Red hot poker varieties: 16 types for sizzling summer color

With their upright stems and bold colors, these red hot poker varieties are a favorite garden perennial flowering in summer and fall

Beautiful image of red hot pokers or kniphofia growing
(Image credit: Jane Tansi / Alamy Stock Photo)

The many red hot poker varieties, or torch lilies, have long been relied upon to bring a touch of the exotic to our backyards. Probably most familiar is tall Kniphofia rooperi, towering head and shoulders above other plants from early to late fall. Classic poker-like flower spikes are tipped by orange buds, smouldering over yellow flowers. 

Other classics include summer-flowering ‘Bees’ Sunset’ and ‘Percy’s Pride’ a medium-sized yellow-flowered poker. The 70 species of kniphofia originate from southern and tropical Africa and have given rise to numerous cultivars. Between them, they bloom from early spring to late fall and vary in height from 8in (20cm) to 6ft (1.8m). 

Some are frost tender but there are plenty hardy enough for colder gardens. Their narrow leaves can be bulky at ground level but recent breeding has concentrated on neater foliage, reduced height and longer flowering seasons. A natural upland habitat is reflected in their love of sun and good drainage, yet pokers thrive in fertile soils and love an improved clay as long as it drains well in winter. 

Red hot pokers are a great option if you're looking for the one of the best drought-tolerant plants to add your garden, and once established, they will enjoy long and characterful lives. 

Add color and shape with these red hot poker varieties

We’ve selected 16 different red hot poker varieties to show the range of shapes, sizes and colors available. These do well from a summer planting, putting their roots down quickly into warm soil.

1. ‘Drummore Apricot’

Kniphfia ‘Drummore Apricot’

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Holmes Garden Photos)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 30-48in (75-120cm)
  • Spread: 2ft (60cm)

Large pokers bear tight green buds at their tips, swelling to a glowing apricot shade and opening to yellow flowers from late summer into fall. Compact types are one of the best plants for small gardens and are deciduous, with strappy leaves. 

Use this subtle poker with vibrant Geum ‘Mrs.J.Bradshaw’ for springy stems of red flowers at 2ft (60cm), or tone the bold color down with creamy Achillea ‘Taygetea’.

Drifts of deciduous types suit prairie-style perennial planting alongside your landscaping with grasses.

2. ‘Fiery Fred’

Stately Kniphofia 'Fiery Fred’, red-hot poker 'Fiery Fred’, flowering in bright spring sunshine

(Image credit: Garey Lennox / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 6b/7a
  • Height: 5ft (1.5m)
  • Spread: 4ft (1.2m)

This stately poker sends up stems bearing shapely spikes of bright and soft orange blooms, soaring well above arching dark green deciduous foliage. Plants make bold statements amongst other perennials from summer into fall. For contrast, add blue-flowering campanula varieties (lactiflora) or for a subtle touch, introduce the palest pearly blue of ’Monica’s Dream’. 

These are also excellent coastal plants and will thrive in exposed seaside gardens.

3. ‘Ice Queen’

Kniphofia 'Ice Queen'

(Image credit: CHRIS BOSWORTH / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 4ft (1.2m)
  • Spread: 3ft (1m)

The tall flower spikes of this majestic poker have a hint of orange warmth at the tip but neatly arranged green buds open to white flowers with a tubular shape. 

This makes it a perfect candidate for white-themed garden borders, or to contrast with colorful midsummer to early fall blooms. Continue the white theme with a foreground of Salvia x sylvestris ‘Schneehugel’. 

4. ‘Moonstone’

Large,developing spike with greenish yellow flower buds of the upright, summer flowering torch lily, Kniphofia 'Moonstone'

(Image credit: John Richmond / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 4ft (1.2m)
  • Spread: 3ft (1m)

A floriferous poker blessed with a long flowering period from midsummer well into the fall. The low, arching deciduous foliage acts as a base for strong flower spikes bearing blooms changing attractively in color from a warm orange in bud, through gold to yellow and cream when fully open. 

Popular indigo-flowered Salvia ‘Amistad’ would make an excellent planting partner.

Those red hot pokers with especially fiery colors are great for hot color schemes of tropical plants in yellow, orange, bronze, red and maroon.

