Kniphofia - redhot poker - Flagstaff Arizona

12 Interesting Facts About Poker Plant (Kniphofia)

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The poker plant, also known as torch lily or red hot poker, is an eye-catching flower known for its vibrant, poker-like blooms. Here are 12 fascinating facts about this unique plant:

1. Its Scientific Name Comes from an 18th Century Botanist

The genus name “Kniphofia” honors German physician and botanist Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704–1763), who specialized in studying aloes and other succulents. The name was given in 1794 by English botanist James Edward Smith.

2. It Grows Wild in Africa and Madagascar

Kniphofias originate from Africa and Madagascar. Species are found growing wild in grasslands and mountainsides from South Africa north to Ethiopia. They thrive in hot, dry areas.

3. The Flowers Emerge from Tough, Grass-Like Foliage

The poker plant grows from a clump of tough, grassy leaves. The foliage remains neat all season. As the flower spikes emerge, they provide a nice contrast in texture.

4. The Bloom Shape Gave Rise to Its Common Name

The flowers feature a unique tubular shape with color that graduates from green to yellow to red. This distinctive form inspired its common monikers “poker plant” and “torch lily.” The blooms do indeed resemble glowing red pokers or upright torches!

Kniphofia Species

5. Flower Color Varies by Variety

While red and orange blooms may be the most common, poker plant flowers come in a range of shades. These include red, orange, yellow, coral, and bi-colors. New varieties offer expanded options like pale yellow and lime green.

6. It Was Once Used to Treat Snake Bites

In Africa, the poker plant has a history of use in herbal medicine. The roots were utilized by indigenous peoples to treat snake bites. However, the plant has toxicity concerns and its medicinal use is no longer recommended.

7. It’s Toxic to Grazing Animals

While appreciated for its beauty, Kniphofia contains toxins that make it dangerous for livestock. Cattle and horses should not graze areas where poker plants are grown. The toxins can cause liver damage if consumed.

8. It’s Ideal for Cut Flower Arrangements

Thanks to its long straight stems and lasting blooms, the torch lily serves wonderfully as a cut flower. The unique shape provides nice vertical interest. Florists love using it in bold summer arrangements.

9. Some Species Bloom for Months

While individual flowers only last a few weeks, some Kniphofia species provide months of color. As flowers fade, new buds emerge on spikes through summer and into fall. This extends the landscape impact.

10. It’s Easy to Grow in the Right Conditions

Given proper site selection, poker plants are relatively easygoing. They need full sun and very well-drained soil. Avoid soggy locations. Beyond that, they’re quite drought and heat tolerant once established.

11. The Roots Should Not Be Disturbed

Because they resent root disturbance, it’s best to plant poker plants in a permanent spot and avoid moving them. Give them room to expand, or contain roots via rhizome barriers. Dividing clumps is not recommended.

12. They Make Great Accent Plants

With their spiky texture and fiery hues, red hot pokers shine as accent plants. They look fantastic combined with cool-toned flowers like lavender or blue salvia. Use them to add pops of color to beds, borders, and containers.

With its exotic origins and sizzling blooms, the poker plant brings vibrant flair to gardens. Give Kniphofias a try this summer if you like flowers that make a bold statement!


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