Growing hardy Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) in a Coastal Maine Garden

January 1, 2013

kniphofia - red rocket red hot poker

In case you haven’t noticed a trend, I am drawn to red hot colors and tropical foliage as the Maine winter comes in upon us. Out the window of my office there is about 8″ of snow on the ground. I get the feeling the snow might be here for a month or two, judging from temperature forecasts.

This would be a good time to dream about one of my favorite genera of plants, Kniphofia or “red hot pokers.” Their common name comes from the spiky, bright colored inflorescences. The flowers can come in various, brightly hued shades of orange, red, and yellow.

The first time I saw Kniphofia was at the exit ramp of Interstate 40 West from Raleigh to the Durham Freeway in North Carolina. There, in the triangular shaped median was a mass planting of Kniphofia. I loved the colors. And I loved how it was different from the ubiquitous mass plantings of anemic daylilies normally found along side  highways.

kniphofia - red hot poker

Kniphofia are in the Asphodel family or more exactly the Xanthorrhoeaceae (if you want to impress your friends). Most are native to South Africa. Among the diverse flora of South Africa, most should not be hardy in New England. But there are some red hot pokers do grow and thrive at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (CMBG) in Boothbay, Maine.   That’s pretty amazing considering that Kniphofia’s closest relative are the aloes. The major difference between the two genera is Aloe have the fleshy leaves renown for their burn soothing abilities.  

Three hardy Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) for Northern Gardens

We are currently growing three different Kniphofia at CMBG.  

Kniphofia uvaria ‘First Sunrise’ starts blooming in late June – early July. It is beautiful alongside Allium schubertii, Echinacea paradoxa and a variety of roses in our rose garden. 

This year, I would like to add more of these spectacular plants to our gardens. One plant on my wish list is Kniphofia uvaria ‘Red Rocket’ PP21905. This is supposedly an improved selection of ‘Nancy’s Red.’ It was bred by Pieter Schreurs from the Netherlands.

I am also planning on growing more Kniphofia northiae. We have a few plants of K. northiae growing in our Alfond Children’s Garden but I would love to add some more. This red hot poker is worth growing for the large, strap-like foliage alone.

kniphofia northiae - red rocket red hot poker

Have you grown Kniphofia before? What are your thoughts on the plants and do you have any favorites?


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  1. rochelle says:

    my mom used to grow red hot pokers in colorado when I was a kid….so I subsequently think of them as a 70’s style flower (I see them so rarely these days – though used to see them a lot more in UK gardens). I need to shed that connotation…because they are perfect for a tropical look when you aren’t in the tropics….and the name, well, “red hot poker” (which my non-horty husband thinks is too silly to be real) is reason enough to have it in the garden.

    • rodneyeason says:

      When you start digging in, you’ll find some really interesting red hot pokers. I saw a huge, blue foliaged plant at Heronswood over 10 years ago. I still want to try that one, too.

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