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Iris domestica – Blackberry Lily

Blackberry lily is also called leopard lily. It’s because of the spots on the flowers. Iris domestica is easy to grow in full sun. Like most irises, blackberry lily needs excellent drainage during its winter dormancy. Plant tubers in full sun. Iris domestica likes moist soil conditions but is drought tolerant once established.

Blackberry lily, Iris domestica, is actually a summer-blooming iris.

Like scotch thistle, for me, blackberry lily has become an unmistakable sign that summer has arrived. It doesn’t have the inherent showiness of the spring irises but blackberry has significant charm in its own right. It blooms in July and August in much of the country but here in Georgia, blackberry lily is in full bloom by mid-June.

It is called blackberry lily because the mature seedpods split open to reveal seed clusters reminiscent of blackberries. Don’t eat it as blackberry lily is poisonous, although North Carolina State University reports low levels of toxicity.

When you first plant blackberry lily, you’ll have a small plant that grows only 18″ or so high. The burnt orange flowers have six spotted petals and are maybe an inch and a half across. Like daylilies, the flowers only last for a day, but the number of flower buds per plant is substantial.

Due to the small size of the flowers when compared to many other irises or lilies, the blooms are relatively low-key. Be patient because a clump a couple of years old will send those blooms three or four feet high and the mass of flowers will become a compelling display.

It will bloom the first year and has a reputation for being resistant to deer.

Blackberry lily is also called leopard lily.

Leopard lily is winter hardy zones 5 to 10. It is not really troubled by insects or disease, so it is an excellent choice for those who forego spraying chemicals in the garden.

Iris domestica has a reputation for being short-lived and I’ve experienced this in my own garden. Allow the flowers to complete their life cycle and blackberry may reseed and keep things going season to season. It is not an aggressive plant, so you do not have to worry about invasive behavior.

This flower detail shows why blackberry lily is also called leopard lily.

Giving a truer indication this is an iris are the leaves, which are sword-shaped and produced in a fan. The leaves are approximately 18″ long and light green. Blackberry lily can flop if a summer thunderstorm rolls through, but the plant will not be damaged and the flower stems will typically bend towards the sky and continue undaunted.

We had a large thunderstorm come through the night before I photographed these blackberry lilies.

None of us like flopped over plants. All over town the Annabelle hydrangeas and bee balm were hammered to the ground under the weight of the rain and wind. 24 hours later all of these species were back in fine form.

Plants have adapted to the climate where they are native and a thunderstorm or two matters more to us than to them. Resist the urge to stake most plants. Many species, blackberry lily included, look best in their natural form without spikes of iron or bamboo propping them up.

With all of the floppy plants strategically placing them where they can lean on lower-growing sturdy neighbors is a good idea.

The flowers wither in this unique way.

The genus/species name is Iris domestica. It used to be called Belamcanda chinensis, giving an indication the species is native to China. Interestingly, it was molecular DNA research that led to the re-classification of blackberry lily into the Iris genus. It was the sole inhabitant of the genus Belamcanda by the way.

It is also found in Russia and the Himalayas. For a long time, I thought blackberry lily was native to the United States. I’m not sure where I got this idea. Regardless, it fits into the garden well.

Plant leopard plant where it can rise above surrounding perennials. So often irises are planted by themselves in a lonely clump. I think the idea is to show the leaves off singularly. However the foliage is so striking, irises are used most effectively when mixed in with other perennials for juxtaposition.

Genus/speciesIris domestica – formerly Belamcanda chinensis
Common name(s)blackberry lily, leopard lily
Of notemust have well-drained soils, otherwise very easy to grow in full sun – full-grown plants get larger than many online resources let on – flower stems can reach 48″ in optimal conditions
Fall colorinsignificant
Water requirementsdrought tolerant, average
Soil qualitywell-drained, average
Suggested use(s)cottage gardens, mixed borders/perennial beds, naturalized, xeric gardens
Hardiness zone(s)5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
Typeherbaceous perennial
Deer resistantyes
Deciduous or evergreendeciduous
Flower colororange
Bloom periodsummer
Exposurefull sun, afternoon shade

One Comment

  1. Laurie Tesar

    Blackberry Lily is most definitely invasive in Northern New Jersey and southern New York state.

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