Paintbrush Lilies - Haemanthus (Blood Lilies)


Haemanthus coccineus. Copyright: Strange Wonderful Things



Contents

  1. Top Tips
  2. Location, Water, Humidity & Fertilisation
  3. Dormancy Care & Annual Flowers
  4. Common Issues
  5. Origins, Temperature, Propagation, Repotting & Toxicity.


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Top Tips & Info

  • Care Difficulty - Very Easy (Easy - Moderate to Achieve Annual Flowers)
  • The care requirements will vary between the 'active growth' and 'dormancy period', so continue reading to learn more about the key differences!
  • To prevent this article from becoming overwhelmed with information, we'll keep it simple by allowing you to scroll through the key information on its care requirements.
  • Head down to 'Dormancy Care & Annual Blooms' to learn more about achieving yearly flowers.




Location & Light - 🔸🔸🔸

A location with either a splash of morning or evening sun is the ideal setting for this species, as too dark areas will heighten the chance of root rot and a lack of flowers in the autumn. Although direct sunlight is beneficial for Paintbrush Lilies, avoid scorching the leaves with too intense rays as this will quickly lead to a murky lime appearance.

In terms of the ideal location around the house, as long as the desired location is above 15ºC (59ºF) and is at least four metres from an operating heat source, it'll be accepted. Do not situate it in a dark location metres away from a light source, as this will only increase the chance of over-watering. We'd recommend a north, east or west-facing windowsill, or within two metres of a south-facing window. 


N. B. - For those serious about achieving autumnal flowers, relocate the specimen into an area (still with a splash of morning or evening sunlight) that has cooler nighttime temperatures of 8°C+ (46°F+). This should ideally be done in its dormancy period that is served between the spring and summer months. Remember that a cooler resting period will help the likelihood of a bloom in the later summer or autumn. Scroll down to 'Dormancy Period & Annual Flowers' for more information!


Water - 🔸

Growth Period - Allow the top half of the soil to dry out between waters, making sure there aren't any issues of waterlogging. It's important to keep the specimen reliably hydrated due to the energy it takes to produce new foliage (& potential flowers).

Dormancy Period - From spring onwards, decrease the amount of water to actively force the specimen into rest. Wild Paintbrush Lilies will almost stop growth over the harsh summer heat due to the risk of dehydration and sun-scorch. We'd recommend allowing the majority of the soil to dry between waters, following our phrase of 'drenches between droughts'. Remember - it's better to water the plant in large quantities than to give it 'little and often' each day, as the risk of root rot is higher when its soil remains moist all the time. 

Under-watering symptoms include curled or crispy leaves, wilted foliage, yellowing leaves and stunted growth. Allow the majority of the soil to dry whilst the plant is in its dormancy period from spring onwards. Over-watering symptoms include yellowing or browning leaves, stunted growth, wilting and a rotten base. Avoid the soil becoming overly saturated due to the species' susceptibility to root rot and other soilborne diseases. If this has happened to your specimen, increase the intensity light somewhat with fewer irrigations - a fully softened base will spell the end of its life. Over-watering is commonly caused by too little light or heat or a lack of drying soil in between irrigations.


Humidity - 🔸

Typical humidity found in the home is more than enough to occupy a Paintbrush Lily, as too high humidity and poor air circulation may result in powdery mildew. Never mist the flowers to increase its humidity as botrytis petal blight may develop.


Fertilisation - 🔸🔸

Active Growth - From late summer to early spring, fertilise your specimen every three or four waters, using a 'Houseplant' labelled feed. If you're interested in achieving blooms, use a 'Tomato' labelled product to stimulate a flower spike from the heightened levels of potassium. 

Dormancy Period - Feeding isn't necessary from spring onwards, as your plant should be entering a period of rest. When the autumn arrives, this is the perfect time to increase fertilisation for fuelling the energy used for developing new leaves. 




Dormancy Care & Annual Flowers

Achieving a flower from your Paintbrush Lilies will take time, perseverance and skills - along with a cool, dry dormancy period over the spring and summer. Unlike most houseplants, your lily will halt growth over the warmer months of the year, as those in the wild need to be sheltered from the harsh South African heat. Once the ambient temperatures begin to decrease, this is the perfect time to keep an eye out for a potential bloom, stemming from its centre.

Follow our tips during the spring and summer period to achieve the very best dormancy for your Paintbrush Lily. 


Droughts, Droughts, Droughts!

It's all about under-watering with Paintbrush Lilies. If we told you that they could bloom even without moisture or foliage, it speaks for itself about how little this species can thrive off. Only rehydrate the soil once the majority has fully dried out; never promote soggy soil or water-logging as both will quickly lead to an unhappy plant. The lily will enter its dormancy shortly after the end of winter, so this is a perfect time to neglect it for a while. Allow all of the soil to become dry for two weeks in between irrigations, slowly increasing the frequency from early autumn onwards to encourage a bloom.

