I have worked at several large nurseries over the years and the first was a large company which grew perennials. It was recommended I work there as it was the largest in Canada for that type of plant. I was not disappointed and learned a great deal from the vast array of plants they stocked on a regular basis. It was also interesting to see what plants they would introduce to this area of Canada which is by far the mildest and has the widest range of options. Many plants were new not to just me but in some cases to the rest of North America. At that time many new plants were originating from New Zealand, South Africa and South America. One spectacular plant is the very late blooming scarlet red Schizostylis (Hesperantha)coccinea or Scarlet or Scarlet River Lily which is from the Drakensberg Mountain area of South Africa.
Scarlet River Lilies have been known since 1864 when they were brought into cultivation in Europe. The area they come from is quite high up in the mountains 1500-2500m(4900-8200ft.). They also grow in very moist areas, beside stream banks and seasonal islands. It is felt that this is an adaption to their climatic situation which is part of why they have been reclassified to be listed as Hesperantha coccinea. Other members of Hesperantha grow from corms and Schizostylis coccinea grows from rhizomes. ‘Schizostylis’ refers to the the flower being in parts of 3 which is common with all members of the Iris(Iridaceae) family. ‘Coccinea’ refers to it’s red flower color which is how it is seen in the wild.
In the wild Scarlet River Lilies live up to their color name and are good shade of red which works in many situations. Since being brought into cultivation many shades have become known and some are quite delightful. I first became familiar Schisostylis coccinea with ‘Major’ with large red flowers, then, ’Sunrise’ which is coral pink and Mrs. Hagarty which is a lighter pink color.
As I noted Scarlet River Lilies normally live in moist areas and this feature makes them very useful in the gardens. It is hard to find such bright plants with attractive and disease resistant plants for boggy areas. I much prefer this plant to many of the Irises commonly used as they can become to aggressive. This plant is also easily adapted to other areas where there is adequate moisture in the soil.
When growing the easy and adaptable Schizostylis coccinea, choose a sunny site for the best show of blooms. Soil should be rich and moisture retentive. Care must be taken to make sure they do not dry out when they are setting their flower buds as they will be lost. Buds also can be damaged by early frosts. These plants take -10c(14f) and is rated at zones 7 through 10. I have seen them sited in mixed borders, at the base of sunny slopes and along water ways and next to informal ponds and pools. They also can be used in mass plantings for long blooming fall color.
The overall effect of this plant is relaxed as the leaves and floral stems are often lax. Scarlet River Lilies make great cut flowers, I place the red form in my tall large dark blue glass vase for a wonderful effect. It is best when buying these plants to choose them when in bloom as I think there is quite a lot of mis-labeling happening.
More about Schizostylis coccinea:
Techincal information about why they have been reclassifed: http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/pbs/2003-February/001617.html
other members of the Hesparantha family: http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/HesperanthaTwo#coccinea
Until We Meet Again Later….