Friday 1 September 2023

Scadoxus Puniceus


Scadoxus puniceus

Common names:

English: Paintbrush lily, Snake lily,

Zulu: isisphompho, umgola

German: Blutblume


Scadoxus puniceus which belongs to the plant family Amaryllidaceae is native to much of southern and eastern Africa: Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), and South Africa in the Cape Provinces, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and the Northern Provinces.


The spring flowering, summer growing Scadoxus puniceus is one of South Africa's most striking bulbous plants.

Scadoxus puniceus growing in the Durban area flower shoot up a flower spike followed once flowering is over by the leaves at the end of August into September bearing large dense inflorescences up to 15cm across consisting of numerous smaller scarlet flowers with bright yellow anthers. There is a white colour form. 

The flower stalk may reach up to 50-60cm and is often spotted with purple near the base. The inflorescences are borne within bracts which may be large and dark purplish red in colour. Sunbirds, Spectacled weavers, mousebirds and other nectivorous birds feed on the nectar produced by the flowers. The young inflorescence, protected by bracts and borne on the red/purple spotted flower stalk, appears first, followed by the stem which bears 6-8 leaves. The leaves are glossy green, reach 30-40cm in length and have wavy margins. They are held erect clasping at the base to form a pseudostem (false stem) which has red/purple speckled scale leaves at the base.


The large underground bulbs may be up to 10cm across and have a short thick stem at the base from which numerous fleshy roots arise. The plants are dormant in winter and use the large bulbs and roots to store moisture during this period.

The fruits are fleshy, round, shiny red berries up to ±1cm in diameter. They bear single soft pearl-like seeds inside. Ripe berries eaten by birds and monkeys.


Scadoxus puniceus is very adaptable plant in regarding to where they grow. They occur in sandy soil in dry coastal and dune forest, in inland forests they can be found growing in deep shade often in leaf mould on rocks, under trees in woodlands as well in grasslands in full sun.

Medicinal Uses:

As within many of the closely related members of the plant family Amaryllidaceae, Scadoxus puniceus is poisonous and deaths have been reported following the ingestion of the bulb. However, although it is considered poisonous in significant amounts, it is used traditionally 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. The alkaloids in the plant include haemanthamines, haemanthidine, 6-β-hydroxycrinamine, scapunine, and scadoxucines.

Scadoxus puniceus is ranked as one of the most-traded medicinal plant species in South Africa.

Horticultural and landscape uses:

The magnificent Scadoxus puniceus is a well-known plant which is grown worldwide as both a house plant as well as outside as a landscape plant in countries with a warm enough climate.

The striking flowers last a long time as a cut flower and if artificially pollinated will produce seeds that in time turn bright red and can be planted to produce new plants.

Scadoxus puniceus grows very well as a green roof plant.

Growing Scadoxus puniceus:

The paintbrush lily Scadoxus puniceus that is very easy to grow has been in cultivation in Holland since early 18th century. It does well planted in the ground as well as in containers both inside and outside.

Scadoxus puniceus although they will grow under very unfavorable conditions in infertile or clay soils in and in deep shade, they will grow and flower best if planted in well-drained soil to which compost has been added in a semi-shady position or full sun. Water regularly in summer and keep them reasonably dry in winter. they do not like to be overwatered or to stand in water, this could cause the roots to rot. When grown in South Africa the Amaryllis lily borer caterpillar can cause severe damage to or kill the whole plant if not controlled.

When grown in a container both inside, our outside they must be grown in a loose well drained growing medium as used to grow Clivias in, which is allowed to dry out between watering. They respond well to being fertilized with either a balanced slow-release fertilizer or liquid feed.


Scadoxus puniceus are easily propagated in large numbers from seed which must be sown fresh, however one needs to have some patience because they are slow-growing and will take 4-5 years before flowering.

They can also be grown vegetatively using these standard methods used to propagate bulbs;


Offsets are the baby bulbs that develop naturally at the base of the parent bulb. When separated from the parent bulb and planted, offsets produce vegetative growth for a few years until mature enough to flower.


In scooping, the entire basal plate of a mature bulb is scooped out with a curved scalpel or small knife. Scooped bulbs are then placed in a warm (21 degrees Celsius) dark location for about two weeks. During the third week, adventitious bulblets will begin to form. Temperature should be increased to 29 degrees Celsius, and the relative humidity should be at 85%. When new roots form, the bulblets can be planted. It may be four to five years before bulbs flower.


In this method, three cuts are made at the base of a mature bulb to form 6 pie-shaped sections. Cuts should reach just below the widest point of the bulb. The bulb is then placed in a warm, dark, humid location for a few months. When bulblets form, the mother bulb and bulblets can be planted. It usually takes three to four years for bulblets to reach flowering size.


A sectioned bulb is cut into five to ten pie-shaped sections, each with part of the base attached. Sections are treated as scored and cored bulbs. This method is the easiest and the one that I prefer and mostly use.


This is the very first plant that I grew, having dug one out of the forest opposite my parent’s home about as a child about sixty five years ago. Amazingly it was still growing in the same position although having developed into a huge group of plants in 2006 when the house was sold.

CJM Nursery has some good information on their website at

Article written by Michael Hickman 01.09.2023

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