5. ‘Rocket’s Red Glare’

Kniphofia ‘Pyromania Rockets Red Glare’ red hot poker Rockets Red Glare

(Image credit: thrillerfillerspiller / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 3ft (1m)
  • Spread: 30in (75cm)

This is one of the Pyromania Series, whose neat, tidy grass-like foliage is an asset to the garden. The flowers of this one pack a punch, being fluorescent red, changing to warm coral tones, then to yellow and cream as they mature. 

The shapely heads mean they make good cutting garden flowers. Pick up on the yellow and add shorter, floriferous Coreopsis ‘Early Sunrise’ alongside it. 

6. K. rufa ‘Rasta’

Kniphofia 'Rasta'

(Image credit: Burncoose)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 3ft (1m)
  • Spread: 18in (45cm)

During midsummer the widely-spaced buds of this distinctive poker resemble green-tipped red quills, opening to long tubular shapes of yellowish green flowers

Best described as semi-evergreen, some leaves are lost during chilly winters and die back completely in colder regions. 

Set it against the dark foliage of succulent Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ or herbaceous persicaria varieties like ‘Red Dragon’.

7. ‘Tawny King’

Close-up of Kniphofia "Tawny King'", red hot poker "Tawny King'" orange-cream flowers.

(Image credit: P Tomlins / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 5ft (1.5m)
  • Spread: 3ft (1m)

An attractive poker whose narrow deciduous leaves are joined from summer to fall by dense spikes of orange buds opening to cream flowers. Held on bronze stems, the heads create a medley of soft and dark shades in orange and apricot. 

Plant alongside another drought-resistant plant like the slightly lower dark-flowered African lily, perhaps sultry Agapanthus inapertus subsp.pendulus ‘Graskop’.

8. ‘Timothy’

Kniphofia 'Timothy' Red-hot poker 'Timothy' in garden border

(Image credit: Ernie Janes / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 2ft (60cm)
  • Spread: 18in (45cm)

From clumps of narrow, deciduous leaves rise bronze stems topped by spikes of flowers somewhere between coral and salmon pink with a touch of orange. Opening from early summer to early fall, they bring a long season of color. 

Planted alongside it, the daylily Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’ will create an attractive foreground of fragrant yellow flowers

9. ‘Wrexham Buttercup’

KNIPHOFIA WREXHAM BUTTERCUP

(Image credit: Martin Hughes-Jones / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 6b/7a
  • Height: 4ft (1.2m)
  • Spread: 18in (45cm)

This is generally held to be the best yellow-flowered poker, although green-tipped ‘Bees’s Lemon’, new, short 'Poco Yellow' and ‘Lemon Popsicle’ are also worth investigating. 

Strong stems rise between midsummer and fall, bearing spikes of lime green buds opening to yellow. Good bedfellows include orange-flowered Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’ and blue-flowered Salvia patens. 

10. K.caulescens

Kniphofia caulescens,red hot poker

(Image credit: RM Floral / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 4ft (1.2m)
  • Spread: 30in (75cm)

We use a lot of this evergreen species in our exotic garden border planting ideas, because in both leaf and flower it resembles an aloe. 

The blue-green foliage is attractive especially after a good clean-up in spring. This is joined, from late summer into fall by stems of coral-red buds opening to lemon-yellow flowers. 

These are especially attractive plants for pollinators such as bees and other nectar-loving insects.

11. K.northiae

Fat flower spike of the semi-succulent Kniphofia northiae emerges in Late Spring

(Image credit: John Richmond / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 8b/9a
  • Height: 4ft (1.2m)
  • Spread: 30in (75cm)

These giant red hot poker varieties are another evergreen look-alike for aloe or even exotic bromeliads (urn plants). Give plants room to show off their proud rosettes of broad, strap-shaped leaves. 

Chunky flower spikes of orange-red buds open to cream flowers from early to late summer. It makes a good plant for rockeries or a gravel garden. 

12. K.rooperi

Kniphofia rooperi late summer color

(Image credit: Martin Hughes-Jones / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7b/8a
  • Height: 5ft (1.5m)
  • Spread: 3ft (1m)

Rooper’s red hot poker is one of the most familiar and a common sight in established gardens, clumps of arching evergreen foliage are joined by dense, rounded spikes of flowers fiery orange in bud but maturing to yellow. 

Held aloft on strong stems they reserve their performance for fall and usefully extend the flowering season to boost your late summer garden ideas

13. ‘Jenny Bloom’

Kniphofia Jenny Bloom

(Image credit: Glenn Harper / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 8b/9a
  • Height: 3ft (1m)
  • Spread: 18in (45cm)

Although not particularly short, this elegant poker is of slim habit, with narrow, upright foliage and stems of widely spaced apricot-orange buds above flowers opening to cream from early summer to early fall. 

