Kniphofia (nip-HOFF-ee-uh), the red hot poker plant is an herbaceous perennial belonging to the family Asphodelaceae (as-foh-del-AY-see-ee) and hailing from the mountains of tropical South Africa.
The plant’s genus name is in honor of an 18th-century German botanist and physician named Johan Hieronymus Kniphof.
The genus Kniphofia consists of about 65 species of deciduous and evergreen clump-forming, rhizomatous perennials. Kniphofia uvaria is a popular variety.
Common names include:
- Red Hot Poker
- Rocket Flower
- Poker Plant
- Torch Lily
Kniphofia Red Hot Poker Care
Size & Growth
The Red Hot Rocket flower is easy to grow and may attain a height of 2′ feet and a spread of approximately 1 ½’ feet.
There are also dwarf cultivars growing only about half an inch tall and giant cultivars attaining a height of 6’ feet tall.
Basal leaves are linear and strap-shaped.
Flowering Red Hot Pokers
The red hot poker has flower spikes with a bottle-brush shape.
They are usually broader at the top and tapering at the base.
The red and yellow flowers stand at the top of a tall, bare stem.
Because many cultivars have been developed, more flower colors are available including:
- Orange flowers
- Greenish white
- Various range of pastels
Typically Red Hot Pokers bloom during June and July.
Light & Temperature
Torch Lily can tolerate partial shade, but the plant performs best in full sun with adequate soil moisture.
Red Hot Poker plant is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 9.
Watering & Feeding
Water the drought-tolerant plant by providing deep watering throughout the growing season to help produce an extensive root system.
Don’t fertilize seedlings.
Wait until the seedlings are well established, and then fertilize lightly with a diluted liquid solution.
Soil & Transplanting
Red Hot Pokes can thrive in dry soil types, but for best results provide mulch rich in humus yet provides good drainage.
Maintain even moisture during the growing season.
Kniphofia cannot tolerate soggy soil, especially during the cold winter months.
Grooming & Maintenance
Protect these tropical plants from high winds, and provide winter protection to the crowns in cold areas.
In areas with cold winters, it’s a good idea to mulch heavily in late fall around and over Red Hot Pokers through the winter months.
Do not cut back on spent leaves at the end of the growing season.
Tie them together over the crown of the plant to give it some protection during the cold winter months.
This will keep water from standing and freezing on the plant’s crown.
Deadhead spent flower stalks when the plant finishes blooming and cut them all the way back to the base.
When the blooming season is over, prune the foliage back by about half to provide a better appearance.
Once established, it’s best not to disturb Red Hot Pokers, but if they do become overcrowded, cut them off and relocate offsets.
For best flower production do not divide plants any more often than once every four or five years.
How To Propagate Kniphofia?
As with many plants, start seeds of Red Hot Poker plants indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last predicted frost, or sow seeds directly into your garden early summer.
To start seeds in the garden, be sure to choose a protected area where the soil is about 70° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit.
Enrich the soil with organic matter, and sow the seeds thinly.
Sprinkle about a quarter-inch of fine soil over the seeds and tamp them down lightly.
Seedlings of torch lilies should emerge within a month.
New Red Hot Poker plants can be moved from a sheltered location to a location providing full sun and well-draining soil in the autumn or early spring.
To maintain the integrity of the type of plant you have, you must be careful when propagating.
You can grow species plants from seed, but named cultivars must be propagated through division.
Otherwise, you run the risk of producing offspring that are not “true.”
Offset removal and rhizome division are best done in the late spring or late fall in areas where the winters are very cold.
In hot areas, you can do this immediately after the plants have finished bloom time.
Kniphofia Pests and Diseases
These plants are not subject to many diseases or insect problems.
The leading cause of plant problems begins with excessive watering.
Plants that are made to stand in water will develop root rot, fungal diseases and may be attractive to common pests such as thrips.
Slugs may be problematic if the soil is kept too wet.
Be sure to keep dead foliage trimmed back to provide good air circulation and discourage slugs.
Red hot pineapple popsicle plant is both deer resistant and rabbit resistant.
Are Red Hot Kniphofia Plants Considered Toxic or Poisonous?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Torch Lily is non-toxic to horses, dogs, and cats.
More details in our article: Is the Red Hot Poker Plant Poisonous?
Are Red Hot Poker Plants Invasive?
According to the California Invasive Plant Council(CALIPC), Kniphofia is naturalized (not invasive) in many parts of California.
Suggested Uses For Red Hot Poker Plants
The tall flower spikes of the Red Hot Poker plants are very attractive when used as cut flowers and added to arrangements.
The bright, colorful, tubular flowers attract butterflies, bees, and pollinators of all sorts to the garden.
For this reason, the torch flower is an excellent choice for a hummingbird or butterfly garden.
Large varieties of Kniphofia are ideal for garden settings or even as specimen plants.
They don’t do well as container plants.
However, smaller dwarf varieties grow beautifully and successfully when kept in containers.