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Clivia Drama

My clivia is blooming! Even when not in bloom this plant — two feet tall, 32 inches wide, with a fan of deep green, strap-shaped leaves — adds drama to the room. (I also enjoy how easy it is to grow, with low demands for light and water.)

When it blooms, another whole drama unfolds. The flowers first appear wedged so far down in the center of the crown that I've missed seeing them, both years now that it's flowered, until some are fully open and I suddenly notice a spot of orange peeking out from between the bases of the leaves. Eventually a flower stalk lifts them up where they're easier to see — not to mention, where there's room for fourteen 2-inch trumpets to open! (Maybe more, this year.)

Actually, this year I didn't expect any, because the old flower stem from last year is still on the plant. I figured while it was putting energy into that one, it wasn't likely to do another.

When a plant is pollinated, it makes enzymes that decrease flowering and promote seed production. (So "deadheading," trimming off faded flowers, encourages bloom.) However, I wanted my clivia to go to seed; in fact I carefully rubbed pollen from the anthers, and deposited it on the pistils.

When I saw new flowers, I suspected that pollination had failed. I found a picture of the berries that form when fertilization succeeds: bright red. On my plant, after the main flower stalk divides into several thin stemlets, the little ovaries at the ends of those were still green. (Except where I pinched them off, to concentrate the plant's energy into a few.)

Now I learned that the pistil of a Clivia flower matures later than the pollen does. Though each flower has both, it can't self-fertilize. You're supposed to use pollen from a different plant. But I wonder: since the flowers in the cluster open at different times, would the pollen from a late-opening flower fertilize an earlier-opening one? I'll try that.

Clivias can be divided, when they grow into a clump with more than one crown. But reproduction by seed creates new chromosome combinations, new characteristics. What might result? Yellow flowers, variegated leaves — these rarities have already evolved.

I just took another look at the plant. The ovaries from last year's flowers are still plump and shiny — and now yellow! Are they ripening after all?

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 21 February 2003

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For more information

White Flower Farm offers complete Clivia Miniata Cultural Instructions.

Grassy Knoll Exotic Plants offers some rare varieties of Clivia; the one with butter-yellow flowers is $60 and the one with orange flowers and variegated leaves, $100.

Dragon Agro Products gives complete propagation instructions on their Clivia page.

On the site of North Carolina State U's Department of Horticultural Science, a picture of ripe Clivia berries showed me that mine did not get fertilized.