Chasmanthe – the goodness of threes

It’s a common belief that good things come in threes. Chasmanthe holds a very strong case for this rule of thumb. With three species included in this genus, it’s a triple whammy of iridescent goodness, ready to be planted over the next two months.

Chasmanthe aethiopica, Chasmanthe floribunda and Chasmanthe bicolor each bring their own uniqueness to the garden – attracting various birds as their flowers appear. This means that not only will your landscape be filled with the red, orange, vermillion and yellow shades of these blooms, but will, at the same time, be frequented by the vibrant flashes of colourful wings as Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds, Red-winged Starlings, Orange-breasted Sunbirds and Malachite Sunbirds fly in and out, suckling on the nectar while at the same time distributing the pea-sized orange seeds and pollinating the flowers.

These three Chasmanthe species from the eastern and western Cape winter-rainfall regions of South Africa grow from a 35mm-wide corm. While their pretty little tube-shaped flowers appear to be delicate, their lance-shaped leaves with prominent midvein stand erect in a fan-shaped formation that can reach a height of one metre.

Chasmanthe aethiopica, also known as cobra lily, is the most widely distributed of the Chasmanthe species. Its long-tubed orange flowers are some of the earliest of the Cape bulbs to appear, making it a welcome addition to an autumn garden. It can be identified by its almost-horizontal spike displaying blooms curving outward in a double row along the upper side – a beautiful sight among fallen autumn leaves.

Chasmanthe floribunda is the most robust of the genus (thriving even in poor soil), which is probably why it’s also the largest of the three. Its name, floribunda, alludes to the abundance of its flowers. This refers, however, to the number of flowers on a spike, and not to the abundance of the species. You’ll be very lucky to see the Chasmanthe floribunda var. duckittii (named after the Duckitt family of Darling). Easily distinguished by its yellow flowers, it’s only found in a few locations in the vicinity of Darling, usually in small colonies in dampish spots on rocky outcrops. The more common variety, the orange-red Chasmanthe floribunda var. floribunda, is a little less elusive, and can be spotted from the Bokkeveld Mountains to Hermanus.

Chasmanthe bicolor, also known as suurkanol, is even more rare in the wild and is virtually extinct in its natural habitat in the Western Cape. It is thought to only grow naturally in 10 locations, in sheltered ravines and open woodland near streams around Robertson, McGregor and Swellendam. It does, however, thrive in cultivation. The flowers – alternately arranged on both sides of the spike – are smaller than the other two species. As the name suggests, these flowers comprise two colours: its upper tepals are a vibrant orange-scarlet, while the bottom tepals are dark green with a yellow tube.

Chasmanthe is easy to grow thanks to its tolerance of a range of soils and light. The ideal soil, however, is well draining, and includes compost. With well-draining soil, Chasmanthe is able to survive summer irrigation, although it’s very well suited to dry summers. Plant Chasmanthe aethiopica in March – in either full sun or semi-shade – for flowering times between April and July. For the full sun-loving Chasmanthe floribunda and Chasmanthe bicolor, get planting in March and April if you want blooms from July to September. Corms should be planted five centimetres below ground, 10cm apart, and should be watered regularly during growth. For best results, leave Chasmanthe undisturbed once planted.

If you’re good to your Chasmanthe, you may have goodness coming back to you – in threes!