Yellow Fire Lily

During Winter, the famous golden hills of KwaZulu Natal are striped in black as farmers burn fire breaks. The smoke-filled air creates spectacular sunsets, which are the perfect prelude to a cosy evening in front of a wattle-fuelled fire.   Just when one begins to wonder if anything could survive, the tiny yellow flowers of Cytanthus breviflorus  poke cheerfully out of the charcoal grassland. The bulbs lie dormant buried under the ground, surviving the heat of the fires and the bright tubular blooms emerge triumphantly when all is calm, earning them the common name of Fire Lily. Recently burnt rocky slopes are often covered with spots of yellow in late winter. Cyrtanthus breviflorus  occurs in a range of habitats from the Eastern Cape to Kenya and is often found in damp, marshy areas. Where there is greater access to water, the flowers are much larger and the strap leaves fleshier.


Besides cheering up despondent explorers of burnt veld (that’s me), the edible bulb of Cyrtanthus  is used traditionally to treat intestinal worms. Infusions are taken as love charm emetics and are used as protective sprinkling charms.


I am trying to work out what the Zulu name ‘uvelabahleke’ means. According to my dictionary vela is: ‘to become prominent’ and hleke is either a ‘cluster’ or ‘splitting apart’.  So the flower which splits the earth and becomes very visible?  Works for me.   Zulu names are usually very descriptive and poetic, so I am going to ask around the farmyard in the morning and see if anyone can help.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. thismomentmind says:

    Really great informative post, the Zulu names sure are poetic, sounds so lovely!! Yay to local medicinal healing plants! ;-))


    1. Thanks Leigh. I’ve had a fun conversation with Nobuhle and Ma Dlamini, Zulu dictionary in hand. They suggest that the name means “What a surprise! Come and look at what has come up! It will make you happy!” This makes sense as Cyrtanthus certainly is a cheerful treat when nothing else is flowering. So it is pretty astonishing when you come across a mass of them. Off for a walk now to enjoy the yellow surprises…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s