Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Plant profile: Crocosmia

Year 1: measly flower
Crocosmias are a small genus of plants related to the iris. They usually pop up in the spring, with lots of tall, spiky leaves, followed by the flowers. By summer here in dry San Francisco they'll have died back for the year. We have one cultivar, Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora "Lucifer" flowering right now though - it's probably confused! Check out the two clumps of fiery red spikes in the "red bed" at the top of the garden (and photo, left)

Latin name: Crocosmia spp. ("kro-KOZ-me-ah")
Common name: Montbretia
Originally from: The grasslands of Cape Floristic Region, South Africa.
Blooms: Yellow, orange to deep red flowers appear at the tips of long, arching spikes.
Light: Full sun to light shade.
Water: Drought tolerant, but does best with some water.
Where to find in P. Garden: Left bed, red bed, and right back bed.

Crocosmias were probably brought to the UK by Scottish plant collector James Niven in about 1812. He discovered them in Namaqualand, S. Africa, and on his second botanizing trip returned with plants for Empress Josephine Buonaparte of France. Fancy! English bulb expert William Herbert apparently went on to grow the corms (rooty, bulby things Crocosmias grow from) for 25 years before he finally got one to flower by throwing some manure on it in the autumn of 1836.

Year 2: prolific clump
It is this type of perseverance that makes me agog. I have been cursing that all I have is 2 measly clumps of flowers after a scant 6 months of willing my Crocosmias to grow, and this guy resisted the urge to throw his Crocosmias on the compost heap for 25 years! Although, reading between the lines I bet I know what really happened - one day in a fit of annoyance he dumped the compost heap on the Corocosmias. Presto magico - flowers.

There's a lesson in there somewhere. Something to do with poo.

We also have yellow Crocosmias in the left bed - "George Davidson" is the cultivar. It seems to be sulking due to lack of water in the left bed but we'll see what it comes up with this year.


  1. Hey guys - Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is not confused at all - it is flowering at the correct time. The top photo here is actually Chasmanthe floribunda, a closely related species (also from South Africa). Chasmanthes grow their leaves over the winter and flower in spring, going comepletely dormant in summer. Hence they are perfect for very low maintenance gardens. Crocosmias, which want to grow over the summer, flowering then and into the fall, require water during our dry months.

  2. Whaaaat? Scandal! I will have to look more closely at these interlopers!


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