Clivia miniata



Clivia miniata: Phuket’s version of the daffodil.

Photo: Botanic Gardens Trust Sydney / Jaime Plaza.


Masochist of the floral world

I’m not the most patient of souls. In fact as the years progress, I find more and more things irritating: screaming kids, rap music, 125cc motorcycles with big-bore exhausts, anyone that thinks it looks hip to make one of those W signs with their fingers, those pickups belting out several kilowatts of sound to inform us of the latest sale at Big C, and so on.

I’m fairly sure that annoyances get more annoying as you get older. Does that mean I’m turning into my father? A scary thought, but I’m sure that if I had teenage kids I’d be bursting into their bedrooms screaming at them over the 150-decibel music asking them to “turn that damn noise down”.

I find that some accents from various parts of the UK grate too. Apologies to Birmingham readers, but that accent doesn’t do you any favors. Somehow the Brummie accent makes the speakers sound as if they’re a few bricks short of a full load. I’m sure they’re not, but that high-pitched back-of-the-throat ‘awroyt?’ favorite of theirs hardly makes them sound like Mensa candidates.

Some regional accents are fine. Scousers (ladies and gentlemen from Liverpool) are usually comedians, and most utterances from Geordies (Newcastle) are often hilarious. Try saying ‘Kaw-a-sak-i’ in a Geordie accent without smiling. You can’t.

I’ve given up trying to decode the sounds that come out of a Glaswegian’s mouth, though. I’m fairly convinced that they produce random noises at breakneck speed and spend their days nodding at each other in the streets and pubs of Glasgow, pretending to understand. Indecipherable, but bearable.

And so, inevitably, we move on to the Welsh. Their accent is neither amusing nor charming, unfortunately. Is it just me that finds Welsh accents annoying? They’re wonderful in Wales I’m sure, with all their singing in the valleys, but let’s work on the exit visa situation.

And while we’re on the subject of the Welsh accent, why is it that whenever I try it, the first couple of sentences come out OK, but then inevitably transform into a very poor attempt at Pakistani? Is it just me?

The English have a flower for their national emblem – the rose. A thing of beauty. The Welsh? They have two – the daffodil and the leek. I will concede that the daffodil has its charm, but a leek? A smelly vegetable?

I remember, in my school days, a couple of Welsh kids whose mothers insisted on pinning a leek to their lapels on St David’s Day. We obviously made no comment on the stinking vegetable that accompanied them all day. You can imagine how gentle we all were, and how much we admired these fine Welsh chaps attending a Yorkshire school proclaiming their origins.

I suppose I should move on to the subject of plants at some stage, or I’m likely to be accused of yet another meaningless rant. Much as I hate to admit a fondness for something associated with the Welsh, one of the few plants I miss from my homeland is in fact the daffodil. Most of the others are either too boring or slow-growing, or just plain insignificant. The daffodil at least has some individuality about it.

Phuket is hardly the daffodil capital of the world (it would probably be somewhere in those valleys attached to the west of England) but at least we have something that looks vaguely similar – the clivia miniata, or kaffir lily. The similarity is actually extremely vague, come to think of it. At least they both have that 90-degree flower-on-top-of-the-stalk thing happening.

Originally, clivia made its way over here from Natal, South Africa, where it grows naturally in shady, moist areas. The name of the plant isn’t the most obvious. Most people probably even pronounce it incorrectly. It was given to the plant by a man named John Lindley during the mid-1800s. Lady Clive (really!) was the Duchess of Northumberland then, and Lindley named the plant in her honor. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

There are a few different species, but the clivia miniata is probably the most common grown here. Its dark green leaves are broad and strap-like and grow in a kind of arch, up to about 40cm long and three to four inches wide. Brilliant clusters of apricot-colored, funnel-shaped blossoms appear on strong stems arising from the center of the dense leaf clumps.

A general rule of thumb is that plants tend to be happier in open soil, rather than being confined to a pot. The clivia miniata bucks that trend completely, as it is much happier when its roots are constricted by a small pot, for some bizarre reason. Try to resist the temptation to move the plant to a larger pot as you would do for most potted plants. This one’s a serious masochist. If it were human it would probably be into things that should definitely be conducted behind closed doors.

Clivia roots are thick, fleshy and very well-equipped for water storage. On a mature plant, the swollen mass of roots often becomes so large that it will completely fill the pot, forcing the soil in the pot up and over the container’s edge. Only when this begins to happen should a clivia plant be moved to a larger pot.

Unlike many other plants, clivias survive in bright or dim light and in soil that is moist or dry. They prefer well-drained, organic soil in bright light with early morning or late afternoon sun and shaded in between, as the leaves will scorch if they get direct sun. It may have masochistic tendencies, but heat isn’t among its pleasures.

The ability of these plants to survive under conditions unsuitable for most other plants makes them extremely tough house plants and ideal candidates for people who like to have plants in their houses, but can’t be bothered giving them much attention.

Clivias are most often propagated by separation of offsets, or the extra stalks that grow independently from the main plant, after the plants have flowered. When an individual offset has developed three or four leaves of its own, it can be cut from the parent plant (you need to include some roots too) and placed in small pots of its own.

Daffodils may not exactly be abundant here, but at least we make do with this distant relative. Those of the Welsh persuasion can be reassured that should they feel the urge to pin a clivia miniata to their chests at the beginning of March every year, we won’t snigger at all. Well, not much, anyway. Dydd da to you.



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