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What’s Blooming in Paradise: African Iris’s grow in the tropics

By Staff | Aug 5, 2015

The African iris has white petals with accents of canary yellow and amethyst purple. Anita Force Marshall

First impression: Ruffled, exotic, cameo white petals with accents of canary yellow and amethyst purple. Gosh, I thought we couldn’t grow irises down here in the tropics? Linear dark green leaves emerging from the ground form a fountain like pattern. These memorable irises will remind you of your northern gardens, without the blanket of snow. Even Van Gogh couldn’t paint them any better and they are in full bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: We just don’t have lots of irises here in paradise, our dietes are native to South Africa and are available in yellow (bicolor) or purple (iridioides). I prefer the purple varieties; the yellow ones tend to be messy and less floral.

African irises blooming are drop dead gorgeous and reminiscent of all those fabulous irises we left behind up north. Our star is recognizable by stiff, spear shaped dark green leaves, which emerge from the rhizomes or roots underground.

Super low maintenance and can be used as a low growing fan shaped groundcover. Great for patios with a view, they stay low and, when not blooming is an attractive spiky, shaped plant.

When in bloom, look closely for the tattooed deep markings inside their flowers. These colorful cues are guides for our insects. The nectar guides show pollinators where to look for food/nectar. Some nectar guides may be visible only under ultraviolet light, of which bees and insects can see. The guides will lead them to the sweet reward and their pollen laden bodies to the flowers carpel. Viola’- pollination!

African iris. Anita Force Marshall

Zoom in yourself and notice nine petals total, each three sets add drama and dimension to one unmistakable iconic bloom. Ruffled, curly, fancy, large cameo white petals with a thick fuzzy line and speckles of sunny yellow adorn the three outer petals. Full moon white slender petals with tiny freckles and exotic calligraphic markings in an Indian ink color make up the three in the middle. Showy and top of the bloom are last three petals in amethyst and lavender hues. You get many flowers per plant, unfortunately each flower lasts one day.

Very economical babies come from seeds, which soon appear in the form of miniature irises. You can let them amass in one location or move them around in your garden. It’s hard to say no to this recognizable superstar especially when their blooming!


Gorgeous flowers

Likes sun or partial shade

African iris. Anita Force Marshall

Easy to maintain

Somewhat salt tolerant

Is great for oooh’s and ahhs

Great ground cover even when not blooming

May inspire you to take up painting

Start with one and they spread

No care needed


Drought tolerant.


Nonnative plant

May find crazy painters with candles in their hats in your gardens

Less blooms with wet feet

Spend lots of money on art supplies

Sensitive to cold.

Conclusion: Bring your camera or your paintbrushes to record the complexity of our simple tropical iris. Simplicity who knew it could be such a challenge, so many flowers and hey – we got lots of time in our eye catching tropical garden. .. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!

**Remember we have a yearly fertilizer restriction during July 1 through Oct 2. This is a very important mandatory restriction to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into our precious waterways. Any fertilizing during our rainy season, only ends up in our water resources as unwanted algae blooms.**