Cyrtanthus mackenii (Ifafa Lily)

I purchased this little beauty in 2003 from Logee's Greenhouses in Danielson, CT and mid-winter it never fails to prove its worth. It's a plant you can easily forget about as it sits quietly in its pot with nondescript grass-like foliage. A self-maintaining bulb that you take for granted and feel a bit guilty for the neglect you've cast on it for months when it suddenly bursts into a glory of dainty, sweet-scented tubular blossoms during the bleakest time of year.

The name Cyrtanthus refers to the curved flower tube and is derived from the Greek kyrtos meaning curved and anthos meaning flower. This species is named after Scotsman Mark McKen, a horticulturalist who became the first curator at the Durban Botanic Gardens in 1851 in South Africa. The Durban Botanic Gardens website refers to him colorfully as fiery, hard drinking, and rough and ready. Called "the professor", McKen was one of South Africa's classic plant hunters. Many of the indigenous plants at the botanic gardens still carry his name in their scientific plant names.

In addition to its ease of care, propagation is simple. Offsets are easily separated from the mother bulbs and its seeds germinate pretty quickly. I usually scatter them around the base of the bulbs and let them spring up freely from where they land.

I love this lily. It is a plant that demands nothing, makes for easy sharing with friends and family by popping a few offsets into a pot, and provides such satisfaction this time of year with its blooms. What a gift to the New England gardener's winter soul.


  1. So sweet and delicate...I long to see any bloom here right now! Only a couple of more months, I'm trying to look on the bright side! Very pretty captures!

  2. Thanks spookydragonfly.
    Every blossom helps this time of year.

    Love your playlist - Pachabel's canon has been a favorite of mine for a very long time.

  3. Hi Ann,
    This is one lily I have never heard of nor seen but it is so beautiful...the flower itself reminds me of my Japanese Anenome, but the tubular part is just amazing! Now, what if you plant them outside? Do they tolerate cold weather over the winter and then pop up in the spring or summer? I'd love to have them outside, if possible! Lovely photos;) Jan

  4. Hi Jan.
    Hardiness zones for this little lily is 9-11. That's why I keep it in a pot and bring it indoors for winter where it blooms each year for me. Let me know if you're interested in a couple offsets. I have plenty to share.

  5. We must have acquired our plant from Logee's about the same time and we have enjoyed it on the window sill at our kitchen sink. Such joy in the midst of Winter, and then, in January or February this year, the leaves started turning yellow and I thought I noticed a mold at the bottom of some of the leaves, and then it was gone. Very sad. We had photos, but had forgotten its name. My wife remembers, on a subsequent trip to Logee's, telling them of her delight with the plant and hearing their surprise that it flowered for her.

    We sent pictures for them to identify. They finally got back saying it was a Hippeastum, rare, and they no longer carried it.

    So, Hippeastum, Amaryllidaceae, Oh my God. International Bulb Society, Bill Dijk in New Zealand, Mary Sue Ittner of the Pacific Bulb Society in California (a photo). Cyrtanthus mackenii, Ifafa Lily, South Africa. Telos Rare Bulbs (sold out), Silver Hill Seeds (sold out). Another search: Buried Treasures in Valrico, FL. Mixed color (ours was just like yours) $5 for three.

    What an adventure! We're looking forward to our reunion.

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