Red Hot Poker – Torch Lily
The torches (Kniphofia), also called rocketflowers, are a plant genus of the family Asphodelaceae. Their magnificent, high flower candles in fiery colors resemble a shining torch – hence their name. The botanical genus name Kniphofia goes back to the Erfurt botanist Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704-1763). One distinguishes about 70 evergreen and deciduous species. Most of them come from the highlands of South Africa. Some species can also be found in Ethiopia, the Arab world and Madagascar.
Appearance and growth
The leaves of the torches form dense, winter-green eyries. Above them – usually at a height of 100 to 120 centimeters – stand dense, spikey to heady grapes on strong, upright stems. The hanging, tubular flowers first open at the lower end of the raceme. Depending on the variety, the inflorescences shine in yellow, orange and red tones from July to October. Many are also bicoloured, with the lower half of the flower candle usually lighter, the upper half darker. Varieties with white or greenish flowers are often less frost hardy and more short-lived than established varieties such as ‘Royal Standard’ (lower yellow, upper orange-red), ‘Safranvogel’ (salmon pink) or ‘Grandiflora’ (yellow-red). the cultivars of the flare lied (Kniphofia hybrids) are the largest with 60 to 150 centimeters growing height and bloom from June to September. Dwarf torches (Kniphofia galpinii) reach only 60 to 70 centimeters. Its flowering starts a little later, in August, and lasts until October.
Location and soil
The torches prefer a sunny, warm place and need a not too nutrient-rich, fresh to moist soil. Although most species grow in the wild in humid areas, they need well-permeable soils, especially in winter.
The best time for planting torches is spring, as they grow poorly when planted in autumn. The Southerner develops particularly well when the earth around her is covered with a layer of bark mulch or gravel that prevents it from drying out.
Ample irrigation – at least in the months before flowering – ensures lush flowering. You should cut off withered shoots. The leaves, on the other hand, are left standing to protect the plant from frost and wetness in winter (see winter protection). Next spring, the leaves are cut off a hand’s width above the ground. Be careful when fertilizing the torches. Too many nutrients make the plants more susceptible to diseases and pests and lose their winter hardiness.
Our winters, which often turn out to be rather damp, are not so popular with the southern woman. To protect the heart of the plant from moisture, the grassy leaves of the torchlia are tied together in autumn to form a mop of hair. In order to also protect the roots, which are sensitive to rot, from wetness, you should fill up dry leaves around the root area, which you can stabilise with a few fir branches. A spruce brushwood cover additionally protects the torches from the winter sun. In spring, the protection is removed again so as not to impede new sprouting.
Whether as a soloist on open spaces or as a leading perennial in borders: with their exotic-looking flower heads, torches are extraordinary eye-catchers. Kniphofia are particularly attractive in combination with ornamental grasses such as Chinese reed (Miscanthus), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), switch grass (Panicum virgatum) or lamp cleaner grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides). Other shrubs are also suitable as neighbours, such as bearded iris, royal candle (Verbascum), palm lily (Yucca) or catnip (Nepeta). As unusual cut flowers torches are also wonderfully suitable.
Important species and varieties
To the type of the torches (Kniphofia), approximately 70 types count. The lower flowers of the “Ur-Fackellilie” Kniphofia uvaria are light yellow, the upper flowers red. The Kniphofia hybrids are now the most widespread, with numerous varieties offered in various colours and growth heights. Proven eye-catchers include ‘Alcazar’ (orange red), ‘Canary’ (light yellow), ‘Ice Queen’ (cream white), ‘Royal Standard’ (bottom yellow, top orange red) and ‘R. W. Kerr’ (orange yellow). If you are looking for a dainty specimen, it is best to pick a dwarf torchlily (Kniphofia galpinii), such as ‘St. Gallen’ (orange).
By division in spring all torches can be multiplied well. To do this, carefully dig out the rootstock, shake off the soil, divide the root with a sharp knife and plant the pieces separately. The southern woman can also be cultivated from seeds. After about six weeks the germination takes place, in spring it can be planted. However, torches grown from seeds do not bloom for two to three years.
Diseases and pests
Waterlogging during the cold season can lead to root rot in the torchlia. Their leaf heads are therefore tied together in autumn and the roots are surrounded by dry leaves. Stained foliage may be due to an infestation by thrips. The pests, also called thunderbolts, feed on the cell sap of the plants. To combat them, nettle brew or products with Neem oil help. The useful earworms like to spend the night in the flower tubes. Although they occasionally eat the flowers, they do not harm the plant. You can easily resettle them by offering them an alternative shelter. Flower pots filled with straw, which are placed face down into the bed, have proven to be very effective.