The newest generation of clivias comes in a symphony of exciting pastels


photography by JAMES COMSTOCK

FROM THE MOMENT of their discovery in the early 19th century, clivias have had a profound effect on horticulture. Gardeners in Japan, in particular, became enchanted by these members of the amaryllis family soon after the plants reached that country from their native South Africa. Europe wasn’t far behind. In England, the most spectacular species, Clivia miniata, was put on display before its identity was known, and the first flowers created a sensation. It proved to be a durable and long-lived plant, and its large seeds were readily produced and easy to germinate. Before long, the plant breeders were at work, using some of the fine selections that had been discovered in the wild and brought back to Europe. By the end of the 19th century, spectacular new hybrids were being shown and illustrated. And then they disappeared, victims of the upheavals and fuel shortages caused by the First World War. Not only were plants themselves lost, but nearly a whole generation of gardeners was lost as well. Other factors also worked against them. Although the large heads of orange flowers were undeniably gorgeous, the plants themselves tended to be large, ungainly, and difficult to move. The Second World War merely exacerbated the effects of the first, and, except for a handful of enthusiasts, interest in clivias waned.

But now interest has been rekindled with a vengeance. An international movement has changed these plants in many different and exciting ways. Belgian breeders, for example, have transformed clivias into more petite, rapidly maturing pot plants with astounding sales figures of over 700,000 plants per year in Europe. Chinese breeders have selected clivias for unusual leaf patterns and shapes; single plants there are reputed to sell for as much as $10,000. Individual seeds from desirable parents can sell for as much as $10 to $20 each. In South Africa and California, new colors such as peaches, apricots, and pinks are becoming popular. The clivia world is now so active that there is an international electronic list that enables clivia enthusiasts from around the world to keep in touch with one other. (See “Clivia Resources,” page 49.) An international symposium is held in South Africa every four years, and annual clivia shows are popping up in Australia, China, and South Africa. Journals and yearbooks cater to the growing ranks of devotees.

Outstanding examples of the new clivias: 1. Red-orange multipetal 2. Flowers with koi, or “tarentaal,” markings 3. Form in which the orange coloration is reduced almost to a picotee edge 4. Interspecific cross between C. miniata and C. nobilis 5. Medium orange multipetal 6. Good modern yellow 7. Yellow multipetal 8. ‘Cynthia Ann’, a party color 9. Peach


To understand this fervor, all one has to do is look at some of the new plants that are being bred. Yellow clivias have long enjoyed the mystique of being exceptionally scarce and desirable. Today’s knowledgeable growers, however, aren’t content with the buttery cream color of older selections—they want rich, golden yellow flowers, a feat that has been achieved but is still rare. One yellow clivia that has been important in the breeding of modern yellow- and orange-flowered cultivars is ‘Vico Yellow’, a very large-flowered, creamy variety developed by Sir Peter Smithers. It is one of the few varieties that has been propagated by tissue culture, and bears large florets of rather undisciplined form. However, it imparts to some of its progeny immense flowers that can have overlapping florets of superb shape. Breeders are only now starting to recognize its importance in parenting show-quality plants.

Among the most exciting new hybrids are those with pink and peach-colored flowers, which have appeared in several different breeding programs. (These colors shouldn’t be confused with the soft pastel oranges that are also appearing.) In these plants, the pink is usually mixed with a variable amount of cream or yellow, so the colors range from apricots and peaches to shades that are quite close to true pink.

Another interesting development involves those plants called “party colors” in the United States and “ghosts” in other parts of the world. The flowers of this group display patterns made up of irregular blotches of color in which soft pinks predominate. Such plants are extremely rare, however, and fetch alarming prices—provided one is even able to find a person willing to part with a division. Most hobbyists prefer to buy seeds that have the potential for producing these desirable patterns. (See “Growing Clivias from Seed,” page 49.)

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