a hint of what was to come next. Kniphofia ssp. of some sort, most likely Kniphofia caulescens was determined in the big reveal. These had never been seen growing in real life, but had been noticed in catalogs, books and magazine articles. I thought they were more of a tropical plant and was thrilled to be able to grow them here in USDA Zone 7a Southeast Tennessee. As they began to bloom here, several more clusters were noticed around the neighborhood, perhaps the result of friendly passalongs over the years.
These are big plants that need some room to best show off their charms. They have been moved multiple times and at one point were deemed too large to even live here at all. The lot was dug up and given to my daughter Semi to help fill in her hillside that is even steeper than my own slopes. But there must have been a piece of root left in the ground, for the unmistakable foliage rose again from the soil. Thank goodness.
A couple more moves has found the perfect, for now, location to grow these fine fellows, in the Gravel Garden amongst the tall Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ grasses in the back of the bed. There are some irises in there, as well, Iris germanica ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is showing off at present.
In all the growing spots of the tall flower stalks around here as time has passed, birds have been noted feeding on something unknown as the blooms open from bottom to top, turning from the reddish orange buds to pale yellow petals. Quizically but with gusto, the birds are finding a treat there. Bugs? Seeds? Something.
The finch family, cardinals, goldfinches and male and female purple finches that are featured in these photos, a downy woodpecker and even a hummingbird have been seen this year feasting on the flaming torch like flower heads. The common name of red hot poker is apt, as is torch lily, another moniker. Even stripped bare, the stalks give vertical interest until they are cut down in late winter to make way for new spring growth.
Some plant facts about Kniphofia caulescens:
Meaning: Named for Prof. Johann Hieronymus Kniphof, 18th century botanist
Alternative Pronunciation: nip-HOH-fee-uh
Hardy in USDA Zones 7a to 10b, also listed hardy to Zone 5
Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and wide
Siting: Full sun
Bloom time: mid spring
Drought tolerant, clay tolerant, deer resistant
Acid to neutral soil with good drainage
Native range: is native to the high grassy slopes of South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains
Propagate by crown offset division
Once bitten by the Kniphofia bug, the search was on for more varieties. So far two Kniphofia uvarias, one white and one a nice yellow, shown above, have been added, from mixed seed grown by Ruth at Mouse Creek nursery, Kniphofia ‘Little Maid’, a diminutive, one foot tall, micro mini in pale yellow and Kniphofia rooperi from Plant Delights Nursery that has yet to bloom after several years in the ground here. The last two species have also been moved to the Gravel Garden for better growing and the better to see you, my dears. If there are future blooms of these, photos might be added to this post, if I can remember to do so.