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Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katharinae (Baker) Friis & Nordal 1976
pronounced: ska-DOCKS-uss mull-tih-FLOR-uss subspecies kath-ah-REE-nee
(Amaryllidaceae – the amaryllis family)
synonym: Haemanthus multiflorus Martyn 1795
pronounced: hee-MAN-thuss mull-tih-FLOR-uss
common names: Ball of Fire, Blood Lily, Football Lily, Powder Puff Lily, Fireball Lily
Scadoxus is from two Greek words, σκαιος (skaios), left-handed, awkward, and δοξα (doxa), glory. In the synonym, Haemanthus comes from two Greek words, 'αιμα (haema), blood, and ανθος (anthos), a flower. Multiflorus is from Latin – multus, many, and flos, a flower. Katharinae is for Lady Katharine Saunders∗ (1824–1901), a remarkable Victorian women who explored, collected and painted the plants of Natal and Zululand. Scadoxus used to be included in the genus Haemanthus, but is now regarded as distinct.
Ball of Fire is an evergreen rhizomatous perennial, producing up to 9 leaves per season whose tubular leaf bases form a pseudostem which is sturdy and fleshy with a diameter of up to 2.5 cm. This pseudostem is usually purple-spotted, but can be plain and almost white. The leaves are large and thin-textured with a distinct midrib and an undulating margin. They encircle the pseudostem, giving a single plant an overall symmetrical shape. The leaves of a well-grown plant can stand up to 70 cm high with a spread of a metre.
The spectacular flowerhead is a huge spherical umbel consisting of up to 200 flowers, held clear of the foliage at the end of a solitary stem. A flowerhead can reach a diameter of 25 cm. Each flower is pinkish orange-red with protruding stamens carrying bright yellow anthers. The flowerheads usually last between a week and a fortnight, and make superb cut flowers. Flowering is in late summer to early autumn (December – March). The seed develops in the inferior ovary which is visible as a swelling of the flower stalk below the flower, at the tip of the pedicel. These swell to form a green berry that turns scarlet as it ripens during winter – spring (July – September). These decorative berries can remain on the plant for up to 2 months.
The rootstocks are planted just below the surface of the ground, and are best left undisturbed in the same position for many years. This is a very useful plant for shady gardens, a handsome pot subject for a large container on a shady deck, or an indoor plant. It looks particularly effective in large groups under trees, where it does not seem to mind competition from tree roots, as long as the soil is good.
Propagation is by seed and offsets. The seed should be sown as soon as it is ripe. The berries do not necessarily need to be removed as soon as they turn red. If they are not under threat from birds or curious children, they can be left on without harming the seed until they start to look a bit wrinkled, usually in early spring. The pulp should be cleaned off with care, as the seed underneath is soft and fleshy. The seed should be pressed gently into the soil, with the tops just level with the surface. Flowers can be expected from the third season onwards. If propagating from offsets, these should be removed after flowering and replanted immediately.
These plants are poisonous. Some subspecies of Scadoxus multiflorus are used in parts of Africa, in conjunction with a number of other plants, as an arrow poison. In other parts, the bulbs are used to make a fishing poison. The bulb is also used to treat dropsy, scabies, and wounds that are slow to heal.
∗ or Katherine – both spellings seem to be used indiscriminately
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009, 2014
Page last updated 5th February 2017