Red Hot Baby

By Bonnie Grant | September 30, 2021
Image by Istvan Balogh
by Bonnie Grant
September 30, 2021

I like unusual plants that have unique forms. I find their strangeness to have a special beauty and often opt for something weird over the standard fare. One of my favorite plants throughout my gardening life has been Kniphofia. It is also called torch lily due to its resemblance to a Tiki torch. I can hardly wait to see its fiery blooms from late spring, lasting until autumn.

Growing Red Hot Pokers

Plants with grassy foliage feature prominently in my landscape. I love the strappy leaves and graceful arching of such leaves. When you combine it with an astounding orange and yellow flower, you have captured my attention. Red hot pokers are just such plants. They are perennial, and the patch will widen over the years, often sending out baby plants to strengthen the stand. My torch lily is very special to us, an heirloom plant if you will. 

Our Kniphofia came from my mate’s recently deceased father. He passed unexpectedly in March, and the plant at the time was not looking too great. The plant came from California after a visit, accompanied by a cactus and a pampas grass. They have all been struggling for the two years we have had them. This winter we lost most of the cactus, although I was able to cull a live pad and start a new plant. The pampas came out of the ground by the handful this spring, a victim of a particularly wet winter where it rotted in place. 

So, all that is left as a living memory of this wonderful man is the torch lily. I babied it all spring, hoping it would thrive and send up some of the magnificent and strange blooms. Finally in early June we were rewarded for our loving attention. It is now in full bloom, decorated with the orange and yellow drooping, tubular flowers in a conical cluster. The leaves are glossy green and gently arching. Seems like we finally found this plant’s happy place. 

Red Hot Poker Info

There are many varieties of red hot poker, some with the crimson tones, but ours is the orange variety. There are even some with bright pink or lime tops, as well as dwarf varieties. Ours is deeply orange at the top, fading to light orangey-yellow at the base. It reminds me of a seaside sunset. 

This lovely plant is not only colorful, but also architecturally appealing. Add to these attributes are drought tolerance and deer resistance, two necessary qualities in my garden. In a few years, I plan to divide the plant. They don’t love to be divided and take a few years to bloom, but our current torch lily is a division and is finally in good shape.  I will deadhead it throughout the season to promote more brilliant blooms. Such care will ensure a constant reminder of the memories we have of a wildly intelligent, amazingly caring, and gentle person. It is a touching and beautiful tribute to a life well lived and the healing power of nature.

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