Crocosmia paniculata are in flower at the moment, creating splashes of red in the green, green verges of the R103 and district roads of the Midlands. Crocosmia has been used to spectacular effect in the camp gardens at Giant’s Castle Reserve – well worth a visit.
The genus name is derived from Greek words krokos meaning saffron and osme meaning smell. This is because dried flowers placed in warm water emit a strong smell of saffron. There are nine species in this genus, and seven of them occur in South Africa. Many of this family have been domesticated and they are familiar garden plants around the world, often so “improved” that it is hard to associate them with their beautiful wild ancestors.
In the Midlands of KZN clumps 1m to 2m high are found in moist grassland or stream banks. The arching zig zag inflorescence bears beautiful dark orange-red tubular flowers above pleated sword shaped leaves. Once flowering is over, the shiny purplish black seeds held in a leathery orange capsule are just as attractive.
A rewarding fast growing garden plant, it does well in damp sunshine or partial shade, forming large clumps if left undisturbed. It self seeds readily but is easiest to grow from corms planted in rich soil in early Spring. It is dormant in winter. A more common relative is Crocosmia aurea which has smaller bright orange flowers.
Birds eat the seeds while the corms are a favourite of bushpigs. The corms are also used in traditional medicine to treat dysentry and infertility
Common names: Falling stars(Eng); Vallendesterritjies (Afr); khalal-ea-bokone, moloke (S Sotho); udwendweni, umlunge (Zulu). Crocosmia was previously known as Montbretia.