Agapanthus flower and leaves

Agapanthus /ˌæɡəˈpænθəs/[2] is a genus of plants, the only one in the subfamily Agapanthoideae of the family Amaryllidaceae.[3] The family is in the monocot order Asparagales. The name is derived from Greek: ἀγάπη (agapē – "love"), ἄνθος (anthos – "flower").

Some species of Agapanthus are commonly known as lily of the Nile, or African lily in the UK. However, they are not lilies and all of the species are native to Southern Africa (South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique), though some have become naturalized in scattered places around the world (Australia, Great Britain, Mexico, Ethiopia, Jamaica, etc.).[1][4]

Species boundaries are not clear in the genus, and in spite of having been intensively studied, the number of species recognized by different authorities varies from 6 to 10. The type species for the genus is Agapanthus africanus.[5] Many hybrids and cultivars have been produced. They are cultivated throughout warm areas of the world. They can especially be spotted throughout Northern California.[6] Most of these were described in a book published in 2004.[7]


Agapanthus is a genus of herbaceous perennials that mostly bloom in summer. This leads to the Australian common name, Star of Bethlehem, as it blooms just before Christmas. The leaves are basal, curved, and linear, growing up to 60 cm (24 in) long. They are rather leathery and arranged in two opposite rows. The plant has a mostly underground stem called a rhizome (like a ginger 'root') that is used as a storage organ. The roots, which grow out of the rhizome, are white, thick and fleshy.

The inflorescence is a pseudo-umbel subtended by two large deciduous bracts at the apex of a long, erect scape, up to 2 m (6.6 ft) tall. They have funnel-shaped or tubular flowers,[8] in hues of blue to purple, shading to white. Some hybrids and cultivars have colors not found in wild plants which includes bi-colored blue/lavender and white flowers flushed with pink as the blooms mature. The ovary is superior. The style is hollow. Agapanthus does not have the distinctive chemistry of Allioideae.[citation needed]


The genus Agapanthus was established by Charles Louis L'Héritier de Brutelle in 1788.[1]

Family placement

Which family the genus belongs to has been a matter of debate since its creation. In the Cronquist system, the genus was placed in a very broadly defined family Liliaceae, along with other lilioid monocots. In 1985, Dahlgren, Clifford, and Yeo placed Agapanthus in Alliaceae, close to Tulbaghia.[9] Their version of Alliaceae also included several genera that would later be transferred to Themidaceae.

In 1996, following a phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequences of the gene rbcL, Themidaceae was resurrected and Agapanthus was removed from Alliaceae.[10] The authors found Agapanthus to be sister to Amaryllidaceae and transferred it to that family. This was not accepted by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group when they published the original APG system in 1998, because the clade consisting of Agapanthus and Amaryllidaceae had only 63% bootstrap support. The APG system recognized three separate families, Agapanthaceae, Alliaceae sensu stricto, and Amaryllidaceae sensu stricto. Agapanthaceae consisted of Agapanthus only, and Dahlgren's idea that it is close to Tulbaghia was rejected.

When the APG II system was published in 2003, it offered the option of combining Agapanthaceae, Alliaceae sensu stricto, and Amaryllidaceae sensu stricto to form a larger family, Alliaceae sensu lato. When the name Amaryllidaceae was conserved by the ICBN for this larger family, its name was changed from Alliaceae to Amaryllidaceae, but its circumscription remained the same. When APG II was replaced by APG III in 2009, Agapanthaceae was no longer accepted, but was treated as subfamily Agapanthoideae of the larger version of Amaryllidaceae.[11] Also in 2009, Armen Takhtajan recognized the three smaller families allowed by APG II, instead of combining them as in APG III.[12]

The table below summarizes the alternative family divisions:

Alternative treatments of Amaryllidaceae s.l.
Separate families Single family Subfamilies
Agapanthaceae Amaryllidaceae s.l.
(formerly Alliaceae s.l.)
Alliaceae s.s. Allioideae
Amaryllidaceae s.s. Amaryllidoideae

Further molecular phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequences have confirmed that Agapanthus is sister to a clade consisting of subfamilies Allioideae and Amaryllidoideae of the family Amaryllidaceae (sensu APG III).[13][14]

Amaryllidaceae s.l.

