Q: My neighbor was discarding some houseplants and gave me several. One of them looks like an amaryllis, but she said it definitely was not, although she didn’t know the plant’s name. She’s had it years. It has tall green leaves — does it ever flower? When? There is nothing now.
A: Aren’t you lucky! It sounds like a clivia. Clivia is a long-living plant that is truly an heirloom, but you must be patient.
Grow in a cool porch all winter with very light watering and wait. Early spring is what makes the waiting worthwhile. One day your clivia decides winter is over, usually between March and June, and will bloom. That is the day you discover a bright orange flower stalk beginning to emerge from between the dark green leaves. Go back to regular watering and feeding. Stand back and watch. You’ll see why you bother to grow this large, green plant for 11 months of the year for one month of stunning flowers.
The flowers emerge, usually orange with a yellow throat, clustered on a stem a foot or two high. Some years there will be two or, rarely, even three flower stalks. They will last for weeks, and your visitors will “ooh” and “ah” over the plant. The flowers will gradually drop off. You may want to remove the attractive red berries and the seedpod before it forms unless you are going to save seed, because it takes a lot of strength from the plant to produce.
And another year is over for the clivia — just the leaves are left now — but the flowers will be back next year, and the year after. But the clivia remains elegant with just its greenery in a tub on the porch or near the front door, just basking in glory. It seems to know that it is an investment plant, one that will live and get better with age.