Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Walking Iris in Bloom

Neomarica caerulea open flower from the side 052615 640


This tropical species of iris "walks" because its slender flower stems also produce comparatively heavy plantlets, whose always-increasing weight promptly arches the stems down towards the ground. They then take root—and, as soon as they can flower, enable the colony to "walk" another step or two. Clever and functional, yes—but what about the flowers? In my experience, the stems are already fully bent over by the time they emerge. Wouldn't the blossoms then be opening downward, into the soil?


Conveniently, each flower's peduncle bends outward as the bud emerges.


Neomarica caerulea bud still to orient open 052615 640


And then—just before the bloom opens—upward. 


Neomarica caerulea open flower with dirty fingers 052615 640


Flowers of walking iris may be carried barely above the level of the base of the colony—or, if the plant is grown in a container placed high up on a stand, far below it. Whatever their elevation, the flowers still face skyward. And what a densely-detailed show they provide. As is typical of irises, the structure of the flowers is complex. Three outer sepals are held fairly flat, as with this species, or reflex dramatically downward, as with classic bearded iris; they are known as "falls." The three true petals thrust upward, with voluptuous curves along the way. They are the "standards."


The scrolled upper portion of the standards of this species of walking iris, Neomarica northiana, are a stunning blue. 


Neomarica caerulea open flower close up 052615 640


The falls of the flowers of the more-often seen species Neomarica caerulea are solidly blue in the same shade—cerulean blue, below—which provide this species with its "caerulea" Latin name.


Cerulean Blue 640


The bases of both the falls and the standards of Neomarica northiana continue the theme of zebra-like patterning, but instead of cerulean blue over purest white, it's oxblood over pale yellow. At the center, the bright white tripart structure contains the anthers at the sides; they flaunt pollen that's icy blue. The pointed white tips are the pistils.


Neomarica caerulea open flower close up closer 052615 640


When I first profiled this plant, I hadn't yet been able to see any of its flowers first-hand. They open in the morning and are closed in late afternoon; if you're not in your garden for a full workday, you'd miss them, too. My plant was given to me as Neomarica caerulea but, now that I've confirmed the details of its flowers, it really is Neomarica northiana, whose falls are white, and whose oxblood pigment is underlaid with pale yellow. 


Here's how to grow "Neomarica caerulea"—actually, Neomarica northiana—as well as a look at how dramatic its cascading flower stems can be when the plant is grown in a container placed on a tall plinth. The two species enjoy the same culture and handling. I'll correct the full post in the link as Neomarica northiana next. 

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