Blood Lily Care: How To Grow An African Blood Lily Plant

Native to South Africa, African blood lily (Scadoxus puniceus), also known as snake lily plant, is an exotic tropical perennial. This plant produces reddish-orange globes of pincushion-like blooms in late spring and early summer. The flashy, 10-inch blooms make the plant a real show stopper. Read on to learn about growing African blood lilies in your garden.

How to Grow an African Blood Lily

Growing African blood lilies outdoors is possible only in the warm climates of USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 12.

Plant blood lily bulbs with the necks even with, or slightly above, the surface of the soil.

If your soil is poor, dig in a few inches of compost or manure, as blood lily bulbs need rich, well-drained soil. The plant thrives in either partial shade or full sunlight.

Growing African Blood Lilies in Cool Climates

If you live north of USDA zone 9 and you have your heart set on growing this spectacular flower, dig the bulbs before the first frost in autumn. Pack them in peat moss and store where temperatures remain between 50 and 60 degrees F. (10-15 C.) Replant the bulbs outdoors when you’re sure all danger of frost has passed in spring.

You can also grow snake lily plants in containers. Bring the container indoors when nighttime temperatures fall below 55 degrees F. (13 C.) Let the leaves dry out and don’t water until spring.

African Blood Lily Care

Water African blood lily regularly throughout the growing system. This plant does best when ground is consistently moist, but never soggy. Gradually reduce watering and allow the foliage to die down in late summer. When the plant goes dormant, withhold water until spring.

Feed the plant once or twice during the growing season. Use a light application of any balanced garden fertilizer.

A Note of Caution: Use care when growing African blood lilies if you have pets or small children. They may be attracted to the colorful flowers, and the plants are mildly toxic. Ingesting the plants may result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive salivation.

Blood lily: a ball of fire in a flower pot

For flashy, spherical, red blossoms indoors or out, the blood lily is a rare and unusual South African container plant.

With the latest predictions of temperatures dropping to the high 40s F. (4 to 9 C) at night in my area, it is time to start bringing in the tropical plants that I typically overwinter indoors.

The first to come in is the blood lily (Scadoxus multiflorus, formerly Haemanthus multiflorus) , also known as the powder-puff lily, African blood lily, fire-ball lily, and football lily. A dazzling, though somewhat bizarre-looking plant, there is, nevertheless, something special about it.

Yes, it is weird looking. And yes, it blooms for only two short weeks, or less. But when in full flower, it is an amazing conversation piece, stopping all friends and visitors dead in their tracks.

That alone is worth the price of the bulbs.

This blood lily is one of about 50 species of Scadoxus from central and southern Africa, but only a few are available in this country. It belongs to the Amaryllis family, and I treat it as such. Thus far, mine seem to be thriving.

Since they’re hardy only to USDA Zone 8, I grow them in containers, where, when in full bloom, they drive visiting hummingbirds absolutely crazy – and the hummers’ antics, in trying to figure out this curious plant, keep all on-lookers greatly entertained.

Spectacular flowers

Airy, alien looking, orange-red balls about the size of a small beach ball (up to 10 inches in diameter), consisting of numerous tiny flowers – up to 200, I’m told, but I haven’t actually counted them – each with miniscule yellow stamens) explode upon the scene in early summer on stout, solid, 1-foot stalks.

After bloom, rosettes of textured, glossy, dark green leaves arise atop speckled stalks, making it a fascinating and decorative foliage plant for months to come.

If pollinated, some stems produce small, round, bright orange-red fruits, which contain several seeds that, when planted fresh, can take up to six months to germinate. But thus far, no winged critter has taken it upon itself to pollinate my plants.

Cultural requirements

Here, in my Midwest garden, I grow my blood lilies in containers filled with a good commercial potting mix. However, the blood lily can be grown in the ground in frost-free climates if the conditions are similar to its tropical homeland.

That would mean: bulbs planted just below soil level, with excellent drainage; supplied with plenty of water while in active growth; kept hot and dry in dormancy; and best left undisturbed for many years. Although tolerant of full sun, in the wild blood lilies are often found growing in the shade of small shrubs.

