The dark green strap like leaves of the Clivia or “Clivia Miniata” grow in 2 parallel arching sheaves that bend in opposite directions to a length of 24” (60 cm) and make this an attractive houseplant even when not in flower. There is nothing mini about this plant, which can spread horizontally to 36” (91 cm) and needs room to grow. The 18” (47 cm) flower stalk appears in late winter or early spring and carries a cluster of 12-20 funnel shaped flowers. Each flower is a bright scarlet with a yellow throat up to 3” (7.5 cm) long.
Light and Temp
Clivia are a very tolerant plant, happy with east or west window and prefer a cooler temperature. A west or south facing light source may need to be filtered by a shear curtain. An indicator of diffused light is if you pass your hand over your plant you would barely see your hands shadow. A fairly cool entryway, 60-65 degrees for example, with moderate light would be nice placement.
Originally found in the mountain valleys of KwaZulu-Natal, S. Africa, where the soil is loamy, with porous subsoil and a rich layer of humus, the Clivia must have a very hearty combination of nutrient rich base and an aerator like sand (or small pine bark). A mix of 1 part aged compost, 1 part loam or humus, 2 parts coarse sand, perlite, or pumice (or a combination of these 3) would be a good mixture for this plant. If beginning with a good commercial potting soil, add 25% compost. Add 10% sand (or small pine bark) if it seems heavy as the very fleshy roots need room to wriggle and breath. A good soilless mix would be 1 part sphagnum peat or coir, 1 part perlite or pumice and 1 part vermiculite. Always provide a pot with a hole in the bottom for drainage.
Now that you have a pot with a hole in the bottom you will need a saucer full of some large stones to set your pot on to keep the water from the bottom as the roots will not tolerate stagnant water. Remember the native habitat is porous subsoil where the water will drain away from the roots. Clivia must have a resting period from September to January. During the resting period the soil must be kept as dry as possible depending upon the temperature. The cooler the room the less water you’ll need to provide. Sometime in the spring you will see the flower stalk begin, gain about 6” (15 cm), and this is your signal to begin the summer watering schedule. At this time you will withhold water only until the surface of the soil has become quite dry, water until you see it drain through into your saucer, and avoid the foot-bath through the summer months. Begin to cut back on the water amount again in September for the rest period.
A good food for the Clivia would have 10% nitrogen, 15% phosphate 10% potash, 10% iron, 5% manganese and zinc each given twice a month Feb-July and every 6 weeks July-Jan.
Clivia need to be tight in their pot in order to flower so if you do not see a flower stalk by May you should begin the summer watering schedule regardless and you may be treated to a fall flowering. An older, undisturbed plant will often flower 2-3 times a year. You may not see a flower the first year after re-potting but the roots will quickly fill the existing pot. After flowering seeds may develop. They should be removed as they absorb too much energy. They will not as a rule germinate.
Problems and Pests
Any problems are rare. If given too much direct sun you will see brown patches on the leaves. It has gotten sunburned just as you or I would. If given too much water, especially cold water (remember the natural tropical habitat again) you could see yellowing of the leaves. If it does not flower it could be that it is just not ready after a re-potting or that it was not given the necessary rest period in winter.
I’ve never had the pleasure but have heard that if in too warm a position through winter you may see an attack of scale insects that lodge themselves in the axils of the leaves and multiply very fast. They can be removed with diluted rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab.
Insecticides should be used only when necessary and organic compounds are safer for people and the environment than chemical ones. Make sure to read instructions carefully, take notice of specific warnings and don’t neglect the axils. (The cozy place where the leaves meet.)
The time to re-pot is just after flowering and only when you can see that the roots have filled the pot so completely that they are prevalent on the surface of the medium. The older the Clivia the less frequently it should be re-potted. Carefully remove the soil from between the roots ends with water or a thin stick being careful not to break the fleshy roots. Remove any dark roots at this time. Place your fresh compost in your new pot to 1/3 of its depth and carefully spread the roots over top of this layer of dirt, carefully fill it in, and tamp it down.
Clivia can be propagated by division or by seed. The offshoots must have at least 4-5 leaves and be growing well. First untangle the roots from the mother plant to be sure the offshoot has its own roots, then cut, with a very sharp knife, between the baby and the main plant. It is recommended that the new cutting be put into a soilless mix containing one part peat and one part sharp sand or small pine bark thoroughly mixed. A composted soil would be full of wonderful nutrients and would burn the new cuttings roots. You will want to re-pot the cutting after the roots develop and are holding the plant securely in the pot.
If you do not divide the young plants that appear after flowering, you will, over time, possess a truly magnificent family with a dozen flowers at a time.
It is possible to grow plants from suitable seed but it is a lengthy process taking 3-4 years.
One of the main allergens in the home is dust. It is advisable to wipe the plant leaves as often as you dust your furniture. (perhaps more?) You can put your Clivia outside for the summer and they adore a warm summer rain. Just be certain to put it back into a shady protected place before the sun returns!
Once you find it a comfy spot in your home a Clivia would prefer not to be moved, especially when in flower.
If the Clivia gets wounded it leaks white latex that can irritate the skin and of course, if eaten, can cause nausea. Wash your hands if the sap gets on your skin and keep it away from your face. Don’t let this ruin the beauty and joy you can get from this magnificent plant.
Other plants with this irritating latex are: tulip, narcissus, hyacinth, and amaryllis.