Walking Iris

Walking iris

Walking iris, Neomarica gracilis

Neomarica sp. is one of those plants with a number of common names. Perhaps you've heard it called fan iris, a name it gets from the appearance of its sword-shaped leaves which form a fan of greenery. Or maybe you know it as apostle plant, a name given to it because some believe the plant needs twelve leaves before it will bloom. The flower of this plant inspired yet another common name, the poor man's orchid.

This plant gets perhaps its most common name—walking iris—from its propagation habit. New plantlets form at the tops of flower stalks which then bend to the ground and take root. Eventually, the new plant will repeat the same process. In this way many walking iris plants "walk" through the landscape. ¬†However, not all species of Neomarica walk—some species will hold the plantlet airborne and their stems don't bend as readily as others.

Whatever you know this plant as, Neomarica sp. is a lovely and exotic-looking addition to any garden.

Characteristics

Neomarica sp. is a clumping herbaceous perennial with long, glossy green leaves and small, iris-like flowers. The flower color will vary depending on the species; they can be white, yellow, or blue-purple.

Walking iris sports interesting flowers, with outer petals that spread almost horizontally. Three curled inner petals add a pop of texture to the center of the bloom. The inner and outer petals have interesting yellow and mahogany markings at their base resembling tiger stripes. These striking blooms only last a day, but as flowers die more will follow for an extended period. How long your plant continues to flower will depend on the species.

Planting and Care

Walking iris can be grown in full or partial shade, can tolerate a range of soil types, and will thrive in moist locations. This plant does well in mass plantings, providing year-round interest with its upright foliage that's lovely even when not flowering. It is also well suited to containers and hanging baskets where its arching stems can be highlighted.

Walking iris is best suited to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 through 11, although homeowners even in North Florida have successfully grown it in their gardens. In the northern parts of the state, walking iris often freezes to the ground but will return from the roots in the spring. Remember, you can use woven fabric covers to help protect your plants should freezing temperatures be in the forecast.

Various Neomarica species offer different flower colors allowing you to select the color that will work best in your landscape.¬† N. longifolia has yellow flowers with mahogany patches, while N. gracilis and N. northiana have white blossoms with blue and brown markings. N. caerulea has blue-purple petals, but doesn't “walk”.

There is another plant often referred to as walking iris. Trimezia martinicensis produces yellow flowers that are very similar in their structure to those of Neomarica. Trimezia martinicensis can commonly be found in Florida gardens as well, so be aware that when someone is talking about "walking iris" they could mean Neomarica sp. or Trimezia.

Neomarica sp. is sometimes available in nurseries and is a popular pass-along plant. For more information on walking iris, contact your local county Extension office.

UF/IFAS Publications

Walking iris plant with yellow flowers

A walking iris with yellow flowers, N. longifolia
(Or is it Trimezia?)

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