The African Iris is a plant that I consider to be very low maintenance. It produces a beautiful white flower, usually in the Spring. Here in Florida, I usually see them start to bloom around the month of February. It also is a plant that tolerates the hot conditions of Florida. If we are experiencing a long and very dry spell, the situation does not make them wither and die. They don’t seem to be too picky about their soil either; growing even in poor soil (though that, of course, is not the preferred method). While the African Iris is not native to Florida, it certainly is a Florida-Friendly plant! If you live in the more northern parts of Florida, you might notice some freeze damage, but here in Tampa they always seem to thrive through the winter months without a single problem.
African Iris (Dietes vegeta) – aka “Butterfly Iris” – is probably the best known in South Florida landscapes. The plant is also referred to as a “Fortnight Lily” – because of their two-week blooming cycle.
The African Iris has a wonderful natural look to it – making it a great choice for borders and long-view vistas. They are pretty quick to get established, and they don’t need much pampering. They have tall, stiff stems which produce a beautiful profusion of white flowers every couple of weeks. Even though each flower only lasts for a period of 24-48 hours, you don’t want to cut back the stem once the flower has faded … because the next bloom and flower will come from the same stem.
The African Iris plant has clumps that are spread on rhizomes, which can be dug up and divided. When your plants need to be divided, grab yourself a good pair of gardening gloves and start to separate the ‘blades’ (which resemble a fan) and transplant them elsewhere. Trimming is usually only necessary when it’s time to remove any browned leaves and spent flower stems. Cut these as close to the ground as you can, with good-quality shears. They are an easy plant to separate, move and maintain, which is just another reason why I enjoy having them in my garden.
The African Iris is very adaptable to a variety of light conditions. Here in our yard, we have them planted in filtered sun, under a variety of trees. Our oak trees provide shifting shade throughout the day, and the plants seem to really enjoy their location. When we planted our first African Iris many years ago, we put it in full shade. While the plant survived and stayed green, it never produced any blooms or flowers. It did; however, grow and remain a beautiful shade of green. Even without a bloom on it, the foliage provided beautiful color and texture. We transplanted it a couple years later, and now it blooms as it should. We find ourselves fertilizing them about three times each year – in spring, summer, and fall – with a good quality granular fertilizer.
The tall blades of an African Iris make a strong vertical element to any garden. They are thin and willowy, and grow in clumps that look like grass mounds – reaching about 2½ feet tall. Even though they produce blooms every fortnight, the plant will flower on and off throughout the year. As you can see from the photo in this post, the flowers are bright white and look like an artist has dabbed them in the prettiest shade of lavender and gold. They’re just beautiful, and certainly worthy of your consideration when planning your next landscape project!