Agapanthus (Agapanthoideae)




Zonneveld and Duncan (2003) divided Agapanthus into six species (A. africanus, A. campanulatus, A. caulescens, A. coddii, A. inapertus, A. praecox).[15] Four additional species had earlier been recognised by Leighton (1965) (A. comptonii, A. dyeri, A. nutans and A. walshii),[16] but were given subspecific rank by Zonneveld and Duncan. As of December 2013, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families recognises seven species:[17]

  1. Agapanthus africanus (L.) Hoffmanns (syn. A. umbellatus; African Lily or African Tulip)
  2. Agapanthus campanulatus F.M.Leight. (African bluebell, African Blue lily or Bell Agapanthus)
  3. Agapanthus caulescens Spreng.
  4. Agapanthus coddii F.M.Leight. (Codd's Agapanthus or Blue Lily)
  5. Agapanthus inapertus Beauverd (including A. dyeri; Drakensberg Agapanthus or Drooping Agapanthus)
  6. Agapanthus praecox Willd. (including A. comptonii, A. orientalis; Common Agapanthus, Blue Lily, African Lily, or Lily of the Nile)
  7. Agapanthus walshii L.Bolus
formerly included

The name Agapanthus ensifolius was coined in 1799,[18] referring to a species now called Lachenalia ensifolia.[19] (see Lachenalia).[17][20]


Agapanthus praecox can be grown within USDA plant hardiness zones 9 to 11.[21] In lower-numbered zones, the rhizomes should be placed deeper in the soil and mulched well in the fall. Summer water should be provided. Agapanthus can be propagated by dividing clumps or by seeds. The seeds of most varieties are fertile.

Several hundred cultivars and hybrids are cultivated as garden and landscape plants. Several are winter-hardy to USDA Zone 7.

In the UK the following cultivars have received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:

  • 'Blue Ice'[22] - pale blue
  • 'Blue Magic'[23] - dark blue
  • Double Diamond ('Rfdd')[24] - white
  • Fireworks ('Mdb001')[25] - white/purple
  • 'Happy Blue'[26] - light blue
  • 'Hoyland Blue'[27] - white/pale blue
  • 'Ice Blue Star'[28] - pale blue-violet
  • 'Jacaranda'[29] - blue/dark stripe
  • 'Jonny's White'[30] - white
  • 'Leicester'[31] - white
  • 'Loch Hope'[32] - deep blue
  • 'Luly'[33] - pale blue/violet
  • 'Marjorie'[34] - pale violet-blue
  • 'Megan's Mauve'[35] - lavender-blue
  • 'Midnight Star'[36] - deep blue
  • 'Monique'[37] - deep blue
  • 'Northern Star'[38] - violet/deep blue
  • 'Purple Delight'[39] - purple
  • 'Royal Blue'[40] - bright blue
  • 'Sandringham'[41] - bright blue
  • 'Sandy'[42] - pale violet-blue
  • Silver Moon ('Notfred')[43] - blue
  • 'Sky'[44] - sky blue
  • 'Summer Days'[45] pale/dark blue

There are seven UK National Collection of Agapanthus, held by:

  • Ian Scroggy at Bali-Hai Nursery in Carnlough, County Antrim.[46]
  • Mike Grimshaw in Cam, Gloucestershire (cultivars bred and raised by Dick Fulcher).[47]
  • Mike Grimshaw in Cam, Gloucestershire (pre-2005 cultivars).[48]
  • Patrick Fairweather at Fairweather's Garden Centre in Beaulieu, Hampshire (cultivars from the Fairweather Nursery trials).[49]
  • Hoyland Plant Centre in Barnsley, Yorkshire (Hoyland hybrids, variegated, and special interest).[50]
  • Mrs Ruth Penrose at Bowdens Nursery in Sticklepath, Devon (Pine Cottage cultivars).[51]
  • Mr & Mrs R J & C L Fulcher in Eggesford, Devon (Pine Cottage cultivars).[52]

Invasive species

In some regions, some agapanthus are listed as invasive species of plants. In New Zealand, Agapanthus praecox is classed as an "environmental weed"[53] and calls to have it added to the National Pest Plant Accord have encountered opposition from gardeners.


