The flowers of Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)
The flowers of African Lily

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile, the Agapanthus, could be the title of a novel or even the main hero. And from one point it would be worth it.

And it would be worth it because this excellent rhizomatous plant gathers on it all those elements that attract and fascinate the writers.

However, until the release of such a novel, the editorial team of Kalliergeia
proposes to book lover another literary genre, in poetry, and specifically in the poem by George Seferis (Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963) Stratis Thalassinos among the agapanthi.

To the plant lover proposes – with great sympathy for his misfortune – the following article.

Lily of the Nile Origin

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile - Development of the Floral Stem of Lily of the Nile
Development of the Floral Stem of Lily of the Nile
Lily of the Nile Blossoming Plants
Lily of the Nile Blossoming Plants

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Brief Description

Scientific name

Agapanthus praecox Willd. 

Common name

African Lily, Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus, Blue Lily, Agapant (Afr.), Isicakathi (Xhosa), Ubani (Zulu)

General characteristics

Type of foliage: Evergreen

Form: Erect, semi-spaerical, of medium density

Texture: Medium

Height: 0.6-1.2 m (2-4 ft)

Diameter: 0.5-0.6 m (1.7-2 ft)

Growth rate: Slow to Moderate

Flowering period (Northern Hemisphere): June – August

Fruiting period: Summer – Autumn

Shape and colours

Leaves shape: Simple, linear

Foliage colour: Green

Foliage colour in autumn: Green

Flowers: Trumpet-shaped, bisexual, in cluster

Flowers colour: Blue, bluish-purrple, lavender

Fruit: Capsule


Soil type: Well-drained, sandy, loam, clay

Exposure: Sun, semi-shade

Soil pH: 6-7.5

Watering: Liitle

Hardiness: -1 °C (30 °F – USDA Hardiness zone 9b)


Traffic islands, roadside banks, herbaceous borders, mass plantings, coastal areas, against soil erosion, houseplant

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Shortly Before the Opening of African Lily Flowers
Shortly Before the Opening of Lily of the Nile Flowers

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Etymology & Meaning

  1. The name of the genus Agapanthus is the Neo-Latin synecdoche of two ancient Greek words, the word ‘αγάπη’ (love) and the word ‘άνθος’ (flower). The etymology and the original meaning of the first one – i.e. Agapanthus meaning – may have little to do with the article, but that is why there is ‘Kalliergeia’ to do the unrelated related – and vice versa.
  2. The Hellenistic word ‘αγάπη’ comes from the pre-Homeric ‘αγαπώ’ which consists of the word ‘ἄγα(ν)’ which means ‘very’ and the root ‘πᾶ’ which means ‘protect’. Therefore, the original meaning of the word ‘αγάπη’ was not ‘love’ but ‘I keep safe’. So, what is this which ‘I keep safe’? But of course the flower. But why ‘I keep it safe’? Because it is ‘praecox’ – and ‘praecox’ in Latin means ‘premature’ and/or ‘early’.
  3. Therefore we can say, with a little bit poetic mood, that Agapanthus praecox meaning is ‘the one who protects the blossoming hurry to start‘ – and indeed, Agapanthus praecox has of all the Agapanthus species, the earliest  flowering.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Closed Tepals of African Lily Inflorescence
Closed Tepals of Lily of the Nile Inflorescence

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Origin

  1. The genus Agapanthus consists of six species, one of which is Agapanthus praecox. The origin of the species is mainly two regions of South Africa, Western Cape and Eastern Cape. The first is characterized by rainy winters, while in the second rains are distributed throughout the year.
  2. Agapanthus praecox botanically is divided into three subspecies, Agapanthus praecox subsp. minimus, Agapanthus praecox subsp. orientalis and Agapanthus praecox subsp. praecox. The first one originates from the southeast of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, the second from the Eastern Cape and from the south of the KwaZulu-Natal region, and the third from the Eastern Cape.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Various Flower Development Phases of Lily of the Nile - © John Ruter, University of Georgia,
Various Flower Development Phases of Agapanthus praecox - © John Ruter, University of Georgia,

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Characteristics

  1. Lily of the Nile is anevergreen herbaceous perennial, with strong and fleshy, rhizomatous roots. It has an upright appearance, a hemispherical shape, it is of medium texture and could be characterized as an architectural plant thanks to the particular form and arrangement of its leaves.
  2. It is noteworthy that, during flowering, the height of the plant almost doubles, reaching up to about 1.20 m (4 ft). Its spherical shaped inflorescences, viewed from far away, resemble colored swinging balls.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

The Blue Flowers of Lily of the Nile
The Blue Flowers of Lily of the Nile

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Root & Leaves

  1. The root system of Lily of the Nile consists of the thick tuberous section as well as of the finest roots. Their color is common – white – but their role is different: the tuberous part, which is actually an underground stem, acts as a storage of nutrients, while the finest roots take up from soil minerals and water.
  2. The leaves of Lily of the Nile come out directly from the root of the plant, alternately, forming a rosette. They range from 6 to 20, are elongated-lanceolate and relatively thick and leathery, with entire  margins. They are hairless and their top section curves slightly downwards giving the leaves an arched shape. Their color is green or slightly bluish green, with a length of between 20 and 70 cm (7.8-28 in) and a width of between 3 and 5 cm (1.2-2 in).

