Must love lilies this March

Written by: Life Green Group and BotSoc

The March lilies (Amaryllis belladonna) have come into flower in Cape Town so Life Green Group has decided to explore the world of South African ‘lilies’.
But there are no true lilies (Lilium) in South Africa!

The genus Lilium is part of the bulb family that occur in the Northern Hemisphere. In South Africa the Saint Joseph lily (Lilium candidum) has naturalised in the Dullstroom area as it is well-suited to the cold climate and can be seen growing along the roadside.
Botanist may argue that this is the major flaw with common names that do not comply with classification systems of Latin. Even the Afrikaans names of plants are more accurate.
The Life Landscapes horticulturist has hatched a guess that these gorgeous indigenous flowers were christened with the English name ‘lily’ because lilium genus is known for their exquisite flowers. Most of the South African ‘lilies’ are also water-loving, like real water lilies. True Liliums are known to be herbaceous bulbs that occur in woodlands and grasslands.

Here are 14 beautiful South African bulbs that are not true lilies but are still truly beautiful and are indigenous garden must-haves:

African lily (Agapanthus africanus)

The Agapanthus genus is endemic to the fynbos kingdom and has subsequently become a popular garden specimen across South Africa and the world. There are multiple varieties both natural and hybridised.

Arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica )


The flower of the arum is not actually a true flower biologically speaking it is an extension of the leaf called a spathe. The arum is popular wetland plant in South Africa and worthy garden subject and a must have in a moon garden. When it comes to “naturescaping” it is an important plant for the arum lily frog.

Bush lily (Clivia miniata)
Bush Lily ©Ismail Ebrahim (iSpot)

The bush lily is endemic to the forest floors of South Africa, naturally occurring in colonies. Since the 19th century it has been a popular garden plant because of colour hybrids that occur- flowers can vary from: salmon, apricot, deep orange, red and yellow.

Candelabra lily (Brunsvigia josephinae)
Brunsvigia josephinae ©sanbi

Despite what one might think, this is a bushveld specimen growing in the wilds of west coast in winter rainfall areas. Brunsvigia josephine is a deciduous plant which does grow in water. This lovely hot pink plant is an eye-catcher and flowers in autumn when the bushveld is brown and dry.

Fire lily (Cyrtanthus ventricosus)


This scarlet number is a completely useless garden specimen as it is totally dependent on Cape fires – like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it is the first sign of life after a fynbos fire. Each flower lasts five days and the entire flowering period last about two weeks. The fire lily has a wildness that can’t be tamed; it’s rich in colour and rare in appearances.

Forest lily (Veltheimia bracteata)

Veltheimia bracteata ©sanbi

This deciduous bulb is a fast growing flower that attracts sunbirds making it ideal for a sunbird garden. Flowers vary from pink to orange to green. It is also flowers from winter to spring adding colour to the winter. It grows well in shade or semi-shade.

Ground lily (Ammocharis coranica)
Ammocharis coranica © J.H Vlok/A.L Shutte-Vlok

Unlike some of the other South African ‘lilies’ the ground lily likes to be treated as succulent in well-drained soil. It can also live to 50 years old and gets very sweetly scented, glossy pink flowers. A worthy and sturdy garden subject and makes for great addition to a cottage garden.

Winter impala lily (Adenium multiflorum)
Adenium multiflorum ©Tony Rebelo

This bushveld shrub is in pink condition in winter – sprouting its folly pink flowers in May making it a popular tourist attraction of the Kruger Park and it is a highly protected species. It is a deciduous succulent shrub that is known  to be used as fish and arrow poison. As for the garden it does not survive in frost zones but rather prefers sandy soils.

Kudu lily (Pachypodium Saundersii)

This plant has a bonsai-effect and is in fact not related to the lilium genus but to the same family as the frangipani. It is a rupestrine species growing in dry areas among the rocks or in the rock crevices. Unlike the other South African ‘lilies’ it is not a bulb and hates water.

March lily (Amaryllis belladonna)
Amaryllis belladonna ©Tony Rebelo
Amaryllis belladonna

This beautiful lady, it is the inspiration behind this blog, and begins sprouting its gorgeous pink flowers in March hence the name March lily. There are only two bulbs that fall under the Amaryllis genus both occur in South Africa.

Orange River lily (Crinum bulbispermum)
Crinum bulbispermum ©sanbi

Add a pizazz of colour to a wetland or shallow pond with this water-loving bulb. In the warmer months this stunning bulb can be up to a metre high with elegant arching leaves.

Paintbrush lily (Scadoxus puniceus)


What would an orange planting palette be without the burning orange flowers of the paintbrush lily? This is one of the most striking tropical plants as it produces a large paintbrush-like blossom in spring! It does well when it is planted in the ground or in containers.  It’s perfect for any tropical Durban garden.

Pineapple lily (Eucomis autumnalis)


This funky and fresh bulb has unusual flowers that can reach 10cm in diameter. The pineapple lily is a must have for any veld garden in SA, it’s very easy going gives some tropical vibes to a green palette garden. Although it has a toxic bulb, it is used for medicinal purposes in South Africa.

Scarlet River lily (Hesperantha coccinea)
Hesperantha coccinea

This perennial loves water just as much as real water lilies do! The scarlet river lily gets stunning scarlet red flowers and grows well in full sun. It is very readily propagated and a must have for a garden with lots of natural water or a red palette garden. It grows well in the sun in soil that is compost rich and prefers to be grown close to a wet area or pond edge.


Well there you have it, Must love lilies this March

Have a lovely Month of March!



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The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) are an NGO conserving and educating about biodiversity for over 100 years.

One thought on “Must love lilies this March”

  1. Thank you, very beautiful. Could you expand on their individual distribution? Want to plant locally indigenous, west coast SA.


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