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Wild Iris — reliable and easy growing

Wild Iris is the common name for plants of the genus Dietes (di-EE-tees) which is related to the Iris family. There are five species indigenous to South Africa, of which two are to be found in many gardens and are ever-increasing in popularity. All the wild irises are perennial, evergreen plants that generally grow in large clumps.

LARGE WILD IRIS (Dietes grandiflora)

The most commonly seen, often in mass plantings in large landscapes is the Large Wild Iris.  This iris grows naturally along the eastern coastal areas of the southern Cape, eastern Cape and southern Kwazulu-Natal where it may be found in full sun or partial shade at forest edges, or in the shelter of taller shrubs. The plants displays large, delicate and rather beautiful white, orange and mauve flowers on slender stalks (about 1,5m) above clumps of long, rigid, sword-shaped leaves, which are held in a fan shape.  The plant is occasionally referred to as the Fairy Iris because the fragile is reminiscent of illustrations of fairies in kiddies books.

The flowers are borne en masse — usually after rain in summer. The individual flowers do not last longer than a day or two, but the plant bares so many flowers at peak periods that it is absolutely striking.

The Large wild iris grows from underground rhizomes and its fruit is a large capsule up to 50mm which splits open to release shiny, dark brown seeds.

YELLOW WILD IRIS dietes-complores

The Yellow Wild Iris, like the Large Wild Iris, is a versatile garden plant. It is smaller in stature than its Large cousin and its flower (at 60mm in diameter) is about two-thirds the size of that of the large wild iris while the seed pod is 25mm.  However, its masses of pale lemon-yellow flowers can add a wonderful dimension to a garden, whether planted next to pond, in containers near the swimming pool, in large groups combined with Agapanthus or Wild Garlic, lining a pathway or as an accent plant next to steps. The options are limited only by your imagination.

The wild irises are easily cultivated from seed sown in September, or by dividing up large clumps. These easy-to-grow plants prosper in sun and shade, but for best results (i.e. most flowers) plant them in full sun or dappled shade in well-composted, well-drained soil and water generously in summer.