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Perennial Focus

Poker Plant / Torch Lily

I wonder if Poker Plant is so named because the long, thin, flowering spike looks like something you could use as a poker to move logs in a fireplace? Torch Lily is quite apt since the red and orange cultivars look like flaming torches.

I love the boldness of this perennial but have had only variable success with it. I think the key is excellent drainage so that the roots don't rot during the winter. Native to South Africa, it's hardy to zone 5 but needs full sun. Allan Armitage, the perennial guru, suggests that we tie the foliage over the crown of the plant in late fall to exclude water accumulation that would subsequently freeze and thus kill the plant.

Known best for its vividly colored orange-red spikes, Kniphofia also has cultivars that are shades of yellow, orange, and green as well as bicolor. The long, gray-green basal foliage is somewhat stiff yet mounding. There are an incredible number of cultivars, many of them being hybrids of different species (at least one being K.uvaria) or derived from seedlings that tend to show variability. Deadheading is essential if you want repeat bloom.

In zones 5 and 6, Kniphofia tends to begin blooming in June but they can also bloom in July and August depending on the cultivar and deadheading. Flowering of the spikes starts at the bottom; the lower half is often out of bloom by the time the upper half blooms. One of the tallest cultivars, at three feet, is the bicolored Flamenco'. It is orange on the upper half and yellow on the bottom half. The combination of color and height makes it quite arresting. In my west bed, I have it planted next to Citrina', a pale yellow, somewhat shorter cultivar.

In a nearby bed, I have Border Ballet', a two foot seed cultivar that is sold as a mix of colors. All of mine just happen to be a soft orange with a bit of pale yellow at the bottom.

Across the lawn, in my east bed, are two species that I purchased from specialty nurseries. Kniphofia thompsonii snowdenii is a slow spreader and also looks different than other poker plants because its individual tubes are more separated. It only grows 18 to 24 inches tall for me although it can supposedly grow up to 36 inches. Kniphofia triangularis ssp.triangularis, a two-footer, has yellow flowers and blooms in early June.

I have just started trialing the rebloomers. The best known is the Popsicle Series from Terra Nova but there is also the Echo Series from Itsaul Plants. At a future date, I'll have to let you know how they perform.





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