A little over a week ago, one of my most treasured plants started to bloom for the first time. It is a compact cultivar of Clivia miniata from China. This plant started as a gift seed from my mother back in the fall of 2007. A few more seeds came in the same batch but I gave those to friends and only kept one for myself.
Clivia miniata originates from forests in South Africa with summer rainfall (Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, etc.). It was popular in Europe during Victorian times, probably because it is easy to grow and blooms reliably. In China, it only became available after the Second World War, and within the last 30 years it has turned into the Rolls-Royce of interior plants over there.
The Chinese cultivars are quite distinctive: they have compact leaves with a length to width ratio of about 2.5 to 1, the leaves also are very glossy and strong, and many cultivars have prominent veins on their leaves. With great care in cultivation, the leaves are most often maintained to grow in one plane, very similar to the leaf arrangements of a Traveller’s Palm (Ravenala madagascarensis), distichus in botanical terms.
Despite all these wonderful qualities, in my opinion the main reason for Clivia’s popularity in China is its common name: Jun Zi Lan (君子兰), meaning Virtuous Gentleman Orchid. In China, many non-orchids are called orchids, but the term orchid (兰) is reserved for several species of Chinese miniature Cymbidiums. See my previous post to learn more about those plants. In any case, orchid (兰) is already a symbol of good virtue. So I guess Clivias have doubly good virtue by its common name, which was coined by a botany professor in Japan.
Here is a photo chronology of my double virtue gift:
2007 in seed tray
2008 seedling, note the very rounded leaf tip, typical of Chinese cultivars
2009 large seedling, leaf veins are showing up
2010 almost mature plant, very glossy
2011 blooming for the first time