Kniphofia is a very interesting genus that deserves our attention. It contains about 73 species of flowering plants that mostly show up in regions of South Africa. In cultivation, the vibrant-coloured flowers from this genus go by several common names, such as Red Hot Poker, African Flame Flower, Poker Plant, Devil’s Poker, and Torch Lily.
Without a doubt, it is pretty difficult to find other species of plants that can match the spectacular appearance of Red Hot Poker. Any Kniphofia cultivar can fill a dull spot in an instant, and the good news is that there are many varieties and hybrids to choose from. The most popular Kniphofia cultivars include ‘Alcazar’, ‘Bees’ Lemon’, ‘Bees’ Sunset’, ‘Buttercup’, ‘Elvira’, ‘Flamenco’, ‘Jenny Bloom’, ‘Nobilis’, ‘Percy’s Pride’, ‘Tawny King’, and ‘Timothy’.
- A lot of people mistake Red Hot Poker for Aloe due to the similar features of their flowers. And they are not wrong, as these plants belong to the same plant family and are close relatives. The main difference is that all Aloe species have succulent leaves, while Red Hot Pokers do not.
- Numerous Kniphofia cultivars are recipients of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Some of these are ‘Barton Fever’, ‘Bees’ Sunset’, ‘Coral Flame’, ‘Innocence’, ‘Moonstone’, ‘Nobilis’, ‘Royal Standard’, ‘Sunningdale Yellow’, and ‘Tawny King’.
- The hypnotic flowers of Red Hot Poker are among the favourite attractions of hummingbirds and bees. Likewise, they will charm various wildlife species and butterflies when in bloom.
- Kniphofia plants are very versatile, making for nice-looking additions to landscape decorations like rock gardens, mass planting, perennial borders, naturalistic settings, water edges, exotic style combinations, and containers. They also look fabulous as stand-alone specimens or vertical accents.
- Red hot poker can be a superb companion plant to many other ornamental species. The most common companions include African Lily, Beardtongue, Black-Eyed Susan, Canna Lily, Cardinal Flower, Dahlia, Jerusalem Sage, Montbretia, New England Aster, Sneezeweed, Spear Grass, Tall Verbena, Wood Sage, and Yarrow.
- Some Kniphofia species, such as K. laxiflora and K. rooperi, play a big part in both traditional and modern medicine. People have been using these plants as snake repellents for centuries and, nowadays, they are considered great treatments against chest disorders and abdominal cramps.
- Ingesting or touching parts of the Red Hot Poker plant has no toxic effects on either humans or animals. As a result, you can grow this plant absolutely anywhere you want without worrying about the safety of your curious children or furry friends.
Kniphofia Features: An Overview
- Red hot poker belongs to the Asphodelaceae family of flowering plants. It shares this family with many other well-known genera, such as Asphodelus, Aloe, Caesia, Haworthia, Hemerocallis, Johnsonia, or Stypandra.
- Kniphofia species are herbaceous perennial plants. Depending on the cultivar, these plants can reach from 18 inches to 6 feet (45 cm to 1.8 m) in height and 1 to 3 feet (30-60 cm) in diameter.
- The basal foliage of Kniphofia can vary from one specimen to another. While some cultivars have narrow, grass-like leaves of up to 39 inches (100 cm) long, others feature broader, strap-shaped leaves that measure up to 5 feet (1.5 m) in length.
- In general, Red Hot Poker blooms from spring through early autumn. During these seasons, it exhibits brilliant shows of upright, dense, tubular, and long-lasting blossoms that look very much like pokers or torches.
- The bright-coloured flowers of Kniphofia show up well above the foliage. They come in numerous shades of red, orange, yellow, golden, creamy, green, or vibrant mixes of these colours. The Kniphofia flowers produce generous amounts of nectar.
- Red Hot Poker bears fruits once its flowering period has come to an end. The fruits are tiny, round, pulpy, green to brownish capsules, and contain several seeds.
