Chasmanthe floribunda – The Orange Flame of the Cape’s Winters

Chasmanthe floribunda – The Orange Flame of the Cape’s Winters

Common names:  Suurknolpypie, Piempiempie, cobra lily or flames.

In the Western Cape, during winter, you will see alongside our roads, mountains and in some gardens, the bright orange flowers that are loved by all – and especially appreciated by sunbirds for the nectar it provides at this time of year. Chasmanthe floribunda is a vigorous bulbous plant, endemic to the Western Cape, with vibrant orange flowers that makes a bold statement in large plantings during winter and the beginning of spring.


The leaves are erect, fresh green, sword-shaped and with a medium texture and a main prominent vein. The erect spike with bright orange flowers normally appears around mid-winter. It has 30 to 40 flowers which are arranged in opposite directions.

Caring for Chasmanthe floribunda

Chasmanthe emerges from the ground in autumn generally after the first winter rains, and flourishes and flowers in both sun and shade. Bulbs can be planted from as early as February.  As soon as green shoots appear: start watering and continue to keep the soil moist during winter (that is if it doesn’t rain).

These plants need well-drained, and enriched soil, and (although originally from the winter rainfall area) can be grown in the summer rainfall areas with success if watered in the winter and the soil is well-drained in the summer. They can be used in rockeries, on slopes and in mass planting where colour is needed in winter. They are at their best when used in large groups to provide a spectacular display of colour. It self-seeds, and if grown from seed will only start flowering after 2 to 3 years.

Chasmanthe floribunda

As soon as the leaves start to become yellow, withhold watering gradually until the leaves are entirely yellow and start drying out (generally about November). At this stage, one can lift the bulbs out of the ground and store in a cool, dry place until the following February. They may be left in the soil if conditions are suitable, in which case the yellowed, dry leaves can be removed and the ground covered with a thick mulch of compost to enrich the soil for the following year.

They will thrive for several years in the soil and form new side bulbs. After several years, the quality and number of flowers on such old plants will start to diminish.  Then, the whole clump can be lifted with a fork after the flowering season. Separate the bulbs, and replant or stored it until the next planting season.

More species

Chasmanthe floribunda var. duckittii is the yellow form of Chasmanthe floribunda, and Chasmanthe aethiopica and has fewer orange flowers in the spike facing the same direction. The flowers start opening from the bottom to the top on the spikes, and the flowers and leaves are often used in flower arrangements. They are long-lasting in a vase. These are one of South Africa’s showiest bulbous plants and are a must for attracting sugarbirds to your garden.

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