"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Leopard Flower Variations

Leopard Flower Variations

From Bulbs and Tuberous-Rooted Plants: Their History, Description, Methods of Propagation and Complete Directions for their Successful Culture in the Garden, Dwelling and Greenhouse (1893) by C. L. Allen:

“Blackberry Lily or Leopard Flower: This handsome flower is not a lily, as its popular name implies, but belongs to the Iris family. Its [early] name, Pardanthus chinensis, is derived from pardos, leopard, and anthos, a flower — hence leopard flower; and chinensis means of China. The Chinese Leopard  Flower was formerly very common in gardens, but like many another deserving plant, has given way to the universal craze for novelties.

“The stem grows three or four feet high, branches at the top, where it bears regular flowers of an orange color, and abundantly dotted with crimson or reddish-purple spots. One great merit of the Leopard flower is that it is late flowering, being in bloom from midsummer to September….

“After the pretty flowers have faded, the capsules grow on and enlarge, and when quite ripe the walls of the capsules break away and curl up, leaving a central column of shining, black-coated seed, looking so much like a well developed, ripe blackberry, that the fruit, if not so handsome as the flower, is quite as interesting, and shows that in this instance it does not require any effort of the imagination to see the applicability of perhaps its most common name — the Blackberry Lily….

“The plant is now botanically known as Belamcanda chinensis.”

From Iris domestica on Wikipedia:

Iris domestica, commonly known as leopard lily, blackberry lily, and leopard flower, is an ornamental plant in the family Iridaceae. In 2005, based on molecular DNA sequence evidence, Belamcanda chinensis, the sole species in the genus Belamcanda, was transferred to the genus Iris and renamed Iris domestica.”


I went on a “safari” recently, hunting for tiger lilies at my favorite local nearby garden cemetery. I found several streaks of tiger lilies, many in full bloom and resting comfortably at the boundaries between sunny and shady sections of the garden. Those photos are currently being wrangled by my Post-Processing Department and will be out soon (though it’s hard to get a commitment from those people more precise than “soon”).

Whilst wandering around that hot and humid morning, I also stumpled across the delightful creatures featured in the galleries below: not tiger lilies, but leopard flowers. The leopard flower, as it turns out, is not a lily but is an iris officially known as Iris domestica — despite being also dubiously known as blackberry lily or leopard lily (and is distinct from a Lilium leopard lily, which looks a lot like a tiger lily). Ok, uh… no wonder it can be so difficult to keep plant names straight, when people do such things as randomly calling irises lilies. So substantial might be lily/iris confusion that Wikipedia has a separate page listing plants commonly called lilies that are, in real life, not lilies. See List of plants known as lily — where you might learn (at least, I did) that, among others, the plants and flowers colloquially referred to as “day lilies” are not even lilies… because they aren’t members of the Lilium genus. WTF!

Ah, well, I guess I got it sorted out: the plant originally known as “Pardanthus chinensis” was later given the botanical name “Belamcanda chinensis” — by which is was known for decades and decades — until its DNA was analyzed, its iris roots (haha!) confirmed, and it was slipped from its place as the single flower in a genus to being yet another Iridaceae. This is quite interesting, when you think about it, since — despite having leaves that resemble iris leaves once you know it’s an iris — it has a flower with few if any visible characteristics we would typically associate with irises. Plants are a hoot!


Thanks for taking a look!

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