If you dream about having the most beautiful Kniphofia flowers in your garden, make sure you grow them in bright and direct light all year round. This plant will perform well with at least six hours under full sunlight exposure daily. However, it can also tolerate some shade in some cases. In fact, shaded locations are the best options for this plant in hot climates or during harsh afternoon sunlight.
Temperature-wise, Red Hot Poker grows at its best in the USDA planting areas 6 to 9. But! If you mulch your flowers and provide them with excellent drainage, they can be cold-hardy as far north as zone 5. As a general rule, covering the crown of your plant with mulch is mandatory for over-wintering, especially in regions with cold winter temperatures.
Although Kniphofia is virtually carefree when it comes to fungal diseases or pests, some intruders may bother your plant from time to time. The most common issues that can occur with time are slugs and snails. These pests will prefer to attack the most attractive part of this plant – its flower spikes. If you notice any suspect presence on the spikes, handpick the intruders and apply neem oil to avoid future infestations.
In general, the perfect time to plant your newly bought Kniphofia is either in spring or in autumn. This flower tends to spread like crazy and, due to this particular feature, it is actually an invasive species in some areas. To avoid over-crowding your plants, we recommend you plant each specimen at a distance of at least 16 inches (40 cm) from the other ones. Good air circulation will not only ensure enough space for your plants to develop but will also help you avoid pest infestations and fungus.
In terms of growing medium, Red hot poker can do just fine in a variety of soil types. Since this plant is susceptible to root rot, you must plant it in a substrate that comes packed with very sharp drainage. Keep in mind that it requires lots of nutrients to grow properly and produce many healthy blossoms. As a general rule, Red Hot Poker prefers a neutral soil pH.
If you are growing your Kniphofia in rich soil, you can basically forget about fertilizers for good. However, specimens that grow in poor soil will need extra attention, but too much fertilizing may damage them with time. Because of this, feed your Kniphofia with an all-purpose, slow-release, and water-soluble fertilizer once every year in early spring.
Some dwarf Kniphofia cultivars can make for good-looking potted companions. Make sure you plant these specimens in containers that have one or more drainage holes at the bottom. When the plants start to outgrow their pots, you can transplant them in others that are one size larger than the current ones. As a rule, repotting should take place only once the last danger of frost has passed, usually in early to mid-spring.
Since Red Hot Poker is a repeat bloomer, it will benefit from regular deadheading. This process will promote new, healthy flowers during the blooming period of your plants. Likewise, you can trim the foliage of your Red Hot Poker back to a few inches above the ground level to bring it back in shape.
What can be more charming than a fabulous plant which can thrive with minimal effort on your part? Especially when you are at the beginning of your gardening journey! Of course, you will have to water your young Kniphofia regularly to help them settle in their new home.
However, too much moisture may result in root rot and this issue will occur much easier during the cooler seasons, from late autumn through late winter. The good news, though – Red Hot Poker comes with very few watering demands once established.
Make sure you water your plant only when the top half of its soil feels dry to the touch. During its period of interest, in spring and summer, you may need to provide your Red Hot Poker plants with drinks more often than usual. In autumn and winter, you can water it whenever its growing medium has dried out completely.
First things first, you should know that Kniphofia grows and spreads like crazy via rhizomes. Due to its fast-growing habit, this plant will form many clumps that can become overcrowded pretty fast. So, even if you do not want to propagate your Kniphofia plants for ornamental purposes, this process will be mandatory to keep them alive with time.
The easiest and most effective method to propagate Red Hot Pokers is division. Once the warmth of spring has settled in, dig the rhizomes of your plants out of the soil using a good old spade. After this process, you must divide the roots into two or three smaller sections and make sure each part has at least one stem attached to it. Replant the sections in their permanent locations and give them the same care as before.
Likewise, you can remove the offsets from the rhizomes and plant them in pots or outdoors directly into the ground. If you do not have enough space for all the new Red Hot Poker plants, you can always gift some of them to your plant-loving family members or friends!
It is safe to say that any plant collection is incomplete without at least one Red Hot Poker in it. Not only does this buddy look absolutely stunning wherever you put it, but it is very low-demanding in general as well. Once you decide which cultivar suits your preferences, do not hesitate to share your experience with us in the comments!