Clivia x Kewensis 'Vico Yellow'.

Clivia miniata, Regel, var. flava, Phillips, var. nov. is described and illustrated in "Flowering Plants of South Africa" 11 (1931) and corresponds with No.8724 in the National Herbarium at Pretoria, South Africa. The currently accepted name for the yellow flowered clivia is Clivia miniata citrina. It was stated to differ from typical Clivia miniata only in having yellow flowers. (Note: Evidently the yellow capsules escaped attention in the description.) A yellow Clivia had in fact been cultivated in Natal since 1888 if not earlier.

Image courtesy Miyoshi & Co. This rendering shows the outer portions of the petals and sepals lighter relative to the throat than they are in reality.

Two specimens of this plant from Zululand were sent to England in 1925, one going to Kew and the other to Lord Wakehurst. These were the typical yellow flowered Clivia in cultivation in South Africa up to the present time and corresponding with the type description. Both plants flowered, set seed, and subsequently died. It is curious that, once again, no mention is made of the fact that the seed capsules of this plant were bright yellow, instead of the orange colour of typical C. miniata.

By what turned out to be good fortune, the Kew plant of C. miniata var. flava (sometimes called var. citrina) grew in the open greenhouse with plants of typical C. miniata. After setting seed it died as mentioned above, from causes unknown. The resulting seedlings were hybrids, none of them being pure yellow. The notable Kew Magnolia hybridist Charles Raffill, set about breeding back to restore a pure yellow Clivia and after a number of years he succeeded. This plant was named Clivia x Kewensis 'Cream'.

In 1971 I obtained a plant of Clivia x Kewensis 'Cream', and plants of C. x Kewensis 'A' and 'B', both the latter being Raffill seedlings from the same cross as 'Cream', but both orange in colour. All the resulting plants had significantly larger florets than typical C. miniata and much larger than those of the var. flava (citrina), as well as larger flower heads.

In 1972 I cross pollinated these three plants and raised a great many seedlings, more than I could accommodate in my greenhouse. Some were potted on and flowered. All were varying shades of orange, almost all with a substantially larger yellow zone at the centre of the floret, and all with larger rounded petals. All had orange-red seed capsules. They were good plants, a long improvement on typical C. miniata. My plant of the Raffill 'Cream' selection unaccountably died, the third such death of a yellow Clivia in this story.

When I had long ago given up hope of obtaining a yellow seedling, one suddenly flowered under the greenhouse stage, amongst the seedlings 'discarded'. It had large rounded florets, was considerably more yellow than 'cream' and it carried bright yellow seed capsules. I was pleased with the plant but not unduly excited. A piece of it was sent to Dr. Shuichi Hirao in Japan, who returned to me a piece of his yellow Clivia, typical C. miniata var. flava. I discarded it as very inferior. I was then startled to receive a copy of Japan Horticulture in which my yellow Clivia was the cover feature. Perhaps the plant was more significant that I had thought.

Shu Hirao then died, sadly and prematurely. He was one of the best plantsmen of our time. I heard no more of my Clivia until I received a letter from Yoshikazu Nakamura, at Clivia Breeding Plantation in Mobara City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. He would like permission to breed from " 'Smithers Yellow', world's best yellow Clivia, the one to beat". Well! Well! Of course he was free to do what he liked with it, provided that it was named 'Vico Yellow'. As such it has been micropagated by Miyoshi & Co., in Tokyo, and widely distributed in Japan in the trade, though it appears that I was late in my naming and that the plant still sometimes circulates to this day as 'Smithers Yellow'.

Some three years later a second yellow seedling flowered for the first time. It seemed to me to be so similar to 'Vico Yellow' that it was not horticulturally significant. However, as it was genetically distinct I named it 'Vico Gold' and sent a plant to Yoshikazu Nakamura. After growing it for some time he has identified significant differences from 'Vico Yellow' and he is using it for a parallel breeding program.

It might be thought from the three deaths of key plants in this story that the yellow Clivias have a weaker constitution that the typical plant. However after twenty-five years experience of growing them, I cannot detect any difference in growth habit and stamina from typical C.miniata.

Plants of various C. Kewensis seedlings were sent to Lord Aberconway at Bodnant some years ago, and Charles Puddle the garden manager raised a number of seedlings which are therefore C. x Kewensis hybrids. One of these is said to be a very fine yellow, though I have not myself seen it. A plant of 'Vico Yellow' was sent by me to Bodnant and acknowledged. Professor Koopowitz tells me that he has received a plant of the Bodnant yellow, and as a plant of 'Vico Yellow' is going to him, it may be possible to make a direct comparison of the two. Bodnant have not come forward with any results of the comparison which they presumably made. Perhaps after all the Bodnant plant will be 'the one to beat'.

Success well deserved is of course gratifying, but nothing is more gratifying than success which is totally undeserved and therefore equally unexpected. I am afraid that my Clivia breeding falls into this category: pollen dabbing.

Peter Smithers

Other Sources of Information

Bulbous Plants of Southern Africa, by Neil du Plessis and Graham Duncan, Tafelberg Pub. Ltd., Cape Town (1989).
Bulbs for Warm Climates, by Thad M. Howard, University of Texas Press, Austin (2001).
Bulbs, Revised Edition, by John E. Bryan, Timber Press, Portland (2002).
Cape Bulbs, by Richard L. Doutt, Timber Press (1994).
RHS Manual of Bulbs, John Bryan and Mark Griffiths, Eds., Timber Press (1995).

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Last revised: 28 October 2006

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