10 Most Unusual Flowers


Red-Hot Pokers (Kniphofia)

Hummingbirds love the red-hot pokers in your garden.
Hummingbirds love the red-hot pokers in your garden.

Hummingbirds don't mind that Kniphofia resembles a giant toilet brush atop a leafless cane. They love the dozens of brilliant orange and yellow flower tubes that adorn the stalk. Kinder common names for this plant include Torch Lily and Red-Hot Poker.

Kniphofia is simply a garden flower, without any of the quirky characteristics or bad habits of the flowers we've seen on previous pages. But its powerful appearance is sure to add interest to your landscape and draw comments from your neighbors.

The African native is closely related to aloe, but it doesn't have any healing juices. Two to 5-foot (1.5-meter) tall flower stalks grow from clumps of evergreen grass-like leaves. The leaf clumps resemble tall ornamental grasses, and may spread to 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter [source: The Garden Helper]. If you plant a mix of early, mid-season, and late blooming varieties, you can have torch lilies adorning your yard from May to October.

Kniphofia like temperate gardens; they're hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10 if you provide winter protection in the colder regions. They need full sun and neutral soil with good drainage. Hummingbirds aren't the only wildlife who take nourishment from red-hot pokers, but the slugs and snails who feed on them will do damage. They make good cut flowers, and removing older blooms actually encourages the plant to produce more flowers.

You can increase your torch lily display from seeds or by plant division. If you want to start new plants from seed, let some flowers stay on the stalks near the end of their blooming season. Collect the seeds and chill them (with some moisture) in the refrigerator for six weeks before you try to germinate them. After the chill period, you can start the seeds indoors at anytime, and you should start them early, since they can take up to three months to germinate.

If you want to divide mature plants, do it in either spring or fall. You'll get a new plant faster this way, but you'll sacrifice blooms for the next season. Kniphofia take two or three years after division to recover their full flowering potential. So when your neighbors beg you for a cutting from your glorious torch lily, offer them seeds instead.