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What is Chasmanthe?

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  • Written By: J. Tabberer
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Images By: n/a, Ruslan Olinchuk
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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A chasmanthe is a flowering plant that belongs to the iris family. Native to South Africa, this plant prefers warmer climates. It is a perennial flower that reproduces from seeds and corms. Commonly called a cobra lily, it has tubular, multiple flowers that are orange or yellow, and the leaves of the plant are flat and sword-shaped. The chasmanthe is easy to grow, and in some places, it is considered an invasive species.

The chasmanthe genera has three separate species: Chasmanthe aethiopica, Chasmanthe floribunda and Chasmanthe bicolor. The floribunda is the most common of these three. It is commonly known as the African cornflag and features orange flowers.

A variety of the floribunda, the duckittii, is not as common and has yellow flowers. Also fairly widespread, the aethiopica has orange flowers as well. The aethiopica was confused with the floribunda for some time, but it is now clearly considered a separate species. The final species, the bicolor, features flowers that are orange and yellow. Although grown in gardens, the bicolor is rare in the wild.

The chasmanthe's flowers are pollinated by sunbirds in their native habitat. As well as transferring pollen between the plants, the sunbirds eat the plant's fleshy seeds. The aethiopica variety provides nutritional value to the sunbird. The floribunda and bicolor seeds, however, do not contain any nutrients. The seeds pass through the bird's digestive tract unharmed.

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All three species of this plant spread their bright orange seeds by way of the sunbirds. The chasmanthe also propagates through multiplying its corms. Cormlets are produced around the base of the plant. The cormlets then grow into new plants the following year.

A cobra lily is considered a striking garden plant that is easy to grow. In its native habitat in South Africa, the chasmanthe blooms in the early winter and lies dormant throughout the summer. The flowers grow to a height of 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters).

This plant does best in a sunny or partially sunny area and grows well under trees. The corms should be planted during the spring and will form roots in the autumn. After the plant is established, it is important to keep the corms free from excessive moisture during the dormant summer period.

The chasmanthe will grow in clumps and multiplies easily. Redistribution of the corms can be done every three to four years. This plant is best grown in warm climates similar to South Africa, such as southern California and Australia.

Although used in gardens, when it is naturalized to a non-native area, the cobra lily can be considered invasive. Its ability to quickly multiply means that the plant can overtake native vegetation. In areas of California, New Zeeland and Australia, this plant is common in the wild and is viewed as a weed.

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