But for most of us, it’s best to grow them in pots. Plant the bulbs with their necks just at or a little above soil level, taking care not to damage the fleshy roots. Fertilize once or twice during active growth with a weak feeding of liquid fertilizer.

My bulbs are only three years old, and this is the first year all five bulbs bloomed, though not all at once. (OK, maybe I’m being picky. But if they could only get their act together and bloom all at once, I’d highly appreciate it.) Literature tells me they should bloom in mid- to late summer, but mine bloom in early June.

Could it be that I have some teenager plants on my hands?

Fall and winter care

After bloom, I let the blood lilies luxuriate in an out-of-the-way corner of the deck in partial shade until the weather forecasters predict temperatures dipping below 55 degrees F. (13 C). That’s the wake-up call for me to start moving plants indoors.

Last year, I let the soil in the pots dry out and the bulbs go dormant. It took about a month for the foliage to completely dry out. I withheld water until spring, then started watering them once again, keeping them indoors until all danger of frost was gone.

This year, I’m toying with the idea of keeping the containers as houseplants, watering them all winter long just to see what happens come next spring.

A word of caution: The blood lily contains chemicals that are poisonous. Although it is considered to be “relatively low” in toxicity, the plant’s unusual blooms entice kids and pets like magnets. Therefore, I would keep a wary eye out when children and animals are present.

Betty Earl, the Intrepid Gardener, is one of nine garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin’ It. She’s the author of “In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the Midwest.” She also writes a regular column for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and The Kankakee Journal and numerous articles for Small Gardens Magazine, American Nurseryman, Nature’s Garden, and Midwest Living Magazine, as well as other national magazines. She is a garden scout for Better Homes and Gardens and a regional representative for The Garden Conservancy. To read more by Betty, .

PSEUDOBOMBAX ELLIPTICUM
Shaving Brush Tree

If planted in a tropical area with good soil and given plenty of water this magnificent flowering tree can get really big, perhaps as tall as 50′-70′. If kept potted and trimmed, the tree can be kept around 3′ tall. The way that the tree is going to end up looking will depend on where you live and how you grow it. If you live in frost free places you can have a really big tree, if it is not trimmed and is well fed. If you live in frost prone areas, then you have to grow the Shaving Brush in pots and the tree will be short and fat. A caudex will form (fat base) sometimes resembling a turtle shell. Pseudobombax are grown in full to partial sun. It is a deciduous tree and will loose their leaves in the winter. They should be kept a little dry at this time. In the spring, it will bloom when the tree still has no leaves (when mature or grafted). You should increase the water a little at this time of the year. After the flowers are gone, the leaves will sprout and if you need to you can trim the tree. By now it is time to start a regular (average) water schedule and fertilizing. The Pseudobombax should survive minimum temperatures in the high 20’s for short periods of time, but it is best to protect it when the temperatures fall below 32°F.

Check out Pseudobombax ellipticum ‘Alba.’
FAMILY : Bombacaceae
ORIGIN : Mexico
SIZE : 50′ but can be kept much smaller
GROWTH RATE : fast
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS : full to partial sun
WATER REQUIREMENTS : average; less in the winter
MIN. TEMP. : low 30’s
FLOWER : spring on mature or grafted trees

Neoregelias, of which there are many species and varieties, are my favorite bromeliads. Why you ask? I love them for their striking foliage which comes in quite the array of colors and patterns. I grew them outdoors in my Santa Barbara garden and seeing these vibrant and interesting plants made me smile every time. This is all about growing them indoors – these Neoregelia plant care tips will help keep yours healthy and looking splendid.

I’ve recently done posts on the Aeachmea, Pink Quill Plant and Guzmania, all of which are favored for their showy flower heads.

Neoregelia Plant Care Tips

What jazzes me about the Neoregelias is that the foliage is the star meaning this plant looks great for the long haul. The violet-blue flowers are deep inside the urn, vase, tank or cup (the well in the center of the plant is called many names!) and aren’t the reason this Bromeliad is so popular.

