Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on July 10, 2000. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Lily Of The Nile Draws Attention To Landscapes
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Daffodils, tulips and daylilies are some of our most common flowers from bulbs, but this year there has been a blue flower called the agapanthus that has really put on a show from the coastal counties to North Mississippi.
Agapanthus comes from the Greek words agape for love and anthos for flower. Growing it will likely generate an agape-type feeling for the plant. Commonly called Lily of the Nile, or African Lily, the botanical name, Agapanthus africanus, gives reference to its origination.
This species has been in the United States the longest, and is actually considered an heirloom plant. Agapanthus orientalis is probably the one most widely planted. There are more species and many hybrids that make it quite hard to know what you are looking at.
The agapanthus africanus and orientalis are evergreen and hardy as far north as Tupelo, but cold winters may take out the foliage. Taxonomy buffs may be interested to know that orientalis is now considered a subspecies of agapanthus praecox. A group called the Headbourne hybrids are deciduous and are hardy into Tennessee.
The agapanthus is in the Amaryllis family and, while found in bulb books, is really produced on rhizomes which are thick modified stems grown below the soil.
Although white varieties exist, most people grow them for the spectacular blue flowers produced in the form of huge globes or spheres sitting atop stalks that reach two to four feet above the ground. These globes, called umbels, may have from 20 to 100 flowers, depending on variety and species. They bloom during the months of May and June.
As with most of our plants, soil preparation plays a vital role in the success of growing the Lily of the Nile. The rhizomes can rot in wet soils. Prepare the bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and sand and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. This will allow for maximum drainage and aeration.
Best blooming will occur in full sun, so choose a site receiving at least six to eight hours of sun. Feed with a balanced fertilizer or a 1-2-1 ratio in the spring and again in the summer.
Mulching is one of the most important cultural practices in that it will stabilize soil temperatures and help protect the rhizomes during extra cold winters. In dry summers, the mulch really helps hold moisture.
The Lily of the Nile not only beautifies the landscape, but also excels in containers. The restricted root growth imposed by containers brings about great flowering. Extra special winter care will be needed for those grown in containers.
Once your Lily of the Nile is established in the landscape, the clumps can be left alone for a number of years. You may not need to divide for six years. If you want more plants, you can divide in the fall.
For a plant as beautiful as the Lily of the Nile, there are numerous landscape options. Group a cluster around a windmill palm or plant in front of tall bananas. One of the prettiest plantings I saw this year was a grouping around a birdbath. The bright blue flowers towered above the bath. Those had to have been the happiest of birds.
I guess the planting that I would call a "Kodak moment" was in Bay St. Louis. The Lily of the Nile blue flowers were grown in combination with bi-colored cannas that had yellow and orange.
You are sure to have an area around your home that would be made more beautiful with the addition of the Lily of the Nile.