Tender bright-flowering dainty perennials. Usually grown in a cool greenhouse, although they can be grown in a sheltered south facing border in mild areas.

Family: Iridaceae (Iris family)
Botanical Name: Sparaxis
Common Names: Harlequin Flower

Foliage: Narrow, upright green leaves. Deciduous (dies back after flowering).

Flowers: Star-shaped flowers with yellow centres surrounded by black or dark red marks. Available in a wide colour range of red, orange, yellow, copper or purple.

Flowering Period: Late spring to early summer.

Soil: Well-drained loam. Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.

Conditions: Full sun. Plant in a south or west facing aspect, in a sheltered location.

Habit: Upright, tufted.

Type: Cormous perennial.

Origin: South Africa

Hardiness: Tolerant of low temperatures but not frost.

Planting and Growing Sparaxis

Plant March to May in the garden, or in pots under glass in autumn. Depth 3in (8cm), spacing 4in (10cm).

Plant in a well-drained loam. Full sun is essential.

Ideal for the foot of a warm south facing wall or in the rock garden. Also good in containers.

The flowers are excellent for cutting.

Taking Care of Sparaxis

Keep weed free and mulch with shredded bark to keep moist in summer heat. The corms can be lifted once the foliage has died down, then stored in a frost-free place ready for next season.

Pests and Diseases

Generally pest and disease free.

Propagating Sparaxis

Remove offsets (cormels) when dormant or sow seed in trays under a cold frame as soon as ripe.

Popular Varieties of Sparaxis

Corms can usually be purchased around August-October or March-April. Either sold loose or pre packed. Check the bulbs are dry, firm and rot free. Pot grown plants in flower may also be purchased in summer, where available.

Sparaxis hybrida usually available as a mixed selection. The colourful blooms are borne on wiry stems. Height to 12in (30cm), spread 4in (10cm).

Sparaxis 'Red Reflex' bears red flowers with contrasting black centres on wiry stems above sword-shaped leaves. Height to 12in (30cm), spread 4in (10cm). For sale at Van Meuwen.

Sparaxis tricolor bears funnel-shaped flowers in shades of white, orange, pink and red, with yellow centres surrounded by black or dark red marks. Height to 18in (45cm). For sale at Thompson & Morgan.