The Flowers of Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)
The Flowers of Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

The 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 – elements which, of course, the whole editorial team of "Kalligergia" certainly knows, but is not available to reveal in this short introduction.

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

To the plant lover the whole editorial team of Kalliergeiaproposes – with great sympathy for his misfortune – the following article.

Lily of the Nile Origin

Agapanthus praecox (Lily of the Nile) Map of origin
Agapanthus praecox (Lily of the Nile) - Map of Origin

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Development of the Floral Stem of African Lily
Development of the Floral Stem of African Lily
African Lily Single Flower
African Lily Single Flower

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Brief Description

Family: Amaryllidaceae

Genus: Agapanthus

Scientific Name: Agapanthus praecox Willd.

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

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence



Rhizomatous Herbaceous



Growth Rate

Slow to Moderate

Flowering Period (Northern Hemisphere)

June – August

Fruiting Period

Summer – Autumn


0.6-1.2 m (2-4 ft)


0.5-0.6 m (1.7-2 ft)

Shapes and Colors

Leaves Shape

Simple, Linear

Foliage Colour


Autumn Foliage Colour


Flowers Shape


Flowers Colour

Blue, Bluish-Purple




Soil Type: Sandy, loamy, clayey with excellent drainage, acidic to slightly alkaline

Soil pH: 6-7.5

Watering: Liitle

Exposure: Sun, Half-Shade

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

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

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 seemingly little to do with the article, but that is why there is ‘Kalliergeia’ to do the unrelated related – and vice versa.

Within this highly enlightening framework of principles (?) it could be said that the Hellenistic word αγάπη comes from the pre-Homeric αγαπώ which consists of the word ἄγα(ν) means very and the root πᾶ which means protect.

So, the original meaning of the word αγάπη was not love but I keep safe. and therefore the word Agapanthus means I keep safe the flower.

Etymology of the Species Name

The word praecox on the other hand is Latin and means uncountable. However, since it also comes from the Latin praecoquo, which is complex and consists of prae- (Indo-European root *préh₂i, ie before) and coquō (Indo-European root *pékʷeti, meaning become ripe), it could easily be concluded that here it has the meaning of early and / or premature.
And indeed, the African Lily has the earliest flowering of all the Agapanthus species, so it could ultimately be said that Agapanthus praecox is the one who protects the hurry to start blossoming.
In this way it becomes apparent that both words aptly convey a prominent feature of this species of Agapanthus, thus marking another epic victory of the botanists over the names of the plants.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Closed Tepals of African Lily Inflorescence
Closed Tepals of African Lily Inflorescence

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Origin & Life Span


The place of origin of the species is located to two main regions of South Africa, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.

The main difference between the two areas is climatic and is related to the distribution of rainfall, since the Western Cape is characterized by its rainy winters, ie the highest percentage of rainfall occurs at that time of year, unlike the Eastern Cape, where rainfall is not limited to the winter season but is distributed throughout the year.

Within its natural limits of distribution, Agapanthus proves to be a plant very durable and adaptable to various soil environments, it is found at an altitude that starts from sea level and reaches up to 2000 m, while it grows in those areas where the annual rainfall is higher. from 500 mm.

The Agapanthus praecox is botanically divided into three subspecies:

  • In the Agapanthus praecox subsp. minimus
  • In the Agapanthus praecox subsp. orientalis 
  • And in the 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.

Life Span

The Agapanthus praecox is an extremely long-lived rhizome species, as it can live for more than 7 decades – regardless of retirement age.

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 Lily of the Nile - © John Ruter, University of Georgia,

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Morphological Elements

The Lily of the Nile is an evergreen 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.

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) - Botanical Description


The root system of African Lily 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.


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).


The African Lily 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.


Pollination occurs with insects (entomophilous species).

Fruit & Seeds

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.

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).

