The flaming flowers of the red hot poker plant can make a striking addition to garden beds. This perennial plant can adapt to a variety of climates and soils. There are several varieties of red hot poker plant, and multiple types grown together have the potential to bloom continuously from late spring to early fall.
Scientifically, the red hot poker plant is called Kniphofia uvaria. Other common names include tritoma, torch lily, and flame flower. The plants are native to South Africa, but are used as ornamentals in other countries as well.
Tritoma may be from 2 to 6 feet (0.6 to 1.8 meters) tall, depending on the variety. The plants form clumps that can also be 2 or 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) across. They usually have tall stems with slender, folded leaves. The leaves typically have tiny but sharp teeth running along the edges. Foliage remains on the plant year-round.
The flowers of torch lilies contribute to the slew of common names equating them with fire. Flower heads are bright orange or bright red at the top, depending on the variety, and fade to a yellowish or ivory color at the base. The 1 to 2-inch (2.5 to 5 cm) flower heads consist of many tubular blooms that point downwards. Blooming season depends on the variety of red hot poker plant, but it can often be lengthened by removing spent blooms.
The varieties of red hot poker plants include Earliest of All, which, as the name implies, is generally the first to bloom. It is also one of the smaller varieties. Alcazar is another early-blooming variety that produces bright red blooms. Gold Mine, Little Maid, and Royal Castle are some varieties that produce orange or yellow blossoms in mid-summer. Royal Standard and Rosea Superba both offer bright red flowers that also appear in mid-summer. Pfitzeri and Galpinii are late-summer bloomers.
Red hot poker plants require full sun for growth. They can be hardy to as low as -10°F (-23.3°C), but should be mulched in colder climates since not all plants can withstand temperatures that cold. Torch lilies can be grown in most types of soil, but prefer neutral, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter.
Hummingbirds love the flowers of the red hot poker plant, so they are a popular choice to attract these tiny birds to a garden. The plants are also frequently visited by butterflies and bees. Many gardeners like the fact that these flowers are resistant to deer.