CRIMSON FLAG, COFFEE LILY, RIVER LILY, SCARLET RIVER LILY
syn. Schizostylis, coccinea
Pronounced: hes-per-ANTH-uh kok-SIN-ee-uh
Sunset zones: 5-9, 14-24; H1, H2.
USDA zones: 7-9.
Heat zones: 9-7.
Height: 24 inches (60 cm).
Width: 12 inches (30 cm).
Late summer through early winter.
Spikes of scarlet, 3/4-inch, cup-shaped flowers grow along a long stem—gladiolus style.
Evergreen, sword-like leaves.
Full sun to partial shade.
Moist to wet, fertile, humus rich soil.
Side dress with compost or manure. Fertilize in spring, again in early summer, and when the flowers begin to show color in fall, with a complete organic fertilizer.
Divide in early spring.
Prune off dead leaves throughout the growing season to keep the plant looking good.
Pests and Diseases:
No problems noted.
Rainy Side Notes
As beautiful as an October sunset, easy to grow and abundant in bloom in fall and winter, Hesperantha 'Oregon Sunset' puts color back into our drab gray winter. It's even more fiery when backlit by a low winter sun. Isn't it surprising we don't see it growing in every Northwest garden?
This plant has more names than a serial divorcé. Its popular common name in North America and Britain is kaffir lily. In other parts of the world, kaffir is a racial slur; because of this, many are opting to call the plant by its numerous other names, as am I. Besides, its newest botanical name is a fun one to say—hesper-ANTH-uh. I feel like I'm hissing and lisping all in the same breath.
Even more name confusion comes from the change of its name from Schizostylis, a one species genus, to Hesperantha. The reason for the change was noted in 1996 in NOVON vol 6 no. 3 (1996). "Drs Goldblatt and Manning sank Schizostylis coccinea into Hesperantha as Hesperantha coccinea on the grounds that the reversion to a rhizome was no more than an adaptation to a wet habitat and the long tubed red flower was to cater for its pollinator Aeropetes tulbaghia. Both adaptations are not uncommon in the Iridaceae: Ixioideae. There being no other morphological distinction between Schizostylis and Hesperantha, there seems to be no good reason for maintaining a monospecific genus. This is in line with the modern trend to discourage monospecifics which apart from environmental (even if visually obvious) adaptations, do not differ essentially from established and multi-specific genera."
This evergreen cultivar, as well as the species, makes excellent cut flowers that last a long time in the vase. The best part about growing this plant is it can bloom as early as August and keep flowering well into early winter, even into February during mild winters.
Although easy to grow, they do like extra moisture during our drought, as well as fertile soil. They will spread, but they do it with so much grace that you hate to lift them out of an area they wish to colonize. Ann Lovejoy noted that "...once established, they are yours for life." She is right; let the roots settle in the first year. Then stand back and enjoy the fall and winter show.
To see this bright scarlet flower blooming in the fall is a treat, but in the darkest part of winter, its brilliant hues are worth writing long sonatas about.
Photographed in author's garden.