Neuranethes spodopterodes in affected inflorescence buds, the central specimen opened to reveal larvae

As a rule, Agapanthus species are pest-hardy, neither being much attacked nor drastically affected by common garden pests. However, since the early 21st century Agapanthus in the far south of South Africa have fallen victim to a species of noctuid moth, the Agapanthus borer, Neuranethes spodopterodes. The larvae of the moth bore into the budding inflorescence and as they mature they tunnel down towards the roots, or emerge from the stem and drop down to feed on the leaves or rhizomes. A severe attack promotes rot and may stunt or even kill the plant; even plants that survive commonly lose most of their inflorescences and fail to produce the desired show of flowers.

Though Neuranethes spodopterodes is invasive in the regions where it has emerged as a pest, it is not an exotic invader, but a translocated species, having been imported inadvertently from its natural range in more northerly regions of the country. In its original range, the moth is not of horticultural importance, being controlled by natural enemies that as yet have neither been identified nor imported along with the host plants. In contrast, the Agapanthus borer is of considerable concern in the South West, and its voracity is so impressive that the species shows promise as a possible control for invasive Agapanthus praecox in countries like New Zealand.[54]

In 2016, a new species of gall midge, Enigmadiplosis agapanthi, was described damaging Agapanthus in the United Kingdom.[55]

Allergenic potential

Agapanthus has low potential for causing allergies; its OPALS allergy scale rating is 2 out of 10.[56]


