By Nikki Phipps
None are as exceptional as the South African native forest lily (Veltheimia bracteata). Learning how to grow forest lily bulbs can bring this exceptional beauty to your garden.
Facts on Velthemia Plants
The bulbs of forest lily produce rosettes of wavy, spear-shaped leaves and long, slender stems with a poker-like cluster of tubular flowers of variable color. From pale pink, orange-pink or deep rose pink to greenish-yellow with tips of the flowers sometimes spotted in green.
The genus Veltheimia is named in honor of the German plant lover, August Ferdinand Graf von Veltheim (1741-1801). There are only two species in this genus, the other being the sand lily (V. capensis).
Though both species are similar, there are certain characteristics that make them easily recognizable. V. bracteata has a large rounded bulb with thick, succulent scales. Also, when exposed to sunlight, the pink-flowered forms take on a richer red to purple color. Partial shade may be more ideal for this species, as too much shade could result in poor flower color. This species is often an evergreen in its native forests, reaching heights of around 18 inches tall.
V. capensis is native to sandy, well-drained soils in the drier parts of Southern Africa. This species usually produces its spike of pink to red flowers towards the beginning and is usually about half the size of V. bracteata, with a smaller bulb as well.
Growing Forest Lilies
The forest lily flowers during late winter to spring, and each flower head lasts about a month. These are followed by papery capsules that ripen in mid-summer. Because it’s winter growing, the leaves die back in summer, and new leaves reappear in late summer to autumn, after a short period of dormancy. growing forest lilies should be kept moist until dormancy, reducing water as foliage begins to fade.
The forest lily is easily cultivated, growing well in sun or shade and prefers well-drained, fertile, sandy soil. The bulb should be planted during fall at, or just below, ground level and can be left undisturbed for years. This plant does not tolerate severe frost and may require winter protection, but will be unharmed by light frost.
Forest lily makes an excellent container plant for a shady patio. Likewise, forest lily can be used as an accent in mixed beds and borders and in rock gardens. The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds and will lighten up dark areas as well.
Caring for Forest Lily Flowers
Neither species likes root disturbance and are happy in pots for a number of years. If the flowers and overall plant growth reduces, however, this may be a sign that the plant needs more space. The best time to repot or divide them is just before the next growing season begins.
The easiest form of propagation is by division of the bulbs or offsets, although leaf cuttings and seed propagation is also possible. Offsets should be removed when the foliage has died down and promptly replanted.
Provided all of its growing requirements are met, problems with forest lily are few and far between. The forest lily has no particular pests or diseases but may require protection from slugs and snails, which can cause considerable damage to the leaves, or caterpillars, which eat the flower buds.