Clivia miniata was introduced to Europe in the early 1850s, and rapidly became popular as a showy pot-plant, yet it took until 1864 to get its current name.
The story begins 90 years earlier in 1774, when a bulbous plant with lovely large trumpet-shaped flowers resembling those of C. miniata was collected in the Southern Cape. It was taken back to Europe and, because it readily made offsets, was soon quite widely grown. It was named Vallota speciosa (meaning ‘showy’) for Pierre Vallot, an early French botanical writer, and was the only plant in the genus Vallota. More about this plant later. First, the confusion it caused.
James Backhouse, a nurseryman from York, had imported plants we now know as C. miniata from Natal (with seeds?). One of these plants, in full and glorious flower, was exhibited at a meeting of the Horticultural Society in London in February 1854. It created quite a stir, and within a few years seedlings were being grown in several countries. Yet no one was sure what it was!
Lindley, who had named C. nobilis back in 1828, scratched his head over this one, which had leaves described as ‘stout’ (interesting?), and such a different flower to nobilis , that he was not convinced they belonged in the same genus. Because the flower seemed similar to that of Vallota speciosa , he doubtfully identified the plant as Vallota? miniata (meaning ‘coloured with red lead’).
Hooker, on the other hand, felt this new plant was nearer to Clivia than Vallota , but, because of the very different flowers, wasn’t sure either. So he doubtfully named it Imantophyllum? miniatum .
Anyway, the confusion caused by the Vallota -like flowers seems to have existed for 10 years until 1864 when Eduard Regel (1815 -1892), the eminent German botanist, settled the matter. In a short one-page article in “Gartenflora”, the journal for German, Swiss and Russian plant people, he pronounced that, although the flowers were trumpet-shaped and more upright, unlike the tubular pendulous flowers of the other two Clivia species then known, the plant belonged in the genus Clivia , as established by Lindley.
His words carried weight, his brief C.V. being: he worked at botanical gardens at Gottingen, Bonn, Berlin, Zurich (where he lectured at the University and got his Ph.D.) and St Petersburg, where he was Scientific Director and finally Director General. Regel introduced many plants, chiefly from Central Asia, described them and distributed them liberally to botanic gardens and nurseries outside Russia. He was a founder of both the Swiss and Russian Horticultural Societies and a prolific author. The genus Regelia of five flowering shrubs from W. Australia was named in his honour.
So, at the end of the day, that is why Regel’s name is included in the full botanical name of our favorite plant, which is now so admired throughout the world: Clivia miniata (Lindl.) Regel.
Now, to return to the plant that had given rise to all the confusion, V. speciosa . It has been known over the years by various names including V. dumbletonii, Amaryllis purpurea, A. elata, and C yrtanthus purpurea . You may know it by one of it’s common names, George lily, Knysna lily, or Scarborough lily. In some parts of the world it is still known in the trade as Vallota but it is indeed the most famous of all the Cyrtanthus species, C. elatus , with it’s beautiful trumpet-shaped scarlet flowers. Almost as desirable as C. miniata? Certainly the amaryllis lily borer thinks so!
For brevity I have not listed references, though I have them available. I would like to thank Keith Hammett for sending me information on Regel and also the article from ‘Gartenflora”.
John van der Linde
(from Clivia Society Newsletter Vol 12 number 3, 2003)