Greater cobra lily (Chasmanthe floribunda)

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassLiliopsida
OrderAsparagales
FamilyIridaceae
GenusChasmanthe (1)
SizeHeight: 45 – 100 cm (2)

Variety Chasmanthe floribunda var. duckittii, the yellow cobra lily, is classified as Rare on the Red Data List of Southern African Plants (3).

The greater cobra lily is a striking, winter-growing South African plant with sword-shaped leaves that envelope the lower part of the erect stem at their base (4). The distinctive flowers of the greater cobra lily gave rise to its scientific name; floribundus means ‘flowering profusely’ in Latin. The flowers are long, tubular and flare gradually towards the opening, with the stamens and style protruding beyond the petals (2) (4). The flowers of the common variety Chasmanthe floribunda var. floribunda are in appealing hues of bright orange or scarlet, while the yellow cobra lily (Chasmanthe floribunda var. duckittii) bears distinctive yellow flowers (5). Species of Chasmanthe have a corm; an underground bulb-like organ, with dry, papery coverings, that acts as a food store for the plant (4). The fruit of the greater cobra lily is a dry capsule that tapers to a distinctive, nipple-like point. When ripe, the firm, dry walls of the capsule split open to expose unusually large, round seeds, enveloped in a hard, smooth, bright orange coat (4).

Endemic to the Cape Floristic Region, a ‘hot-spot’ of plant diversity in south-western South Africa. The greater cobra lily occurs from the Bokkeveld Mountains, south to Hermanus (2). The yellow cobra lily variety (C. f. var. duckittii) is found at only a few locations in the vicinity of the small town of Darling (5).

The greater cobra lily inhabits coastal and montane scrub, where it grows on sandstone and granite (2) (6).

The flowers of the greater cobra lily, which bloom from July until September (2), have adapted to pollination by sunbirds (Nectarinia species). The elongated, tubular structure, the bright colours, and the protruding stamens and style, are all designed to ensure that pollen is deposited on the sunbird, or pollen from another plant is rubbed off, as the sunbird inserts its long bill to feed on the relatively large quantities of nectar (4).

The greater cobra lily not only uses birds to carry out pollination, but also to disperse the seeds that are produced following pollination and fertilisation. While the seeds have no fleshy covering or nutritious value, their bright orange colour attracts birds to eat them. The seeds pass through the bird’s digestive system relatively undamaged, to be excreted some distance from the parent plant (4).

The yellow cobra lily (C. f. var. duckittii) has been classified as Rare on the Red Data List of Southern African Plants, meaning that due to the small size and restricted distribution of the population, an expected threat could easily cause a critical decline (3). Such threats could include urban development, the encroachment of agriculture, or the invasion of alien plant species; threats which are currently impacting the habitat of the Cape Floristic Region (7).

Within the Cape Floristic Region, there are a number of protected areas (8), such as the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, in which this species occurs (9). In addition, a number of conservation organisations are working to conserve the botanically rich habitat of the Cape Floristic Region. Conservation actions include purchasing land to protect it from the threats of encroaching agriculture and urban development (10), the removal of alien plants, and the establishment of new protected areas (7).

For further information on conservation in the Cape Floristic Region see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. Biodiversity Explorer (February, 2008)
    http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/about.htm
  2. Goldblatt, P. and Manning, J. (2000) Cape Plants: A Conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. National Botanical Institute of South Africa, Pretoria .
  3. Hilton-Taylor, C. (1996) Red Data List of Southern African Plants. Strelitzia 4. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.
  4. Goldblatt, P., Manning, J. and Dunlop, G. (2004) Crocosmia and Chasmanthe. Plant Collector Guide, Royal Horticultural Society. Timber Press, Portland.
  5. PlantZAfrica (February, 2008)
    http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/chasmanduckitt.htm
  6. Paterson-Jones, C. and Manning, J. (2007) Ecoguide Fynbos. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa.
  7. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots (February, 2008)
    http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/hotspots/cape_floristic/Pages/default.aspx
  8. UNEP-WCMC: Cape Floral Protected Areas of South Africa (February, 2008)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/sites/wh/pdf/CAPE%20FLORAL%20REGION.pdf
  9. Fernkloof Nature Reserve (February, 2008)
    http://fernkloof.com/
  10. Fauna and Flora International (February, 2008)
    http://www.fauna-flora.org/fynbos.php