When visiting the Kruger National Park during the winter months, you will be pleasantly surprised to find amongst the dull brown of the landscape, bright red, white and pink flowers dotting the vegetation.
This is the Impala Lily as it blooms from July to mid-September. On closer inspection, you will see that the shape of this plant resembles that of a Baobab tree. This deciduous tree or shrub can grow to a height of about 2 meters. For most of the year, this plant has no leaves or flowers. The leaves grow in clusters at the tips of the branches but are shed when the plant starts flowering.
In Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe the Impala Lily is on the Red Data list where it is regarded as threatened. Most of these plants in South Africa are found in the Kruger National Park where they are protected, so in South Africa, it is not regarded as a threatened plant. Impala Lilies have large tuberous roots enabling them to survive long periods without water. They thrive in sandy soil that drains well making them ideal flowers for a dry rockery. Although they can be grown in a cooler climate, they must be protected from frost. They ideally enjoy temperatures of 30 degrees C that is accompanied by high humidity.
The Impala Lily is mostly grown from seed. Once the seed is planted it grows quite vigorously, but don’t expect a flower until the plant is at least four years old. If you wish to keep it in a pot, make sure it has regular fertilizing. The Impala Lily needs ample space for root growth so regular re-potting may be necessary as their roots grow rapidly. The roots are fleshy and brittle so special care must be taken when re-potting an Impala Lily.
The Impala Lily is greatly valued for its flowers. This plant does, however, contain a watery latex that is highly toxic. No wild animals seem to be affected by this toxin, when eaten, but domestic animals have been known to die after consuming this plant. These poisons are found in the bark and trunk of the plant and are said to contain over 30 types of chemicals that can affect the heart. Not all in a negative way as if the correct dose is given and mix with other ingredients it could more than likely be used to treat cardiac arrest.
The Bushmen of Namibia use the latex from the Impala Lily as a poison on the tips of their arrows. It is said that a large antelope, after being hit by one of these arrows, will not run more than 100 meters before dropping down dead. The poison is also used to stun fish. In certain cultures, the latex is used to make a Magical Potion. San people use a different Impala Lily for the treatment of snake bites or scorpion stings.