Once upon a time, a mysterious flower grew near my son’s house in New Orleans. It looked like an iris, but when I tried to discover the variety, it was nowhere to be found. I searched and searched with no luck. I gave up until the end of August, when I went to my nephew’s wedding near Seattle. Wandering in the garden with Wilma, his fiancée, I saw it. At least I thought I did. It was a peacock orchid, Acidanthera bicolor, Wilma explained. I looked it up on my iPhone and it seemed right–a bulb in the gladiolus family hardy in Zones 8-11 and blooming late summer through fall. Thrilled, I emailed a photo to my son.
He replied fast: “Wrong plant,” and sent the photo above. It was back to the beginning for me.
Yet the annual meeting of the Garden Writers Association was just a week away in sunny Dallas, where I hoped to see Brent Heath, an amazing plantsman, bulbophile, and owner with his wife of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. I stopped Brent on a steamy Dallas garden tour and showed him this photo. Without a pause he said, “This is morea iris.” Sure enough, I looked it up and he was right (of course!) The mystery was solved. Morea, also known as Dietes bicolor or African iris, is an evergreen perennial. Each 2-inch wide flower lasts one day. White or pale yellow blooms with three reddish brown marks occur in groups every couple of weeks, giving the plant its other name, fortnight lily. Hardy in Zones 9-11, this iris forms big, 2 to 3-foot high clumps of skinny swordlike leaves. It is somewhat drought tolerant once established but blooms better with moisture. Morea iris may self-sow but flowers more when seed pods are removed. I can grow it as an annual in a cold climate like New Hampshire, if I can find a reliable source. Thank you, Brent, for sharing with me your vast knowledge of plants.
Is there a mysterious plant in your life?