Foliage Friday: African Iris

I’m back at the VA this month, so I have time to take walks during the day. I believe Foliage Friday’s actually began thanks to my VA walks. As I’ve mentioned before, they put some effort into their landscaping at this VA. I came across this flower on another one of my walks around the VA campus.  

Its distinctive flower was easy to identify online as Dietes bicolor, commonly known as African iris. 

Dietes bicolor is one of six plants in the Dietes genus, which is in the Iridiacea family. They are perennials that grow from underground rhizomes and are hardy in zones 9-11 (or 8-10, depending on who you ask). These plants are drought tolerant (no surprise here in California). As the common name might suggest, they originated in Africa (except for one of the six species – Dietes robinsonia – which originated from a small island off the coast of Australia).

The plants bloom either spring-to-summer or spring-to-fall, and have a two-week bloom burst cycle, which lends itself to another common name for this plant “fortnight lily” (a misnomer, since this plant is not a lily). Apparently, the flowers last only one day. I found this interesting, because I have been walking past this same clump of flower every day this past week and it seems like the same few blooms are still on the plants….am I being fooled?

In frost-free areas, the plants can bloom intermittently in the winter. It was 70 degrees here the other day and definitely felt very spring-ish, so I’m not sure if this bloom counts as an “intermittent winter” bloom or a “springtime” bloom…   

The genus name “Dietes” means two-affinities or two-relatives. This refers to the fact that Dietes is closely related to both the Iris and Moraea (Cape Tulips) genera. 


I found these cream-colored flowers with brown or maroon spots and three-fold symmetry quite striking, but there are much more attractive flowers in the Dietes genus.

Dietes grandiflora (I think?) Source: AtoZFlowers
Dietes iridioides (apparently Iridioides and grandiflora look really similar, so one or both of this photos may be mislabeled) Source: Gardenia.net
Dietes robinsonia (the one from the island near Australia) Source: Plant of the Day

Dietes bicolor is still my favorite. It’s not as flashy, but I root for the underdog. Which is your favorite?

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