Red Hot Poker Plant Varieties – Explore the Rainbow of Kniphofia Cultivars

John Hoyland, a garden writer and expert on plants, picks his favorite types of kniphofia, or red hot poker, and tells you how to grow them. Photographs by Jason Ingram.

When I was in South Africa, I was amazed to see hundreds of flower spikes that lit up in the evening. They were the flowers of kniphofia, which is aptly named “red hot poker.” During that trip, I saw many more species, some with flowers that were pale lemon or soft pink, but most with the bright orange flowers that the plant is usually associated with.

I realized how beautiful the genus is when I saw them in their natural environment. I also thought about how great they would look in a garden if they were grown with ornamental grasses and other southern hemisphere plants instead of the scruffy clumps I remember from my childhood’s suburban gardens.

The plant that first grabbed my attention was Kniphofia rooperi, and it remains one of my favourites. The bright-orange flowers are globular rather than elliptical, about the size of a tennis ball. It flowers in September and October, and I grow mine among the deep-blue flowers of Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’. Both plants look stunning bathed in the golden light of autumn.

Red hot poker is a common name for the genus Kniphofia. These perennials are prized for their showy, densely packed flower spikes that resemble glowing pokers. While the classic red-orange hue dominates, breeders have expanded the color palette. Let’s explore some of the most popular red hot poker plant varieties to enliven your garden with sizzling summer blooms.

Overview of Kniphofia

Kniphofia is a genus of around 70 species of clump-forming perennials native to Africa. They grow 3 to 5 feet tall, with long, linear foliage akin to ornamental grasses. The flowers are tubular and densely packed into cone-shaped terminal spikes.

Traditional varieties sport bi-colored blooms, opening yellow at the tip and aging to fiery red-orange. Modern hybrids introduce new flower forms and a broader spectrum of sunset tones.

Once established, these heat-loving plants thrive with minimal care. They prefer full sun and dry, well-drained soil. Drought and cold hardy, they work beautifully in borders, meadow gardens, and containers.

Let’s look at some top varieties to incorporate dazzling flower spikes into your landscape.

Classic Red-Orange Varieties

These traditional poker blooms in blazing sunset tones remain garden favorites

  • ‘Pfitzer’s Beacon’ – Glowing red-orange blooms on 4-5 foot spikes over blue-green foliage

  • ‘Prince of Wales’ – Vibrant yellow-orange pokers on 5 foot stems.

  • ‘Solar Flare’ – Fiery red-orange spikes from July to September on compact 2-3 foot plants.

  • ‘Torchlight’ – Bright orange and yellow tubular flowers on 4-5 foot stems all summer. Tolerates humidity well.

Yellow Kniphofia Varieties

Move over orange! Many new introductions expand the palette to sunny yellows.

  • ‘Bressingham Comet’ – Clear yellow blooms fade to cream. Early flowering on 3-4 foot plants.

  • ‘Goldquelle’ – Bright golden yellow pokers on dwarf 18-24 inch plants through summer.

  • ‘Gold Blaze’ – Deep golden blooms on 3-4 foot stems from early to late summer.

  • ‘Sunningdale Yellow’ – Dense yellow spikes fade to chartreuse. Grows 3 feet tall.

Red or Pink Flowered Varieties

Looking to really shake up the traditional poker bloom colors? Choose one of these crimson stunners.

  • ‘Papaya Popsicle’ – Unique red-orange flowers packed into ball-shaped blooms on 4 foot stems.

  • ‘Red Jester’ – True red tubular flowers on compact 2 foot plants from early summer to fall.

  • ‘Rocket’s Red Glare’ – Bright crimson-red pokers on classic 4 foot plants.

  • ‘Springtime’ – Upright spikes of coral-pink blooms atop narrow foliage. Grows 4 feet tall.

Cream and Multi-Colored Varieties

Subtle cream and multi-hued blooms provide softer contrast in the garden.

  • ‘Alcazar’ – Cream spikes fade to peach-pink and finally all pink. Early bloomer at 3 feet tall.

  • ‘Flirt’ – Ivory buds open to creamy blooms with blush pink tips. Grows 3 feet tall.

  • ‘Malibu Yellow’ – Arching spikes of soft yellow pokers from early to late summer.

  • ‘Safrano’ – Terracotta and yellow bi-color blooms on compact 2 foot plants through summer.