Plant on its own in a container, or with long-flowering perennials such as the soft-yellow phlomis variety russeliana and yellow, cream and ruby-flowered Corepsis ‘Red Shift’.

14. ‘Mango Popsicle’

Kniphofia Mango Popsicle Torch Lily

(Image credit: Botany vision / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 6b/7a
  • Height: 30in (75cm)
  • Spread: 8in (20cm)

The Popsicle Series makes a good addition to small garden ideas, particularly if you have narrow borders or a just group of containers. It means you can enjoy red hot pokers without having to accommodate wide clumps of often quite wayward foliage. 

Neat upright grass-like leaves are joined by flower spikes in a range of colors, here an almost fluorescent mango from summer to fall. 

15. ‘Orange Vanilla Popsicle’

Kniphofia 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle' on a flower show display.

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 6b/7a
  • Height: 30in (75cm)
  • Spread: 30in (75cm)

Best described as tricolored miniature red hot poker, the tightest buds are a dark maroon, they swell to a glowing orange-pink and open creamy white. Neat and well-behaved they are perfect container plants

Needing well-drained compost where they will open blooms from early summer through to fall. Add burnt orange, narrow-petalled types of helenium like ‘Loysder Wieck’. 

16. Poco Red

Kniphofia Poco Red,coral red flowers,

(Image credit: RM Floral / Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 6b/7a
  • Height: 30in (75cm)
  • Spread: 30in (75cm)

From the Poco Series, expect a clump of stiff, upright grass-like foliage attractive in its own right. Spikes of reddish-orange flowers open from midsummer well into fall. 

Poco Orange, Poco Yellow, Poco Citron and Poco Sunset are worth exploring too. They look great on their own in a container, fit well into your narrow garden ideas or to make low swathes of vibrant color. 

Do red hot pokers come in different colors?

The flower colors of red hot pokers stay well within the red, orange, pink, coral, yellow, green and cream range. For me, the beauty of their spike-like racemes – the tips of the pokers if you like – lies in the gradation of shades displayed by tight buds, those near to opening and fully open tubular or cylindrical flowers. 

The structure of their racemes also varies a lot, some being long and elegant, while others are fat and club-like. Flowers can be tightly arranged, or widely spaced. Kniphofia ‘David Blake’ is unusual, with a point of dark, brown-ginger buds over paler orange then cream flowers.

Kniphofia ‘David Blake’

Kniphofia ‘David Blake’ bears unusually colored, slender spikes

(Image credit: The Bressingham Gardens)

How big do red hot poker plants get?

The size of a red hot poker is determined by which cultivar you choose to grow. Those with restricted space might be better with the shorter Poco or Popsicle series, though a few large plants often trick the eye into making a small garden look bigger

‘Drummore Apricot’ would make a good accent plant flowering at 4ft (1.2m). The tallest rise to around 6ft (1.8m) but it is not so much the height that presents a problem, but the mass of foliage at the base. When clumps grow too wide, lift, divide and replant in spring. Add new plants from spring to summer.

kniphofia,red hot poker mango popsicle

Poco or Popsicle series are ideal for a smaller garden

(Image credit: RM Floral / Alamy Stock Photo)

What's the best red hot poker variety for attracting insects?

In South Africa, kniphofias are pollinated by nectar-eating sunbirds and as a result, produce copious quantities of sweet nectar that also attract a wide range of pollinating insects. 

The blooms of our K.caulescens literally thrum with insect activity and there is always a good set of seeds. Insects are generally attracted by the color yellow, so choose varieties with yellow-shading and generous spikes packed full of flowers. ‘Tawny King’ and ‘Wrexham Buttercup’ are good choices.

Where to buy red hot poker varieties

Shop for red hot pokers in the US: 

Shop for red hot pokers in the UK: 

Anne Swithinbank
Anne Swithinbank

Having trained at Kew Gardens in London, worked in parks department nurseries and as Glasshouse Supervisor at RHS Wisley, Anne has been a freelance horticulturist since 1986. Anne writes for Amateur Gardening and has been a regular panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time for 27 years. A large plot full of wildlife habitats, edible and ornamental plants is Anne’s workshop and inspiration.