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)

Winged Black Seeds of African Lily
Winged Black Seeds of African Lily

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


A suitable climate for its development is that of the tropical and subtropical regions – however in the subtropical regions it grows only 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.

On the other hand, its resistance to heat and high temperatures is extremely huge since it does not face any problems up to 40 °C (104 °F).

Soil and pH

In relation to the soil, Lily of the Nile grows in almost all the soil types except those which are permanently waterlogged.

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, with values ranging between 6.5 and 7.5.


The choice of planting location depends heavily on temperatures. In areas where the upper temperature limit is rarely 38 to 40 °C (100.4-104 °F), planting is recommended in locations that receive direct sunlight.

On the contrary, in areas where the temperature often exceeds 40 °C it is better to plant in half-shady places.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

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

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Care


Fertilization is mainly carried out using fertilizer containing the main nutrients N-P2O5-K2O in a 1: 1: 1.5 ratio.

The application of the fertilizer begins after the first ten days of March and continues on a monthly basis until the end of August through mid-September.

Also the addition of organic matter on an annual basis particularly favors the growth of the plant.


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.

Cultivation Works

Perhaps the most important cultivation work, although not done on an annual basis, is the division of the plant. It is recommended to divide every 3 to 6 years to renewal and continue its rich flowering.

With the division of Agapanthus, the control of its spread is still achieved, while at the same time it is one of the most basic methods of vegetative propagation of the plant.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Clusters of Blossoming African Lily Plants
Clusters of Blossoming African Lily Plants

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

In general, the Agapanthus praecox does not face serious problems from enemies and diseases. But especially it faces.


As for the pests, sometimes the plant can be affected by spider mites, thrips and mealybugs. With the use of appropriate formulations, all these parasites are effectively treated.

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.


Diseases of botrytis and powdery mildew have been reported, while the fungus Macrophoma agapanthii as well as the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus can also infect the plant, although less frequently.

Fungal infections are treated with the timely use of appropriate preparations, as opposed to the virus which can not be managed.

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) - Toxicity & Allergenicity


The rhizome, leaves, and sap of the plant are toxic of low severity to humans and pets. Taking them can cause severe mouth ulcers and a burning sensation, as well as skin rashes.


Being an entomophilous plant, it does not cause allergic reactions.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) Blooming Plants at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden of S. Africa
Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) Blooming Plants at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden of S. Africa

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Invasiveness

Despite the great contribution of Agapanthuas ornamental plant of interiors, gardens and landscapes, in some countries, in areas where it has been fully adapted, it behaves like an invader.

In nature, the propagation of African Lily 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.

Affected Countries

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.

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.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox)

African Lily Flowering Plants in Pots
African Lily Flowering Plants in Pots

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) - Use

Pharmaceutical & Ethnobotanical

The Agapanthus praecox also belongs to that numerous category of plants that have not only ornamental but also great therapeutic and ethnobotanical value.

For the ethnobotanical use of Agapanthus – 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.

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.

Use In Garden and Landscape

The Agapanthus in general is an easy growing plant and extremely ornamental.

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.

Furthermore, although it is an invasive plant, but at the same time it seems in nature that there is nothing bad without something good, 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.

Therefore, among other things, Lily of the Nile can be utilized:

  • In clusters in the garden, almost always in the first or second row
  • Thank’s to the nearly architectural form for ‘dressing’ buildings or houses of modern and/or postmodern rhythm – by masss planting
  • 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
  • In sloping soils or in soils that are at risk of erosion
  • Due to its high resistance to aerosol salt, in coastal areas, in public or private places.
  • In regions characterized by heavy winter, Agapanthubecomes a wonderful indoor plant, which after the risk of frosts has passed can be transported out


The References to the article entitled Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) – an article that started literary but will close musically – are presented by the archaic Greek rock ensemble with the inventive name Agapanthus, which will perform their composition Αχ βρε Θανάση (Ah vre Thanasi), espesially for the patient reader of this – not exactly short – article.

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