Giant Spear Lily

Doryanthes palmeri

Giant Spear Lily is a large, succulent herb which grows as a rosette. Its hairless leaves are sword–shaped, and up to 3 m long and 20 cm wide. The flowering stalk is up to 5 m high, and bears numerous much shorter leaves to 30 cm long. The flower head contains up to 350 flowers, and is up to 120 cm long. The flowers are red or reddish–brown, 6–12 cm long, and upright to slightly spreading. The fruit is egg-shaped and 7 – 9 cm long, and contains seeds that are 15–22 mm long. Flowers occur in late winter to spring.

Doryanthes palmeri, commonly called the giant spear lily,is a hardy, low maintenance monocot endemic to north east New South Wales and south east Queensland. It is listed as vulnerable due to the fact that it occurs in so few regions of Australia.

It can grow to three metres tall and four metres wide. It has long sword-like leaves which form in rosettes and are ribbed to provide structural support. 

It has a flowering stalk, called a scape, which can grow to five metres tall. Unlike the other species in this genus (Doryanthes excelsa) the Doryanthes palmeri stalk droops rather than standing upright due to the weight of the flowers. Individual flowers are red or reddish-orange and are up to 10 cm in diameter. It is pollinated by birds, which are attracted to its bright red flowers. The fruit is egg-shaped and 7- 9 cm long. 

Each rosette flowers once in its lifetime, but after flowering, the plant is able to produce more rosettes. Doryanthes palmeri flowers in spring but can take over 13 years to flower. Flowering can be brought on by bushfires, which also promotes the sprouting of root bulbs. In a garden flowering can be encouraged by ensuring that the plant is grown in full sun.

Roasted Doryanthes flower spikes were used as a food source for Indigenous Australians and the roots were mashed into a pulp and made into cakes.

The two Doryanthes species are xerophytes, meaning that they have adapted to dry conditions and do not require much water. However, leaves can yellow in heat over 40 degrees. It can be grown in indoor pots; however the leaves may droop if the plant isn’t in full sun. The plant requires little maintenance however it is best to cut off dying leaves and flower spikes.

It is suited to most soil types, including nutrient deficient soils but will be more successful if some fertiliser is added. D. palmeri will thrive in many different climates including windy environments due to the structural support provided by the ribbing in the leaves.

Plants can be propagated by division or by seed. Seed germination can be encouraged by fire or can be assisted with the use of commercial products such as smoke water. Soaking seeds in water for eight hours before planting may also assist in germination.

While the plant requires little maintenance, it would only be suited to a large backyard or garden due to the width of the rosettes.

Text by Laurel Fowler (2012 Student Botanical Intern)

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