  1. ^ a b c "Agapanthus". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  2. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  3. ^ Stevens, P.F., Angiosperm Phylogeny Website: Asparagales: Agapanthoideae
  4. ^ Klaus Kubitzki. 1998. "" pages 58–60. In: Klaus Kubitzki (editor). 1998. The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants volume III. Springer-Verlag: Berlin;Heidelberg, Germany. ISBN 978-3-540-64060-8
  5. ^ "Agapanthus" In: Index Nominum Genericorum. In: Regnum Vegetabile (see External links below).
  6. ^ Anthony Huxley, Mark Griffiths, and Margot Levy (1992). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. The Macmillan Press,Limited: London. The Stockton Press: New York. ISBN 978-0-333-47494-5 (set).
  7. ^ Wim Snoeijer. 2004. Agapanthus A revision of the genus. Timber Press: Portland, OR, USA. ISBN 978-0-88192-631-6.
  8. ^ Leighton, F.M. (1965), "The genus Agapanthus L'Heritier", Journal of South African Botany Supplement, no. 4
  9. ^ Rolf M.T. Dahlgren, H. Trevor Clifford, and Peter F. Yeo. 1985. The Families of the Monocotyledons. Springer-Verlag: Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, Tokyo. ISBN 978-3-540-13655-2. ISBN 978-0-387-13655-4.
  10. ^ Michael F. Fay and Mark W. Chase. 1996. "Resurrection of Themidaceae for the Brodiaea alliance, and recircumscription of Alliaceae, Amaryllidaceae, and Agapanthoideae". Taxon 45(3):441–451. (see External links below).
  11. ^ Chase, Mark W.; Reveal, James L.; Fay, Michael F. (2009). "A subfamilial classification for the expanded asparagalean families Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae and Xanthorrhoeaceae". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 161 (2): 132–136. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00999.x.
  12. ^ Armen L. Takhtajan (Takhtadzhian). Flowering Plants second edition (2009). Springer Science+Business Media. ISBN 978-1-4020-9608-2.
  13. ^ J. Chris Pires, Ivan J. Maureira, Thomas J. Givnish, Kenneth J. Sytsma, Ole Seberg, Gitte Petersen, Jerrold I. Davis, Dennis W. Stevenson, Paula J. Rudall, Michael F. Fay, and Mark W. Chase. 2006. "Phylogeny, genome size, and chromosome evolution of Asparagales". Aliso 22(Monocots: Comparative Biology and Evolution):287–304. ISSN 0065-6275.
  14. ^ Seberg, Ole; Petersen, Gitte; Davis, Jerrold I.; Pires, J. Chris; Stevenson, Dennis W.; Chase, Mark W.; Fay, Michael F.; Devey, Dion S.; Jørgensen, Tina; Sytsma, Kenneth J. & Pillon, Yohan (2012). "Phylogeny of the Asparagales based on three plastid and two mitochondrial genes". American Journal of Botany. 99 (5): 875–889. doi:10.3732/ajb.1100468. PMID 22539521.
  15. ^ Zonneveld, B. J. M.; Duncan, G. D. (2003). "Taxonomic implications of genome size and pollen colour and vitality for species of Agapanthus L'Heritier (Agapanthaceae)". Plant Systematics and Evolution. 241 (1–2): 115–123. doi:10.1007/s00606-003-0038-6. S2CID 26017209.
  16. ^ Leighton, F. M. (1965). "The Genus Agapanthus L'Heritier". Journal of South African Botany, supplementary volume IV.
  17. ^ a b "Search for Agapanthus". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  18. ^ Linné, Carl von; Salvius, Lars (August 10, 1753). Caroli Linnaei ... Species plantarum :exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systema sexuale digestas... Vol. 2. Impensis Laurentii Salvii.
  19. ^ Manning, John C. & Goldblatt, Peter. 2004. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 60: 565
  20. ^ "Tropicos".
  21. ^ "Agapanthus preacox". Retrieved 15 August 2020.
  22. ^ "Agapanthus 'Blue Ice'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  23. ^ "Agapanthus 'Blue Magic'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Agapanthus Double Diamond='Rfdd'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  25. ^ "Agapanthus Fireworks='Mdb001'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  26. ^ "Agapanthus 'Happy Blue'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  27. ^ "Agapanthus 'Hoyland Blue'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  28. ^ "Agapanthus 'Ice Blue Star'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  29. ^ "Agapanthus 'Jacaranda'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  30. ^ "Agapanthus 'Jonny's White'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  31. ^ "Agapanthus 'Leicester'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  32. ^ "Agapanthus 'Loch Hope'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  33. ^ "Agapanthus 'Luly'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  34. ^ "Agapanthus 'Marjorie'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  35. ^ "Agapanthus 'Megan's Mauve'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  36. ^ "Agapanthus 'Midnight Star'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  37. ^ "Agapanthus 'Monique'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  38. ^ "Agapanthus 'Northern Star'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  39. ^ "Agapanthus 'Purple Delight'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  40. ^ "Agapanthus 'Royal Blue'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  41. ^ "Agapanthus 'Sandringham'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  42. ^ "Agapanthus 'Sandy'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  43. ^ "Agapanthus Silver Moon='Notfred'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  44. ^ "Agapanthus inapertus subsp. hollandii 'Sky'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  45. ^ "Agapanthus 'Summer Days'". RHS. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  46. ^ "Agapanthus". Plant Heritage. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  47. ^ "Agapanthus (bred & raised by Dick Fulcher)". Plant Heritage. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  48. ^ "Agapanthus (pre 2005 cvs.)". Plant Heritage. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  49. ^ "Agapanthus (Fairweather Nursery trials collection)". Plant Heritage. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  50. ^ "Agapanthus (Hoyland hybrids, variegated & of special interest)". Plant Heritage. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  51. ^ Tim, Penrose; Ruth, Penrose. "National Hosta and Agapanthus Collections & Gardens Tours". Bowdens Nursery. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  52. ^ "Agapanthus (Pine Cottage cvs.)". Plant Heritage. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  53. ^ Howell, Clayson (May 2008). Consolidated list of environmental weeds in New Zealand (PDF). DRDS292. Wellington: Department of Conservation. ISBN 978-0-478-14413-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-30. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  54. ^ M.D. Picker and M. Krüger. Spread and Impacts of the Agapanthus Borer (Neuranethes spodopterodes (Hampson, 1908), comb. nov.), a Translocated Native Moth Species (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). African Entomology 2013 21 (1), 172–176
  55. ^ Harris, KM; Salisbury, A; Jones, H (2016). "Enigmadiplosis agapanthi, a new genus and species of gall midge (Diptera, Cecidomyiidae) damaging Agapanthus flowers in England". Cecidology. 31. British Gall Society: 17–20.
  56. ^ Ogren, Thomas (2015). The Allergy-Fighting Garden. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-60774-491-7.

External links

References At:
NMNH Department of Botany