Light

Bright, natural light is best – like an east or west exposure. Neoregelias need this light to bring out the variegation in their foliage. The 1 that you see in the video can take a little less, whereas other varieties with flamboyant foliage need more light. Those could handle a south exposure. Either way, be sure to keep them out of hot, direct sun because they’ll burn.

Water

These, like the Aeachmea, have very defined urns. In nature, Neoregelias collect & absorb water in their urns & also through their foliage. Their roots are primarily for anchoring them onto other plants or whatever they’re growing on. You want to keep the urn about 1/4 full. If you keep it full, especially in the winter months, the center tends to rot out.

Keep even less water in the tank if you have low light &/or cool temps. You don’t want the plant to mush out. I let the cup go dry for 2-7 days before I refill with a little water.

You want to flush the urn out every month with fresh water otherwise it gets stagnant & bacteria will start to appear. I also moisten the growing medium every month or 2. Because these plants grow in the sub tropics & the tropics, they would appreciate a good misting once a week. If your home is really dry, then 2 or 3 times will make your Neoregelia even happier.

Don’t overwater your bromeliad. Like other houseplants, back off a bit on the watering in those cooler, darker winter months. And, if your water is hard, then be sure to use either purified or distilled water.

Neoregelias in the grower’s greenhouse.

Fertilizing

Neoregelias get their nutrients from matter which falls on them from plants growing above. For this reason, it’s best to spray the fertilizer onto the foliage & moisten the top 1/2 of the growing medium. You can use an all purpose orchid food (orchids are epiphytes just like bromeliads) diluted to 1/2 strength or this fertilizer formulated fro air plants.

I never fertilize my bromeliads because I feel they don’t need it. If your Neorgelia does, just make sure not to get too much fertilizer in the urn. Salts can build up & cause burn. Only feed in the spring or summer, & easy do it. Fertilizing once or twice a year is enough.

Growing Medium

All bromeliads need excellent drainage. In nature, they receive moisture from frequent rains but that water washes right off. I use orchid bark (small, medium or large is fine) or cymbidium orchid mix as well as a mix of orchid bark & coco coir. This is a more sustainable substitute for peat moss. Just make sure your mix drains really well.

Propagating/Repotting

Neoregelias don’t have extensive root systems so you probably won’t have to repot yours.

Like other bromeliads, pups (baby plants) form off the mother plant. I’ve found that the Neoregelia mother plant actually lasts quite a long time before producing those pups. You can leave the pups attached to the mother plant & gradually cut away the foliage as it dies or remove the pups with a sharp, clean knife when they get big enough.

The mother plant dying is just the natural cycle that a bromeliad goes through. You can pot those pups up or mount them on bark or driftwood. By the way, the pups grow slowly & don’t flower for at least 3 years.

More colorful Neorgelias in the greenhouse.

Humidity/Temperature

As I say, if your house is comfortable for you, it’ll be comfortable for your houseplants. Neoregelias seem to handle the dry air in our homes surprisingly well but would definitely love a misting or spraying once or twice a week. This also helps to keep any dust from building up on the foliage.

Is Neoregelia Safe For Pets?

From all that I’ve read & heard, Neoregelias are non-toxic to both cats & dogs. Their leaves are crunchy & this can be attractive to cats. It might make your kitty a bit sick, but it’s not poisonous.

The flowers grow inside the urn (cup, vase or tank) of Neoregelias.

Neoregelias make great houseplants because they’re so colorful and easy to maintain. They made it into the pages of our houseplant care book Keep Your Houseplants Alive so you know they’re just plain amazing.

Although this bromeliad doesn’t have a showy flower at all, the foliage makes up for that 10 times over. The patterns and colors Neoregelias are available in mind-blowing. A veritable psychedelic show!

Happy gardening & thanks for stopping by,

A little glimpse at the bromeliads in my Santa Barbara garden.

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