Bulbs Perennials

‘Lucifer’: Red as Hell

Sometimes we discover a plant that has no right to be hardy in a climate as cold as ours, but which proves to be more resistant to cold winters than we might imagine… and this is indeed the case of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’). The Crocosmia genus (formerly known as Montbretia) originated in South Africa, where it is better known for its heat-resistant plants than its cold-resistant ones! During the Ice Age, this country’s mountains were covered with snow in winter and even invaded by glaciers. Some crocosmias may well have retained some resistance to the cold.

Photo: Wouter Hagens.

Crocosmias are plants with a cormus, a bulb-like underground organ, and are very closely related to gladioli (Gladiolus), whose long, pointed, pleated foliage is almost identical. ‘Lucifer’, a hybrid developed in England in 1966 by the late hybridizer Alan Bloom, has inherited more cold hardiness than most crocosmias, as one of its parents is C. paniculata, rarely offered commercially, but said to be the hardiest of the genus.

Striking looks

‘Lucifer’ has quickly become the most popular crocosmias almost everywhere in the world, as its fiery-red tubular flowers, opening into 5 lobes and borne in large numbers on an arching flower stalk, are particularly showy. It’s also the earliest of the crocosmias, flowering in July (most others bloom in late summer or even autumn). It’s also one of the tallest, measuring 1 to 1.5 m (3-5’) in height. The fact that hummingbirds love it only adds to its charm.

Photo: Jamain.

Surprisingly Easy to Grow

The hardiness of ‘Lucifer’ in my region of Quebec City, is mainly due to the excellent snow cover we enjoy. This plant is not hardy in a little farther south, where the snow cover is unreliable. So, in this type of location, it needs to be well mulched in autumn.

It also needs sun, lots of sun. In semi-shade, the plant is shorter, less floriferous and later-blooming. Good drainage is essential, especially in winter. As for fertilization, ‘Lucifer’ likes rich soil and regular applications of compost or slow-release fertilizers can help. Finally, you can cut its foliage when it turns yellow. This is best done in spring, as the presence of leaves, even dead ones, helps protect it from the winter cold.

Photo: Mike Finn.

‘Lucifer’ is self-propagating with suckers: transplant them in spring, when their foliage begins to emerge. It is sold both as dry “bulbs” in spring and in pots, already in growth. Plants produced from bulbs may be slow to flower in the first year, but will take on the rhythm of the local seasons in the second.

Larry Hodgson published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings accessible to the public. This text was originally published in Le Soleil on July 30, 2006.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “‘Lucifer’: Red as Hell

  1. Montbretia or Crocosmia naturalizes aggressively here. Most are taller and lighter orange, but some people know them collectively as ‘Lucifer’.

  2. Thank you for this. I planted some this year to remind me of how prolific it could be in the U.K. we’ll see how she grows in my zone 3 MTN climate.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!