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Kniphofia caulescens (Lesotho red hot poker)

In the uplands of South Africa, the brightly-coloured flower spikes of the Lesotho red hot poker can be seen from a distance.

Kniphofia caulescens (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Kniphofia caulescens Baker

Common name: 

Lesotho red hot poker, Basoeto Vuurpyl, umathunga, icacane, lelutla.

Conservation status: 

Not yet formally assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Mountain grassland. On peaty soil overlying rock formations, marshy places and seepage areas.

Known hazards: 

Kniphofias contain knipholone compounds, making them toxic if eaten. Kniphofias can also cause eye and skin irritation.


Sub class: 
Genus: Kniphofia

About this species

Kniphofia caulescens occurs in marshes on high-altitude mountain slopes in South Africa. The flowers are pollinated by birds.


Discover more

Geography & Distribution

Lesotho red hot poker is restricted to South Africa and Lesotho. It is also found elsewhere in cultivation.


Kniphofia caulescens (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)

Kniphofia caulescens usually has several stems and grows to about 60 cm tall. Each stem has a crown of narrow, grey-green leaves. Each leaf is v-shaped in cross-section, with fine teeth along its edge, and can be up to 70 cm long. The flower spike usually rises above the leaves. The tubular flowers are densely clustered at the top of the spike and are initially red before fading to yellow. The lower flowers change to yellow first, resulting in the characteristic bicoloured flower spike with red flowers at the top and yellow ones below. The flowers are about 2 cm long and when they open, the stamens protrude from them.

Threats & Conservation

This species forms very localised populations, which places it at greater risk from habitat destruction than species that form extensive ones.


Lesotho red hot poker has been considered by the Basutos to be a charm against lightning, and hence in the past was cultivated near their huts.

The torch-like inflorescences, and attractive blue-green foliage, make this species a very striking ornamental plant.

Lesotho red hot poker at Kew

Lesotho red hot poker is grown as part of the Living Collection at both Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place.

Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens are held in the Herbarium, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew. Details of some specimens of Lesotho red hot poker can be seen in the on-line Herbarium Catalogue.

South Africa Landscape - Kew at the British Museum

Between April and October 2010, Kew and the British Museum brought a small corner of South Africa to the heart of London.

The South Africa Landscape celebrated a shared vision to strengthen cultural understanding and support biodiversity conservation across the world.

Kniphofia caulescens
(Lesotho red hot poker) was one of the star plants featured in the Landscape.

Read Kew's South Africa Landscape blog.

Watch the video and view photos of the building of the Landscape.

References and credits

References & Credits

Codd, L.E. (2005). Flora of Southern Africa. Vol. 5: Part 1 (Asphodelaceae: Kniphofia): 45-47.

Codd, L.E. (1968). The South African species of Kniphofia (Liliaceae). Vol. 9: Parts 3 & 4: 455-458.

Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1992). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. Vol. 2 (D to K): 741. Macmillan Press, London.


Kew Science Editor: Timothy Harris
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions. Full website terms and conditions.

Courses at Kew

Kew offers a variety of specialist training courses in horticulture, conservation and plant science.

Students learn about plant taxonomy and identification