"The first time I saw one, I had no idea what it was," Jennifer Schultz Nelson said.
"Clivia is a genus of flowering plants native to South Africa. There are six known species. Clivia miniata is the most widely cultivated species, along with various hybrids. A common name for Clivia is Bush Lily, but these plants are not members of the lily family. They are members of the amaryllis family. The relationship is obvious at first glance."
Like the amaryllis, Clivia have very wide strap-like leaves and flowers borne in clusters on a stalk held above the foliage. The flowers look somewhat like amaryllis or lily blooms, only smaller. The most common color of Clivia is orange, although peach, off-white, apricot, red and yellow are available, thanks to plant breeding efforts.
English naturalist William J. Burchell first described Clivia in 1813 while he was exploring South Africa. The genus Clivia wasn't named until 1828 by another Englishman, John Lindley. He named the species Clivia nobilis after plant collector Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, Baroness of Northumberland.
"For many years, Clivia were plants owned only by the very rich, as they were extremely expensive," Nelson said. "The first plants offered via mail-order companies fetched nearly a thousand dollars apiece! A big reason for this is that Clivia are difficult to propagate, and can be slow-growing.
"It is common to propagate Clivia from seed, but it will take three to five years before that plant will flower. Plants propagated from offshoots will flower sooner, but still will take at least a year or two to reach flowering size. Plants that are blooming size are typically expensive because of all the time invested in growing them."
Clivia plants have come down in price for the average houseplant lover. Of course, if you are a collector, there are many opportunities to pay high prices for a Clivia plant. Seed of highly desirable flower colors may fetch over $1000.
"When purchasing Clivia plants, realize that the price increases dramatically with plant size," Nelson said. "But the bigger the plant, the more likely it is to produce flowers right away.
"Ultimately, it all depends on how patient you are-- you will pay a lot less for a smaller plant, but you will have to wait for a year or more to see flowers."
Unless they get a cool dry rest period without water and temperatures from 50 degrees to 65 degrees, Clivias will produce leaves rather than flowers. They also bloom better if they are somewhat root-bound in their pot. The dry rest period should start in late October or early November and last through at least the end of January, if not well into February. Then, move the plants indoors and gradually resume watering. Within a month or so, flower buds should appear.
Clivia have few problems in the home, except for the occasional mealy bug. Watering can be touchy with Clivia, so erring on the dry side is preferable. Clivia will develop root rot if kept too wet. They prefer bright indirect light indoors and shade if moved outdoors in the summer.
"You may find Clivias for sale during this holiday season that are in full bloom," Nelson said. "Although they naturally bloom in and around March, Clivias may be artificially induced to bloom earlier by controlling their environment in a greenhouse. In subsequent years, you would expect the plant to flower at its natural time in the early spring."