Cyrtanthus contractus bursts into flower a few weeks after spring fires, creating brilliant red splashes in the still-blackened or freshly greened veld. Look out for them right now. They are particularly spectacular on overcast days – they seem to glow in the gentle light. The large bulb produces a scarlet inflorescence with up to 10 tubular, hanging flowers which can be up to 8cm long, curved open at the mouth. The stems are mauve or sometimes red and the leaves only appear after flowering.
They are common on road verges where they are protected from cattle damage. While you may be tempted, don’t dig them up on the side of the road. Besides being illegal to do this, they do not grow well in cultivation and seldom survive. Simply admire and enjoy them in their natural habitat. I spotted this Cyrtanthus tuckii in Mpophomeni – just love the green tips at the end of each flower.
Cyrtanthus belongs to the family Amaryllidaceae (daffoldil) and about 60 different species are found all over South Africa. Commonly known garden varieties are the George Lily and the Ifafa Lily, both very rewarding. Traditionally, bulb infusions are used as sprinkling charms against storms and protection against evil. Children use the hollow stems as whistles. Zulu name: impingizana