African lily (Agapanthus africanus)

Flowers of the African lily
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African lily fact file

African lily description

GenusAgapanthus (1)

With its beautiful blue flowers and strap-like leaves, the African lily has been grown around the world since the late seventeenth century as a highly desired ornamental species (2). Although valued for its beauty, the African lily is rarely collected from the wild for cultivation as it is much more difficult to grow successfully than other Agapanthus species (2) (4).

There are two subspecies of the African lily, which differ mainly in shape and colour. Agapanthus africanus africanus has open-faced flowers, usually varying from light to deep blue in colour, with white forms occasionally appearing in wild populations. The trumpet-shaped flowers of A. a. walshii are narrow and pendulous, and are almost always light blue in colour (2) (4).

Also known as
Lily of the Nile.
Stalk length: 60 - 70 cm (2)
Leaf length: 20 - 35 cm (2)

African lily biology

As part of the fynbos flora, the African lily is well adapted to survive the periodic outbreaks of fire that burn through the plant community, on average, every 12 to 15 years (5). Unlike many other fynbos plants, the African lily is not dependant on the occurrence of fire to initiate flowering; however, after the above-ground vegetation is burnt back, the plant will grow fairly rapidly from thick, fleshy roots, stimulating the production of large numbers of its brightly-coloured flowers (2) (4).

The African lily flowers from late December to early March, with a peak in flowering between January and February (4). Individual A. a. africanus plants clump together in large groups, producing flowers on numerous shoots, which are pollinated primarily by carpenter bees. The much smaller clumps of A. a. walshii are thought to be pollinated mainly by the orange-breasted sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea).


African lily range

In the wild, the African lily is found only in the western Cape Province of South Africa. A. a. africanus has a wide distribution that extends from the southern Cape Peninsula to the Langeberg Mountains, from sea level up to 1,000 metres. A. a. walshii has a more restricted range, and is only found in the Palmiet river valley, at altitudes greater than 600 metres (2) (4).


African lily habitat

The predominant habitat type covering much of the Cape peninsula is fynbos, a unique expanse of shrubland vegetation that has extraordinarily high plant diversity (5). Both subspecies of the African lily grow in between rocks and depressions in the fynbos, and are found mainly on south, west and east facing slopes in areas with a Mediterranean-type climate, where the soil is sandy, well drained and fairly acidic (2) (4).


African lily status

The African lily has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

Subspecies: Agapanthus africanus africanus is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the National Red List of South African Plants, while A. a. walshii is classified as Endangered (EN) (3).


African lily threats

A. a. africanus appears to have a stable population that is not currently under any direct threat. A. a. walshii, on the other hand, is under severe threat from the development of a housing settlement in the area that supports the biggest remaining population of this rare subspecies (2) (4).


African lily conservation

The African lily inhabits the Cape Floristic Region, an extremely ecologically sensitive area due to the high degree of specialisation exhibited by so many of the plant species that have adapted to this unique ecosystem. Protecting the rich biodiversity of the region is a priority for several big organisations such as Conservation International and Flora and Fauna International, and many conservation measures will indirectly benefit the African lily.

Specific conservation measures have been introduced for the more endangered subspecies, A. a. walshii, and several populations have been given full protection around the Eksom power station in the Palmiet river valley, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and on nearby private farmland (4)


Find out more

For more information on the conservation of South Africa’s diverse flora, 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:



The natural shrubland vegetation occurring in the southwestern and southern Cape of South Africa, holding the greatest diversity of plant species in the world. Fynbos is characterised by tall shrubs with large leaves, heath-like shrubs, wiry reed-like plants, and bulbous herbs.
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. ITIS (August, 2010)
  2. PlantZAfrica (August, 2010)
  3. SANBI (2009) National Red List of South African Plants. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 
  4. Duncan, G. (2004) 504. Agapanthus africanus SUBSP. walshii. Agapanthaceae. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 21(3): 205-214.
  5. Cowling, R. and Richardson, D. (1995) Fynbos:  South Africa’s Unique Floral Kingdom. Fernwood Press, Cape Town, South Africa. 

Image credit

Flowers of the African lily  
Flowers of the African lily

© David Hosking /

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