August 2016 Plant Profile: Dierama pulcherrimum

Dierama pulcherrimum photoDierama pulcherrimum is one of the more striking members of the iris family in flower, which is saying something.  It flowers over a long period from late June to mid-August, along stems that elongate and arch above the basal foliage.  Flowers open in sequence along the wiry stems, from furthest out from the clump to closest in as the season progresses.  The funnel shaped flowers move gently in the breeze and are especially striking when sited above a low wall.  From a distance they almost seem to float, as the flowering stalks are very thin.

Angel’s fishing rod is an evergreen clump-forming perennial arising from a corm.  Flower color is typically a rosy pink, though can range from white to reddish purple.  There are numerous named forms.  ‘Blackbird’ has an especially dark flower.

Dierama pulcherrimum prefers well-draining though somewhat moisture retentive soil.  In our climate, it does best with occasional summer water.  Full sun is best for flowering effect.  Overall it is a tough, easily grown perennial, and is tolerant of wind as well as coastal conditions.  Seed heads in papery sheaths follow the flowers and are attractive in their own right.  Plants sometimes seed around in gravel pathways or between stepping stones, but are easily removed if desired.  They are excellent companions with ornamental grasses and in more naturalistic perennial borders.  Plantings are effective singly or in masses.

Dierama don’t like being in containers for too long, and once established generally resent being moved.  Divisions can be taken when the clump gets too dense, and is best done in spring.  They may take a couple of years to settle in after moving.  The large, 30 year old plant at the Center for Urban Horticulture was moved to a sunnier spot about 5 years ago, and after resting for a couple of years is now more floriferous than ever.  This year the blooming stalks extended over 8’ wide around the clump!  This and our specimen of ‘Blackbird’ are blooming as well as they ever have this year.
Dierama pulcherrimum photo
We recently planted another species on the west side of Miller Library in Merrill Hall, Dierama pendulumDierama igneum is a smaller growing species suitable for urban gardens, reaching only 2-3’ high in flower.  Dierama can be obtained as seed and is offered by several local specialty nurseries.  It is worth seeking out.  We grew ‘Blackbird’ from seed obtained from the Cruickshank Botanic Garden at the University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Dierama pulcherrimum was introduced to western horticulture in 1866 by botanist James Backhouse.  “Dierama” is derived from the Greek word for “funnel”, which refers to the shape of the flower.
Dierama 'Blackbird' photo
Common name:  Angel’s fishing rod, fairy wand flower

Family:  Iridaceae

Location:  A large example (Accession 108-86-A) is found the Stormwater Garden/McVay Staircase planting area at the Center for Urban Horticulture on the east side of Merrill Hall.  The cultivar ‘Blackbird’ (252-90-A) is found adjacent to the north patio at the Graham Visitors Center in the Arboretum.

Origin:  South Africa.  There are about 44 species of Dierama, all native to Africa.  They range from the highlands of Ethiopia to the southern Cape in South Africa.  The center of Dierama diversity is the KwaZulu-Natal province in the southeast corner of South Africa where about 26 species occur.  Dierama pulcherrimum is one of several species hardy in Pacific Northwest gardens.

Height and spread:  A large perennial in time, though airy in effect and appearance, Dierama pulcherrimum can reach 4-5’ high and wide in flower.  Out of flower it forms a clump up to 2” wide and about 2’ tall.

Hardiness:  Cold hardy to USDA Zone 7