Potbound Roots

A Paintbrush Lilies' roots must be pot bound to aid the chance of another bloom, much like the Moth Orchid or Anthurium, for example. The plant must feel restricted in order to send out a flower stalk, thus to reproduce and pass-on the genes. Of course, there are other factors, such as the temperature and daylight hours, that can help this process, but starting with its roots is always a good idea. An added bonus of keeping the plant pot bound is that you're far less likely to over-water due to the balance of soil to roots, greatly favouring the latter.


Temperature & Location

This is the final element to increase the likelihood of autumnal flowers. Reducing the surrounding temperature by a few degrees from spring onwards will work wonders, as many houseplants won't serve a good dormancy over the winter - usually due to the consistent household temperatures throughout the year. Remember, you'll still need to provide a bright area to allow the plant to photosynthesise. A location that offers cooler nighttime temperatures and a few hours of morning or evening sunlight will stress the specimen out, thus causing a greater chance of blooms.

Of course, dealing with nature won't always provide us with our ideal outcome, but providing a good resting period will benefit the specimen's overall health. Even if you don't achieve a bloom in the first year of trying, have another go! It's always better to try and fail, than never to do it in the first place.




Common Issues with Paintbrush Lilies

Over-watering is the biggest issue with Paintbrush Lilies. Although moist soil is vital for long-lasting flowers, avoid keeping the compost saturated for extended periods to prevent the chance of rot. Allow the top half of the soil to become dry in between irrigations, and always remember to use tepid water to avert shocking the tender root systems. Typical signs of over-watering include yellowed leaves, stunted growth and a softened base. During its dormancy (from spring onwards), reduce the frequency of waters considerably until late summer, when new growth emerges from its centre. 

Too little light could cause wilting or sinking leaves, slowed growth and a lack of autumn flowers. If you're scared that the location is too dark, as long as a newspaper can be read (when facing away from the light), you're good to go. If this has occurred with your specimen, improve the amount of light fractionally, keeping in mind the increased chance of environmental shock (when two locations offer too different growing conditions) and, of course, sun-scorch. Give the specimen a good rinse under the tap to wash the thin layer of dust from its leaves, which should increase light-capturing efficiency (better photosynthesis, etc.).

A dark location (shelves, etc.) will promote the lily to develop small or no juvenile leaves, giving the impression of 'leggy' or naked growth. The length between the nodes will also dramatically become larger, harvesting less energy that can be converted into sortable sugars. Be sure to increase the amount of indirect light somewhat, and give the specimen a gentle supplement of 'Houseplant' labelled feed to help with its stored energy. 

Too much sunlight will lead to sun-scorch, with typical signs including browning or crispy leaves, dry leaf-edges, curled leaves or little growth. Although too low light will cause over-watering issues, too much sunlight will also be a detriment in the likes of dehydration. A location that offers only up to two or three hours of direct sunlight will bring the optimum growth for your Paintbrush Lily.

A lack of flowers can be an array of different issues, including a poorly spent dormancy, too much water or surrounding heat over the non-flowering months and an over-potted plant. The first factor could be to do with how much water or heat you give the lily over the course of the year. It would help if you replicated their dormancy by reducing the frequency of waters, which in turn can allow the plant to rest over the warmer months of spring & summer. The second, most crucial element of a successful bloom is how restricted the roots have become; some lilies need to be potbound to bloom, as the plant will think it's nearing the end of its life.

Clean the leaves regularly. Although this isn't too much of an issue, a build-up of dust particles can clog up the plant's pores, causing lowered light capturing-efficiency. Rinse the topsides of the leaves down once a month to keep levels down and improve growing conditions.

In some rare cases, a steady loss of foliage during the autumn & winter, or shortly after flowering, shouldn't cause concern as the specimen is entering its dormancy. Instead of manual pruning its body, allow the plant to drop its leaves naturally to decrease the risk of shock. Puncturing healthy tissue also may result in a bacteria infection in the wound that can quickly spread across the whole plant. Once the shedding of leaves has elapsed, relocate the specimen in a location that offers bright, indirect light and good air circulation. Provide temperatures around 10℃ (50℉) with irregular waters until new growth appears in the spring. One way to decrease the chance of flowering in the first place (that'll result in leaf shedding afterwards) is by keeping the temperature constant throughout the year and above 18℃ (64℉) to reduce the chance of it entering a dormancy.

An array of simultaneous cultivation issues will increase the chance of developing yellowed leaf-sections with browned halos - see image below for visual reference. Firstly, the location may be too dark, with its compost staying too saturated in-between waters; if mould is growing across the soil, this is usually a bad sign. Further, you're potentially using too cold water or tap water that hasn't been allowed to sit for 24hrs. This period of rest will not only bunk-up its temperature, but the harsh chemicals used to preserve water hygiene (fluoride & chloride) will begin to settle after a few hours. If possible, use fresh bottled water from a shop or supermarket to prevent further chemical burns. The final culprit might be lack of fertilisation, with regular feeds being paramount for long-lasting, healthy leaves. If the specimen hasn't been nourished in over two months, it'll begin to show signs of nutrient deficiencies seen in this article.
If this common problem has occurred with your specimen, remove the affected leaves (not sections on the leaf) and improve the growing conditions considerably. Fertilise regularly with lukewarm water and be sure to allow the top third to dry out in between hydrations. Its new growth should be problem-free, but if you'd like to speak to ukhouseplants for more advice, don't be afraid to book a 1-to-1 call with our friendly author, Joe Bagley!




