Red-hot pokers or torch lilies for New Year’s Day look to be a distinct possibility for us in Savannah, Ga. Because of our coastal location I could never promise this for you, unless you live in a mild climate. What I can suggest is that if you love torch lilies in the late spring and early summer, you may want to give the fall-blooming species a try in your garden.
Botanically speaking I am referring to Kniphofia rooperi, cold-hardy to zero degrees and perennial from zones 7-10. (Sacramento is in Zone 9.) The common names range from Rooper’s red-hot poker to East Cape poker and the fall-blooming torch lily. Whatever it’s called, it is a great plant.
The East Cape poker gives reference to its origination on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Sometimes taxonomy strikes me as humorous, as it does with this plant. Its family name has been in flux over the past few years such as Lilliaceae, Asphodelaceae, and now may it rest in peace, it finds its position in the Xanthorrhoeaceae. Good grief! Basically what this means to you is that it’s related to other plants you may know such as the aloe, daylily and bulbine.
At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens ours has been blooming for about 11 weeks and is just as riveting as its cousin the Kniphofia uvaria that blooms in late spring and summer. In a way the East Cape poker may even be more beautiful as most gardeners are totally surprised to see its flaming red-orange and yellow blossoms in the fall.
While ours started sending the glorious 3- to 4-foot tall blossoms in October, some report much earlier blooms and a few later. Though these still aren’t the staples at the local garden center like they will be, you will have no problem locating sources from specialty catalogs. It received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in the United Kingdom, which speaks volumes and coincides with the talk going around the U.S. garden industry.
Choose a location with plenty of sun, the more the better. Fortunately the East Cape poker is not finicky when it comes to soil pH. The soil however should be fertile, organic rich and very well-drained to ensure a spring return. In the warmer zones the plants will be evergreen with in the colder areas the foliage will return with spring growth.
The plant is so striking that as your clump grows you will rejoice and want to divide in the spring by taking offshoots or pups from the crown.