Monday, 20 October 2014

Paintbrush Lily Scadoxus puniceus

English:        Snake Lily, Paintbrush Lily 
German:       Blutblume
Zulu:             isisphompho, umgola

Scadoxus puniceus growing in grassland in full sun in my garden at Mount Moreland north of Durban, note the leaves are almost absent at the time of flowering when growing in the full sun

Scadoxus puniceus is a bulbous plant belonging to the Family: Amaryllidaceae and the Subfamily: Amaryllidoideae which is native to eastern southern Africa. It has been recorded growing
in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, and South Africa.

Scadoxus puniceus are mostly found growing in the shade of coastal forests, where they grow in leaf litter often in dry localities. They are also found growing in scrub and in full sun in grasslands. When growing in full sun the leaves and in particular the bracts around the flowers are a much darker richer colour.

Growth habit

Produces lush shiny bright green leaves in the summer months after flowering. In the later summer the leaves turn yellow and die and the large bulb which is mostly above ground goes into winter dormancy flowering out of the bare ground in the middle to late winter in Durban. The flowers are pollinated by bees and olive sunbirds

The fruits are fleshy, shiny round red berries up to approximately 1cm in diameter. They have single soft pearl-like seeds inside. The ripe berries are eaten by birds in particular black eyed bulbul or common bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus  tricolor)

Black eyed bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus tricolor

Medicinal uses

Although the bulb is poisonous containing the alkaloids haemanthamines, haemanthidine, 6-?-hydroxycrinamine, scapunine, and scadoxucines it is used in traditional medicine to treat coughs, gastro-intestinal problems, febrile colds, asthma, leprosy, sprains and bruises, and as an antidote to poisons. It is also used as a diuretic. The leaves are applied to sores and ulcers to aid healing and act as an antiseptic. The plant is also traditionally consumed during pregnancy as part of an herbal regime to ensure safe labour.

Growing Scadoxus puniceus

This is one of my firm favourites, it is the first plant that I have recollection of growing as a child. The first specimens I dug out in the bush across the road from my parents house and planted in our garden at the age of about 5 years. Plants subdivided from those originally collected back in the late 1950´s were still growing in the garden in 2006 when my mother sold the house. Scadoxus puniceus are extremely easy to grow in our climate in particular if they are grown in the ground in well drained sandy soil enriched with a little organic matter in particular well rotted leaf mould. In the ground it will not need watering at all. It also does well planted in containers in well drained soil, do not over water, it is best to keep it a bit on the dry side to develop a good healthy root system.
Amaryllis lily borer Brithys crini can cause severe damage to the whole plant if not controlled.
Plants grown in the full sun however appear to be unaffected by Amaryllis lily borer which seldom lay their eggs on them and when they do from observation it would appear that plants grown in strong light develop toxins in the leaves that kill the young larvae soon after boring into the leaves.
A must for every indigenous garden in the areas where it grows naturally, it also makes a good indoor pot plant provided it gets enough light.

I photographed these Scadoxus puniceus growing well outdoors in New Zealand grown by David Brundell in his magnificent garden at Glenbrook Beach near Waiuku south of Auckland a must for anyone interested in plants to see if they are in the area. Viewing by appointment only see for details.


Scadoxus puniceus may be propagated vegetatively from the bulbs, by splitting off offsets and from seed which must have the flesh removed and planted as soon thereafter as possible.  The seed must be place on the surface of the sandy well drained growing medium and lightly pressed into the growing medium, do not cover the seed. Water but not too much as the young seedling will rot very easily if they are kept too wet. They are slow-growing and will take a few years before flowering but vast numbers can be propagated easily in this manner.

Cut flowers

Scadoxus puniceus makes a good very long lasting cut flower. If the water is changed regularly and if the flower is artificially pollinated it will set bright shiny green seeds which will in time ripen to a brilliant red in the vase. The flowers will also last a long time completely without water in a vase.


A magnificent very much overlooked plant in South African landscapes and interior plantscapes
Scadoxus puniceus is an excellent bedding plant with a net and tidy growth habit to brighten those shady, dull, dry areas under trees where nothing wants to grow with their brilliant lush green colour and spectacular flowers popping up through the mulch and fallen leaves in the middle of winter. No garden be it planted to exotics, a mixture of exotic or purely indigenous plants should be without this spectacular plant.

Like the other South African Scadoxus species it makes an excellent easy to care for pot plant.

Michael Hickman
Ecosystems Manager
Landscape Design Specialist


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