NZ Lifestyle Block - - In Jane's Garden -

Red hot pok­ers ( Kniphofia) are a wel­come sight on a dull day in win­ter, or on any day at any time re­ally. These ex­otic and strik­ing plants hail from the eastern parts of Africa and Mada­gas­car, tran­si­tion­ing to our tem­per­ate shores with ease, and are now one of the trend­ing plants world­wide.

But my mem­o­ries of them are ones I saw in old gar­dens up and down the east coast of the North Is­land that we put to good use in child­hood games. They were our flam­ing torches, our swords and ‘lights’ in our huts.

As an adult, they make long-last­ing cut flow­ers for the house and brighten up a dark cor­ner.

Tra­di­tion­ally the red hot pok­ers of my youth flow­ered in mid-to-late win­ter, but these ver­sa­tile plants which have been well-hy­bridised, now bloom through sum­mer and range in colour from red to yel­low, or­ange and cream.

The plant is tol­er­ant of drought con­di­tions, likes a well-drained soil and will tol­er­ate more than a light frost. I think of them as hardy plants which will sur­vive just about any­where, ex­cept in deep snow.

One of their im­por­tant roles is pro­vid­ing nec­tar for tui, ko­ri­mako (bell­bird) and wax­eyes. The birds swing from the stems as they sip the nec­tar, fly­ing from flower to flower in pur­suit of nour­ish­ment.

Use­fully, stock don’t touch them. This means the tall-grow­ing, tra­di­tional red hot poker over time will size up to an ap­pre­cia­ble clump in pad­docks and along fence­lines, pro­vid­ing low shel­ter for stock in stormy weather.

These are mem­bers of the lily fam­ily, so they are eas­ily di­vided in late spring with a sharp spade. Chop off any late flower heads and give the fo­liage a hair­cut at plant­ing time and clumps will rapidly estab­lish them­selves.

When the leaves be­come a bit tired­look­ing, a quick trim will soon en­cour­age fresh new growth to ap­pear. The clumps are true peren­ni­als, last­ing many years with min­i­mal or no care.

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