Natal Lilies Are the Shady Ladies of Early Spring

Photo by Ryan Benoit

You might have seen them. The Clivia miniata, or natal lily, squats patiently and monochromatically for most of the year, beneath trees and in dark corners of gardens in Zones 9 and 10. It’s also a beloved indoor plant — as it shuns direct sunlight and likes its roots a bit crowded — but we lucked out when we moved here and discovered a whole klatch of them beneath our tangerine tree.

Left 2011, top 2012, bottom 2013

Clockwise from left: our kaffir lily in Spring 2011, 2012 and 2013, caught in bloom last night

This luxuriant perennial is a member of the amaryllis family. Its long, sword shaped leaves look like cucumbers from afar, and are beautiful enough until you get an eyeful of the clustered orange blooms that grin open right around Spring Equinox. These silky trumpets are unpredictable; last month our plant faked us out by sending out just a single anemic bloom — as if it were testing out the conditions to make sure the coast was clear — before unfurling a fireworks display that is still in effect, and growing in intensity by the day.

Kaffir-Lilly_RMB6785

Trumpet section: A shy lily emerges at our friend’s apartment complex.

It’s tricky to find a shade plant that will add pizzazz to the foot of a heavily canopied fruit tree. Yes, tillandsia and moss are also great for sun-deprived spots, but don’t count out this cheerful contender.

Shoot and share Clivia miniata (kaffir lily) in the Community Garden

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