The Gymea Lily is a hardy, clumping monocot with fibrous sword-like leaves which grow up to 1.5 m long and 10 to 12 cm wide. It grows from a thickened underground stem which penetrates deep into the ground to protect against drought and fire, so does best in deep soil.
It flowers in spring and summer. Clusters (compact racemes) of large bright red / pinkish-red flowers (usually with a gradient of tones) are produced on the terminals of tall vertical stems (scapes) up to 4 m tall. Individual flowers can be up to 20 cm across. Flower spikes appear after about 7 years. Seeds are held in woody capsules and have slightly winged seeds.
Its flower stalk differs from Doryanthes palmeri, in that the stalk stands upright (rather than drooping) and the flowers are in a globular arrangement rather than a spreading raceme. The leaves are also not as rigid as those of D. palmeri.
It tolerates full sun or part shade. It is moderately frost tolerant but needs protection from heavy frosts.
This hardy, low maintenance monocot comes from coastal and adjacent plateaus near Sydney NSW, mostly growing on ridges and slopes in sandy loam in sclerophyll forests. It is frequently found growing in amongst sandstone outcrops in Sydney, and forms a crucial part of iconic Sydney sandstone vegetation.
This striking plant makes a bold architectural statement. It is suitable for landscaping and suits a large garden. It is a good rockery plant and thrives in full sun or part shade. It attracts nectar feeding birds and insects.
It benefits from extra watering in dry periods.
Some gardeners report trouble in getting plants to flower. Tips include giving potash and even placing rocks down in the centre of leaves, where a flowering stem may emerge.
Can be propagated from seed or by dividing the clump.
Doryanthes excelsa was used by Aboriginal people both roasting the flower spikes and the roots mashed and made into cakes. The leaves were used for weaving.
Plants respond readily after fire due to the tough buried stem. A rosette of leaves will emerge very quickly after fire. At times, there will be large spectacular flowering events of this species 12–24 months after fire.
Doryanthes – a composite of two Greek words, doratos, meaning spear, and anthos meaning flower;
excelsa – derived from the Latin, excelsus, meaning high or lofty.
‘A Horticultural Guide to Australian Plants’, 1980 – 1984, The Society for Growing Australian Plants (Qld)