What is a Kaffir Lily?

Emma G.

The kaffir lily is a variety of lily native to South Africa. It is part of the Clivia genus of flowering plants. Gardeners all over the world enjoy the kaffir lily because it requires little maintenance.

Native to South Africa, the kaffir lily is poisonous, and should be kept away from small children.
Native to South Africa, the kaffir lily is poisonous, and should be kept away from small children.

Sometimes called a bush lily, St. John's lily, or a fire lily, the kaffir lily is cultivated all over the world both indoors and out. The most common variety grown in the United States is the Clivia miniata. It was named after Lady Charlotte Florentina, the duchess of Northumberland who lived from 1787 to 1866.

Tubers of the kaffir lily should be planted in spring or summer. They prefer well-drained soil that does not retain water even when watered heavily. This plant thrives best in cool to subtropical environments and must be protected from frost.

If planted inside, the lily prefers a small pot. These plants actually like to be root-bound. It is difficult to transplant or divide these plants without causing severe damage.

Kaffir lilies thrive equally well indoors or out. If grown outside, the kaffir lily should be planted under a tree or in some other shady environment. When grown indoors, it should be placed in a well-lighted area but out of direct sunlight.

At full maturity, the plant can reach up to two feet (61 cm), but it grows fairly slowly. The leaves can grow to about three feet (one meter) in length. They are green or, more rarely, green with white, vertical stripes. These plants take about two years to mature enough to produce flowers.

Flowers of the kaffir lily bloom in late spring. They are trumpet-shaped and tend to be orange with yellow throats. Rarely, colors ranging from red to cream have also been seen.

The kaffir lily is relatively easy to care for. Gardeners should make sure it is well watered during the spring and summer, but it should stay mostly dry during the fall and winter months. If watered regularly year-round, the plant will not flower. Old leaves and stems should be removed for best growth. A slow-release fertilizer applied during the spring and summer months can help the plant reach its full potential.

Every part of the plant contains a compound called lycorine that makes it poisonous. Ingestion can cause nausea and vomiting and even seizures. The sap may irritate sensitive skin. Gardeners should keep this plant away from pets and small children.

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Discussion Comments


If you have a covered porch or patio area and are looking for something that will do well in the shade and bring you a pop of color, Kaffir lilies would do just that.

I have a long porch that is covered and I am always looking for interesting plants that will do well in this shaded environment. I first saw a Kaffir lily plant at my local gardening store and was attracted to the colorful blooms.

When I read they were easy to grow and did best in the shade, I decided to give them a try. They are not very fast growers, but once they bloom, they are worth the wait.


Kaffir lilies are easy to grow indoors and do not get too tall or overgrown. Their bright blooms are always a welcome sight. I have two of them in my home, but keep them out of direct sunlight so have them along a north window where they do best.

I know that all parts of this plant can be poisonous and if you have cats would probably not be the best choice for you. There are many other kinds of colorful plants that you can have that would not harm your cats. Cats are so curious by nature, that I would not want to take any chances.

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