Miniature Red Hot Poker Varieties

For small spaces, choose one of these dwarf varieties under 2 feet tall.

  • ‘Fireball’ – Profuse orange-red pokers on 18 inch stems all summer.

  • ‘Little Maid’ – Neat compact clumps to 15 inches tall with golden blooms.

  • ‘Minisol’ – Abundant red-orange spikes on 1 foot stems from early summer to fall.

  • ‘Star of the Veldt’ – Dense orange and yellow pokers on 15 inch clumps through summer.

Plant Red Hot Pokers in Your Garden

With so many sizzling colors and heights now available, it’s easy to find red hot pokers to ignite your beds, borders and containers with non-stop color. Give these easy, drought-hardy perennials well-drained soil in full sun. Sit back and enjoy the fiery flower show!

What to grow with kniphofia

In the garden, kniphofias look good in both traditional mixed borders and more modern prairie-style planting schemes. A gravel garden with good winter drainage is perfect for many plants. Kniphofia caulescens is perfect for gravel gardens because it has chunky leaves and thick stems that don’t do well when they get wet. Grown in isolation it is an imposing plant.

Ornamental grasses look great with kniphofia stems because they have a strong vertical line. I have seen a beautiful group of Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ planted among clumps of pale-yellow kniphofias, and the grass’s glossy surface almost reflected the bright light of the pokers.

red hot poker plant varieties

The kniphofias have a tropical look that works well in exotic gardens. Their bright colors look best next to the dark leaves of cannas. As a clear part of hot borders, along with dahlias and bright crocosmias, kniphofias are also good with other plants; they look great with pale achilleas and pastel-colored phlox. No matter how you grow them, make sure you plant a lot of them to show how beautiful they are in the wild.

The foliage of established plants can begin to look tatty. The best way to keep plants tidy is to pull away the old leaves in the spring. Just give the leaf a firm pull to get it off. This will also show you any slugs or snails that are hiding at the base of the leaves. The dying flowers leave behind an unsightly shaggy beard at the top of the flower spike. I cut the stem down as close to the ground as I can when they get to that point. This also prevents the plant from seeding. Although not a prolific seeder, unwanted seedlings can be tenacious and will need to be dug out.

Many types grow quickly and can form big, dense clumps that are too big for even the biggest gardens and will need to be cut back eventually. Cutting off with a sharp knife the new shoots that grow around the edges of plants every spring is one way to keep them in the space you want them to grow in. Getting rid of clumps that are already too big is hard work; you have to use a mattock or spade to cut into the plant’s fleshy center and dig out pieces.

red hot poker plant varieties

Kniphofias are relatively tough and trouble-free plants that are not susceptible to disease. Slugs and snails can eat through flower stems, often stopping to munch halfway through until the stem breaks and the flower falls off. When they first come up, the flower spikes look like asparagus, and slugs seem to be drawn to their soft stems, so keep an eye out for them as soon as the first shoots show up.

How to grow kniphofia

Species kniphofias can be grown from seed, which will germinate quickly if it is fresh. Old seed germinates erratically, if at all. Plants usually flower in the second year after sowing. Cutting off an offset from the base of the plant just as it starts to grow is the easiest way to make more of the same type of plant. Make sure a piece of root is attached. Grow the young plant on in a pot before planting it out into the garden.

red hot poker plant varieties

Kniphofia: Red Hot Pokers


What colors do red hot pokers come in?

Flower color ranges from coral red through shades of orange, peach, yellow to near white and light green. Size ranges from dwarf plants 14 inches tall to large 6 feet tall plants. Some are evergreen and some deciduous dependent on the species.

Will red hot pokers spread?

They like a sheltered site and look fantastic in front of a green hedge to highlight the blooms. They will perform well beside a pond as long as they’re sited in well-drained soil. They also do well in gardens near the ocean. Red hot poker can spread aggressively in some regions via rhizomes.

Do red hot poker plants come back every year?

The biggest problem is their crowns rotting due to winter cold and poor soil water drainage. Plant in well-drained soil, or raise up the beds before planting to improve drainage and ensure your red hot poker comes back each year.

Where is the best place to plant red hot pokers?

Grow red hot pokers in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Cut them to the ground after flowering and keep the roots dry in winter. Divide in spring to propagate new plants and reinvigorate existing clumps.

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