Origins

Haemanthus coccineus was first described by Carl Linnaeus in the 1750s, referring to its 'blood-red flowers' in Latin, along with the specific epithet of coccineus - also referring to its 'Scarlet' blooms. The species has natural distributions across South Africa, most notably in the Western Cape. 


The Distribution of Haemanthus coccineus.


Temperature

6° - 25°C  (42° - 78°F).
H1c - Your lily can be placed outdoors from late spring onwards in a sheltered location, whilst the night temperatures are above 8°C  (46°F). Situating the plant outside a few months before the blooming period (autumn) will greatly improve the chance of potential flowers. Regularly keep an eye out for pests (mealybugs & snails) during its time outside and for the first month after being relocated back in the home. 


Spread

Overall Plant Size - Up to 40cm in height and 50cm in width.
Leaf Blades - Up to 40cm in length and 20cm in width, forming a tongue-shaped leaf. 

Maturity will be reached in around ten years. Your specimen will produce lateral offsets that'll develop into its own plant eventually, creating its own separate plant. Paintbrush Lilies can survive over thirty years as a houseplant when its care treatment is up to scratch.


Pruning & Maintenance

Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean utensils or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.

We wouldn't recommend pruning its foliage back to the soil line due to the risk of damaging its node, located in the plant's centre. If its foliage begins to decline over the spring onwards (like yellowing/browning), check the plant's base for softening issues. If this occurs, the chances are that your specimen has developed basal rot from potential over-watering. Scroll up to 'Common Issues' to learn more about this issue.

Once the blooms have finished, the flower stalk can be removed with a clean pair of scissors without harming the base, unless there's a development of swelling seedpods.


Propagation

Via Seed or Basal Offset Division.

Offset (Pup) Division (Easy) - For this method, it's best to divide in spring or summer and once the offshoots are at least a quarter of the mother plant's size, with several well-established leaves. Remove its pot and place your hand in between the junction that connects the two; soil may have to be brushed away to get a better grip. Gently push the pup downwards while supporting the mother plant until you hear a snap. Cautiously separate the root systems, keeping great care in keeping them damage-free. Place the new plantlet in a small pot with a well-draining potting mix, much similar to the original soil, and maintain the same care routines. Cactus & Succulent compost is best, or you can make your own using multipurpose compost with added grit or perlite. Provide a bright setting with temperatures around 18°C (64°F) with the majority of the soil drying out in between waters. New leaves should emerge within the six weeks, as long as the soil is kept on the drier to life.

N.B. - Do not separate the plants whilst in bloom as this may lead to sudden flower loss or transplant shock


Flowers

Although Paintbrush Lilies are part of the Amaryllis family (with typical trumpet-shaped flowers), this species will develop a brush-like flower between the months of late summer to early winter. The individual flower will last up to two weeks, sporting either a white or red appearance. A lack of blooms over the autumn period is most likely due to immaturity or a poor dormancy period - scroll up to 'Dormancy Period & Annual Flowers' for more information. 


Repotting

During the summer, repot every three to four years using 'Cactus & Succulent' labelled compost with added perlite or grit. It's unadvised to plant a Paintbrush Lily into a pot which lacks drainage holes, as the chance of basal or root rot is high. Although the rule of thumb is to repot a houseplant every two years, Paintbrush Lilies will thrive and bloom for many years if their root systems are restricted. Never perform a transplant whilst the plant is in flower due to the risk of sudden flower loss. For matured specimens, introduce some grit to promote a more robust root ball as well as the reduced chance of root rot; click on this link for more information on how to perform the perfect transplant.

Book a 1-to-1 video call with Joe Bagley if you'd like a personal guide to repotting your houseplant. This will include recommending the right branded-compost and pot size, followed by a live video call whilst you transplant the specimen for step-by-step guidance and answer any further questions!


Pests & Diseases

Keep an eye out for spider mites, thrips, aphids, mealybugs and snails if kept outdoors over the summer. Common diseases with Paintbrush Lilies root rot, powdery mildew, leaf-spot disease and botrytis petal blight. Most diseases are caused by excess moisture in the soil or on the flowers or foliage; maintain dry leaves and always avoid water-logging for best results. For more info on how to address any of these issues, hit this link - Identifying Common Houseplant Pests & Diseases.


Toxicity

This plant is classified as slightly poisonous. If parts of the plants are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite could occur. Consumption of large quantities must be dealt with quickly; acquire medical assistance for further information.


Retail Locations

Unfortunately, the chance of finding a Paintbrush Lily in a garden centre is becoming rarer by the year. Have a look around on various well-respected online stores for the best possible price. 



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