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Winged Black Seeds of Lily of the Nile
The Winged Black Seeds

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Flowers & Fruit

  1. Lily of the Nile blossoming on a long flowering stem, 0.6 to 1.2 m (2-4 ft) long, which grows from the base of the leaf rosette. It is cylindrical, hollow and naked – without leaves. At the top is formed an umbelliferous inflorescence consisting of 30 to 100, tubular shape and blue color, flowers. The connection of the flowers with the flower stem is achieved with the pedicle, which is remarkably long – its length is between 8 and 12 cm (3.1-4.7 in). The flowers of Agapanthus are hermaphrodite, radiant symmetry and consist of 6 large tepals. The tepals are carried 3 inward and 3 outward, their length being between 4 and 4.5 cm (1.6-1.8 in) while their width is between 0.5 and 1.1 cm (0.2-0.4 in). Tepals are slightly fleshy and coalesces to the base of the flower, forming a short tube.
  2. Lily of the Nile fruit is a three-sided elongated capsule, the length of which is between 4.5 and 5 cm (1.8-2 in). Initially its color is green to gradually become greyish-brown and gray. When matured, it ruptures along, releasing from 20 to 100 – determined for all – seeds.
  3. These – determined for all – seeds, are flattened, have a winged back part for easier spreading with the wind, they are black and their length is between 5 and 6 mm (0.2-0.23 in).
  4. In plants derived from seed, flowering – and hence seed production – is observed after the 3rd to 4th year. However, in plants that have been reproduced wildly, the flowers appear even in the same year.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile Flowering Period
Lily of the Nile Flowering Period

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Climate, Soil & Exposure

  1. Lily of the Nile is a plant that is highly tolerant and adaptable within its natural range of spreading. There it is found at an altitude that starts from the sea level and reaches up to 2000 m.
  2. A suitable climate for its development is that of tropical and subtropical regions – however, in subtropical areas it only develops where the temperature does not fall below 0 to -1 °C (32-30.2 °F). Of course, fully established plants can withstand somewhat lower temperatures for a short time.
  3. With regard to rainfall, favorable to plant growth is the areas where the annual rainfall is greater than 500 mm. If they are mainly distributed during the growing period, they promote even further its cultivation.
  4. In relation to the soil, Lily of the Nile grows in almost all the soil types except those which are permanently fluid. However, it thrives in deep, moderate fertility and medium textured soils that contain an abundant organic substance, while in terms of pH, those with a slightly acidic to slightly alkaline reaction.
  5. With regard to exposure, the choice of planting site depends heavily on temperatures. In areas where the upper temperature limit is rarely between 38 and 40 °C (100.4-104 °F), it is recommended to plant in places that receive direct sunlight. On the contrary, in areas where the temperature often exceeds 40 °C (104 °F), it is preferable to plant in semi-shady places.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Clusters of Blossoming Lily of the Nile Plants
Clusters of Blossoming Lily of the Nile Plants

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Cultivation

  1. Agapanthus is generally a plant of easy cultivation. Once established, it is tolerant to drought, urban environmental pollution and aerosol salt, while is moderately tolerant to the presence of salt in the soil.
  2. The addition of an organic substance on a yearly basis favors the growth of the plant. Also favorable is fertilization during the growing period with the application of fertilizer after the first 10 days of March (Northern Hemisphere) and on a monthly basis until the end of August to mid September.
  3. Fertilization is mainly carried out using fertilizer containing the main nutrients N-P2O5-K2O in a 1: 1: 1.5 ratio.
  4. In terms of irrigation, Lily of the Nile reacts positively to summer watering – one to two per week. Watering is done if the soil has dried to a depth of 6 to 8 cm (2.3-3.1 in). In spring and autumn, watering, both in quantity and frequency, is less, while the ideal condition is the minimum or total absence of rain in the winter.
  5. For the renewal and continuation of the rich flowering of the plant, it is recommended to divide it every 3 to 6 years. With the division of Agapanthus, it is still possible to control its spread, while at the same time it is also one of the most basic methods of vegetative propagation of the plant.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile Flowering Plants in Pots
Flowering Plants in Pots

