Paintbrush lily makes a bold statement

2007-11-15 00:00

The spectacular Paintbrush or Blood Lily is one of South Africa's most striking bulbous plants. Just imagine large bright-red paint brushes in clumps under a shaded spot in your garden. This is an excellent option for an addition to your bird garden as the nectar-rich flowers attract weavers and sunbirds.

There are nine different species of Scadoxus of which three (Scadoxus puniceus, Scadoxus multiforus and Scadoxus membranaceus) occur in South Africa. The name Scadoxus is derived from “doxus” meaning glory or splendour, and puniceus means crimson, scarlet or purple.

In spring and early summer fluffy brush-like heads of scarlet appear. These dense heads can be up to 15 centimetres across and consist of a number of smaller scarlet flowers with bright yellow anthers. The beautiful flowers are followed by fleshy red berries that are enjoyed by birds and monkeys. The glossy green strap- shaped leaves reach to between 30 centimetres and 40 centimetres in length and have wavy margins. These leaves are erect, reaching upwards from the base of the stem forming a false stem that has striking purple-red speckled scale leaves at the base. The large underground bulbs can be up to 10 centimetres across and have a short thick stem at the base from which numerous fleshy roots arise. These plants are dormant in the

winter and use the large bulbs and roots to store moisture during this period.

The Paintbrush can be propagated from fresh seed and grows moderately fast. Plant this species in fertile, well-drained compost-enriched soil, and do not disturb unnecessarily as the flowering may be affected. The Paintbrush can be planted in deep shade or full sun. It also makes an excellent container plant on the patio. Remember to water well in summer and keep the plant reasonably dry in winter. Although the Paintbrush thrives in moist, warm conditions, it also tolerates frost and some drought.

The bulb is poisonous and deaths have been reported following the ingestion of the bulb, however, the bulb is widely used in traditional medicines to treat coughs, headaches and stomach ailments. It is also one of the ingredients used during pregnancy to ensure safe delivery of a baby.

The Paintbrush occurs naturally in open grassland or deep forest areas from the southern Cape northwards into tropical Africa. Inquire about this species at your local botanical garden or a specialist indigenous nursery. If the Paintbrush is unavailable the

Scadoxus multiflorus is a good alternative. Avoid purchasing these species from alongside the road or from sellers who cannot assure you of the plant's origin as many of these plants are removed from the wild and sold when they are in flower.

• Sonja van der Merwe is an indigenous plant enthusiast and owner of Springvale Nursery and Gardening.

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