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What is a Lily of the Nile?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 16, 2024
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The lily of the Nile is a type of flowering plant extremely popular in California. Also called the African lily, this flower is a native of South Africa, but was imported into other parts of the world. The lily of the Nile is part of the Agapanthus genus and encompasses nearly a dozen species.

Growing on long stalks, lilies of the Nile can be 1–6 feet (30–180 cm) tall. The flowers are shades of violet, blue, or white and occur in clusters the shape of large spheres on the top of the stalk. Each cluster can be 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) across and sport more than a dozen of the six-petaled flowers.

A perennial flower, the lily of the Nile can be planted in gardens or in pots, but needs well-drained soil to thrive. If planted outside, they do best in areas where temperatures do not drop below 28°F (-2°C). If they are planted in an area that does consistently reach low temperatures, the roots need to be removed from the soil and stored during winter months. Lilies of the Nile are also used in cut flower arrangements and can live as long as a week once cut.

The roots of the lily of the Nile are called rhizomes. Rhizomes are very similar to bulbs, but rhizome roots spread and can be used to propagate the plants. To store, rhizomes should be placed either in moist soil and kept around 35–41°F (2–5°C) or in a cool greenhouse and watered occasionally. The rhizomes can then be replanted in the spring.

Lilies of the Nile do better with crowded roots, which should be taken into consideration when planting in pots. Generally, a single rhizome will do well in a 12 inch (30.5 cm) pot and three do well in a 20 inch (51 cm) pot. The soil should be two parts loam and one part leaf mold.

Propagation can occur by planting seeds or by the division of roots. A lily planted by seed will not bloom for three years while it matures. Dividing the roots will allow blooming of new flowers sooner, but this type of propagation cannot occur until the original plant has been allowed to grow for about four to five years. When propagating by division, the rhizome of the lily should be dug up, then one of the roots extending from the main bulb cut off. The cut root can then be planted and the original lily replanted.

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Discussion Comments
By anon255206 — On Mar 16, 2012

Is it possible to have a lily of the nile grow to two stories high? I have a plant that looks like this, just on a massive scale. It's one tall tree size stalk that hasn't flowered yet? Does anyone know what it might be?

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