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Although a popular perennial among gardeners, relatively little is known of the kniphofia's ecology and evolution in its natural habitat. Around seventy species are described from Africa, over half of which are found in South Africa. This genus is closely related to the aloes, well-known succulents. However, unlike succulents, most kniphofias generally need plenty of water and some species die down during the dry season. These do well in marshy areas, along river banks or even roadside ditches. A few species prefer dry conditions.

Pollinated in the wild by nectar-feeding birds, such as sugarbirds (Promerops spp.) or sunbirds, kniphofias under cultivation in North America will readily attract hummingbirds. They also attract insects. They will grow to about two or three feet, most of this being the flower stem which bears hundreds of small, tubular florets.

Several species, a number of which are very rare, are highly localized. For example, the Swaziland endemic (K. umbrina) occurs only in that country, primarily in an area of marshland along the Mbuluzi River. Two species are endangered, whereas the South African K. pauciflora is extinct in the wild.

The plant was first introduced to gardens in 1707, brought to England. They were first believed to be evergreen, but when planted outside, gardeners discovered that although the parts above ground died off, the rootstock survived. A plant that is a delight to the eye, and well able to survive a wide range of conditions enters the lucky ranks of those favored by people. You could argue that the kniphofia's future is secure, at least in gardens.


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