Sand lily (Veltheimia capensis)

The November meeting of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society featured a presentation by Nick Wilkinson of GROW Nursery on cold-hardy aloes and agaves. Nick also brought along a great selection of plants for sale, most of them hard to find in regular nurseries. I bought several, but the one I’m most excited about is this unusual looking specimen:

It’s a Veltheimia capensis, and I must admit I had never heard of it before. It turns out it’s a flowering bulb from the western part of South Africa, its common name being “sand lily.” It grows and blooms in the fall and winter and goes completely dormant in the summer (its leaves dry up completely).

It was attracted by its wavy leaves, shown to good effect in the following photo from Wikimedia (although my plant has much bluer leaves):

For me, the leaves would be attraction enough, but the flowers are even more stunning. They look like a cross between the flowers of aloes and red hot pokers (Kniphofia).

To see more flower photos, check out this blog post from Diana Studer in South Africa. The Ruth Bancroft Garden web site also has a short article about the sand lily.

This following botanical illustration from the early 1800s is a remarkably faithful rendition of what the sand lily looks like.

Illustration of Veltheima capensis in “Les Liliacées” by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (published from 1802-1816)

Right now, my specimen is still in its 1-gallon pot. It’s outside in a sunny spot although I did bring it inside the last few nights when it was just below freezing. In the ground, it should be hardy to the mid to upper 20’s.

The bigger question: Where to put it? It needs full sun in the fall and winter to bloom well, and in the summer it needs to be kept dry. Maybe I’ll create a special spot in the succulent bed next to the front door.

I’m very happy to have this rare and unusual lily in my collection.


  1. Interesting Gerhard, especially with its potential for cold hardiness. The plant reminds me of Manfredas too.

  2. My first thought was "kelp". Cool find!

  3. I love exotic bulbs from South Africa, the wish list just keeps growing! Thanks for sharing, what a find! Cool crinkled leaves.

  4. There must be so many more South African plants I've never heard of! Exotic bulbs might be the next thing for me to explore :-)

  5. Thanks for the mention. Do you have summer rain? Or do you share my mediterranean climate, then they'll be fine in the garden.
    My flowers are done and the leaves begin to crumple. We are having weird autumnal weather the last few days.

  6. Diana, our climate is Mediterranean. I think it's fairly similar to yours. Our winter rains are late this year; I turned on the sprinklers last weekend because everything was so dry.

    The leaves on my sand lily look perfect still. No sign of drying up. I guess it's too small to bloom this year?

  7. just checking in, you sent me a blog visitor today. Mine have leafed out. Did you ever get flowers?

  8. could you update the link for me please?


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