The Scadoxus punecius, Red Paintbrush, Rooikwas or isiphompo, is a very beautiful plant in flower.

The large, bright red flowerheads of Scadoxus puniceus must be amongst the most spectacular in the floral world. The flowers are followed by another spectacle when the fruits ripen and the old flowerheads are decorated with bright red berries. Their lush foliage is also very appealing.

Although so beautiful and showy, they are not cultivated in gardens nearly as often as they should be. Despite a reputation for being difficult to cultivate they are really very easy to grow and maintain.


Family:                                 AMARYLLIDACEAE                (Amaryllis Family)

Name Derivation:

  • Scadoxus – Named by Constantine Rafinesque, the ‘sca’ is described by some authors as being of obscure origin and meaning, others as being Greek and meaning obscure. The ‘doxus’ however is clear, from the Greek word for glorious or splendid.
  • puniceus – is Latin and means purple, scarlet or carmine.

Common Names:

  • Red Paintbrush, Blood Lily, Snake Lily (Eng), Rooikwas, Seerooglelie (Afr), isiphompo and idumbelentaba (Zul).

Form:                                   A robust, deciduous, bulbous plant.

Size:                                      50 – 100 cm x 30 -40 cm.


  • A large (15cm) flowerhead that looks like a large shaving brush, containing many individual flowers.
  • Each flower is a narrow and tubular (5 – 7 cm long) and orange to scarlet.
  • The anthers extend beyond the flower tubes and are yellow when ripe.
  • The flowers are protected by reddish-brown to maroon bracts.
  • The flowerhead is borne on a sturdy stalk, 40 – 90 cm long.
  • The flower stalks appear separate from, and before, the leaves.
  • Each bulb only produces one flower per year.

Colour:                             Orange to scarlet.

Fragrant:                          Not fragrant.

Flowering Months:       (Jul) Oct – Nov (Feb).

Scadoxus punecius is a robust, rather upright plant. The plants found along the coast seem to have far more orange flowers and darker bracts, as seen here, than the inland form.

Even when not in flower, the plant in leaf is attractive and creates a tropical feel to their space.


  • Deciduous.
  • The leaves are shiny green, erect and oblong, (30 by 12 cm), tapering to the apex.
  • Leaves have a tubular base, which creates a false stem.
  • The leaf bases are pale green speckled with maroon.

Thorns:     No thorns.

Fruit:          A small (1 cm), round, fleshy drupe that ripens to bright red.

In the Garden:

  •  A very attractive under-storey groundcover with its showy flowers and fruit and lush leaves.
  • May also be planted to good effect in pots.
  • Plant with a low growing evergreen groundcover like Asystasia gangetica or Crassula multicava or C. spathulata.

Planting spacing:    5 per square metre.

 Soil Needs:                 Best grown in a humus rich, well-drained soil.

The flowerheads are stunning.

The fruit, a round berry that contains 1 to 3 seeds, are green but turn bright red when mature.


  • A low maintenance garden plant.
  • No or very little water in dry season.
  • Do not disturb unnecessarily as this may prevent flowering.
  • Reportedly plants are attacked by the Amaryllis caterpillar, but I have never seen this on my plants.

Cold Hardiness:                Very hardy.

Water Requirements:

  • Drought hardy, but likes regular water in summer.

Light Requirements:     From deep shade to dappled sun.

 Roots:                                   Not invasive.


  • Weavers, bulbuls and sunbirds visit the flowers for nectar.
  • The fruit are eaten by birds.


  • No affiliation with butterflies.


  • Plants are used in traditional medicine to treat coughs and gastro issues.
  • Medication made from Scadoxus puniceus is taken during pregnancy to ensure an easy and safe childbirth.
  • Leaves are used on ulcers and sores as an antiseptic.

Poisonous:     The bulb is very poisonous, like most Amaryllis bulbs.

The leaf bases are light green with a random splattering of small, purple spots.

Another picture of a Scadoxus puniceus flowerhead.

Notes of interest:

  • Fruit are eaten by monkeys and birds.
  • Plants removed from the wild are often sold on the side of the road when in flower. Please do not support this illegal trade.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the WC, EC, KZN, Saw, Moz, OFS, M, L,G, and NWP.
  • Its distribution extends northwards into tropical Africa.

Natural Habitat:            Coastal and dune forest, under trees in woodlands and sometimes even in full sun in grasslands.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.