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Pests & Diseases

  1. Agapanthus generally does not face serious problems from pests and diseases. However, in some cases pests may be affected it by spider mites, thrips and mealybugs. Diseases include botrytis and mildew, and rarely can be affected by Macrophoma fungus and the tomato spotted wilt virus.
  2. Special mention must also be made of snails. Although they do not cause serious damage to the plant itself, their presence in large numbers reduces the aesthetic value of Agapanthus, and also through it may attack adjacent plants. Managing them either by hand or – why not? – with ducks, which being the most ecologically acceptable, but most of the times not very practical, way. If, however, their snails number is large, special snailcide formulations are necessarily used.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile Plants - Eastern Cape, South Africa
Lily of the Nile Native Plants - Eastern Cape, South Africa

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Invasiveness

  1. Despite the great contribution of Agapanthus as ornamental plant of interiors, gardens and landscapes, in some countries, in areas where it has been fully adapted, it behaves like an invader.
  2. In nature, the propagation of Lily of the Nile is mostly vegetative and less so with the seeds. Creating clusters, regarded as a weed which displaces local flora in a variety of soil environments – though rarely growing on farmland.
  3. Agapanthus praecox has been described as invasive in Argentina, Australia, the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands as well as in New Caledonia, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  4. The control of Agapanthus in these areas includes both mechanical and chemical means. In relation to the second ones, the development of resistance to herbicide applications has been observed, when the main active ingredient of which is Glyphosate.
  5. And since it seems in nature that there is nothing bad without something good, it is recognized to the invader the stabilization and containment of soil that is at risk of erosion and its positive role in the "restraint" of fires – since it is difficult to ignite.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile Blooming Plants at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden of S. Africa
Lily of the Nile Blooming Plants at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden of S. Africa

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Use and Varieties

  1. Lily of the Nile is planted in clusters in the garden, almost always in the first or second row.
  2. The nearly architectural form makes it suitable for ‘dressing’ buildings or houses of modern and/or postmodern rhythm – planted massively.
  3. In public places, due to low maintenance costs, it can be utilized by planting both in parks and squares, as well as in traffic islands or sidewalk flower beds.
  4. In sloping soils or in soils that are at risk of erosion, the planting of them using Agapanthus results in their retention and stabilization.
  5. Due to its high resistance to aerosol salt, it can be planted in coastal areas, in public or private places.
  6. In regions characterized by heavy winter, Agapanthus becomes a wonderful indoor plant, which after the risk of frosts has passed can be transported out.
  7. As one of the most popular rhizomatous plant, Agapanthus praecox numbers a few hundred cultivars and hybrids. With the well-known (in)consistency that distinguishes us, we promise to present the varieties of the plant in a special tribute.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Pharmaceutical Properties & Toxicity

  1. In terms of toxicity, almost all parts of Lily of the Nile are toxic to humans – and espesially toxic to children. The rhizomes, leaves and sap may cause burning sensations, skin rashes and ulceration of the mouth.
  2. On the other hand, Lily of the Nile also belongs to that numbered category of plants that are not only toxic ornamentals but also have great therapeutic and ethnobotany value.
  3. For the ethnobotanical use of the plant – which is of great interest, as it is attributed to it magic properties – we promise, again with the well-known (in)consistency that distinguishes us, a special tribute.
  4. The pharmaceutical properties of the plant are being investigated, but already some work shows that the ingredients of Agapanthus increase the muscular tone of the uterus. Agapanthus praecox contains saponins and aglycones that have anti-inflammatory, anti-edematous and immunoregulatory action.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Single Flower of Lily of the Nile
Lily of the Nile Single Flower

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - References

  1. Beside the above properties, another form of action is art.
  2. Not from the Agapanthus plant but from the ‘Agapanthos’ band.
  3. The tribute to Agapanthus praecox began literally but will be closed musically. The archaic Greek musical rock ensemble, with the inventive name Agapanthos, will perform their composition ‘Αχ βρε Θανάση’ (Ah vre Thanasi), espesially for the patient reader of this – not exactly short – article.
  1. Bolofo, R. N., and C. T. Johnson. "The identification of ‘Isicakathi’ and its medicinal use in Transkei." Bothalia 18, no. 1 (1988), 125-130.
  2. Doutt, Richard L. Cape Bulbs. London: Timber Press, 1994.
  3. Leighton, Frances M. The genus Agapanthus L’Heritier. National Botanic Gardens of South Africa, 1965.
  4. Mathew, George Ernest Albert. Steroidal Saponins and Sapogenins from Agapanthus Praecox Willd. 1970.
  5. Snoeijer, Wim. Agapanthus, a revision of the genus. Cambridge: Timber Press, 2004.
ΑΓΑΠΑΝΘΟΣ – ‘Αχ βρε Θανάση’ (AGAPANTHOS – ‘Ah vre Thanassi)


The use of the material, where third-party rights are not mentioned, is absolutely free. Its sharing, possibly, useful.