Wild Iris, Wilde-Iris, Isiqungasehlati - Dietes

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alt Dietes grandiflora. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaDietes grandiflora. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.za
Dietes belong to the Iris family and there are six species, five of which occur only in the eastern parts of South Africa, and one which can only be found on Lord Howe Island between Australia and New Zealand.

Dietes are easy-to-grow evergreen perennial plants which spread by underground rhizomes, forming large clumps +-1.5m wide. The 1m long rigid, sword-shaped leaves are dark green and the large Iris-like flowers are borne in profusion. They can be white or yellow, and are held on the ends of long flower stalks. Blooms can appear anytime in spring and summer - often after good rains - attracting bees, butterflies and many other pollinators to your garden. The insects will in turn attract many insect-eating birds. The fruit is a large capsule which splits open to release shiny, dark brown seeds.Due to their reliability and hardiness Dietes have become popular landscaping plants. They are low maintenance, water-wise, and are usually disease-free, making them great for busy gardeners. Because of their long flowering season Dietes are perfect to plant as a groundcover in large garden beds or under trees. Although the wild iris does not flower well in very shady conditions, it is nevertheless one of the few plants that can satisfactorily grow under trees in spite of tree root competition. Give them a good start by incorporating plenty of compost into the beds and water regularly until the plants are well established. Because they grow quickly Dietes are ideal to use in areas that need to be established quickly, and are perfect to stabilise the soil on slopes.

In small gardens individual plants can be used as accents in mixed borders, or in pairs at either side of a bench, the entrance to a garden pathway, or at the top of a flight of stairs. They also grow beautifully in wetland gardens and alongside water features and ponds. Plant them in the wetland bird garden or in the exclusion bird garden. Dietes grow easily in pots, but remember that they spread quickly and will therefore need a reasonably large container.

Dietes bicolor. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaDietes bicolor. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaThese versatile plants will grow in full sun or semi-shade and can be grown in moist boggy soils as well as dry well-drained ones. In very hot inland gardens they will appreciate some light shade, especially during the hottest part of the day. Dietes can withstand moderate frost as long as it is not for an extended period of time. Frost damaged plants can be cut right back in early spring and should shoot again. Once Established  Dietes are very drought tolerant but respond well to moderate watering during extended dry spells. They grow easily in poor soil and are adaptable to most garden soils, even clay; but perform best when planted in well-composted, slightly acid soil. Fertilise in spring with a balanced general fertiliser.

(Dietes grandiflora) Large Wild Iris, Groot Wilde-Iris, Isiqungasehlati The large wild iris grows wild along the eastern coastal areas of the southern Cape, Eastern Cape and southern Kwazulu-Natal where it can be found growing at forest margins, and on exposed slopes facing the sea, under the protection of taller shrubs. The large white blooms are marked with yellow and violet. In coastal gardens plant it where it is sheltered from very strong winds, and in inland gardens plant it where it receives good sunshine and keep it well watered during the summer months.

Dietes irridoides. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaDietes irridoides. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.za(Dietes 'Bicolor') Yellow Wild Iris, Peacock Flower, Uintjie, Poublom The yellow wild iris has slightly smaller flowers than Dietes grandiflora. The flowers are light yellow with three dark purple spots, each surrounded by an orange outline. The leaves are narrower than those of Dietes grandiflora and Dietes iridioides, and tend to arch more. It occurs naturally in the Bathurst region of the Eastern Cape; where it thrives in damp locations and can be found growing in large clumps next to streams and in marshy places. Although it likes moist situations it is also remarkably drought hardy. This species tolerates mild frost and grows best in full sun, except in hot inland gardens where partial shade is best.

(Dietes iridioides) Wood Iris, indawo-yehlathi, isiqiki-sikatokoloshe, isishuphe somfula This lovely Dietes is widely distributed from the Eastern Cape through to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, where it can be found growing naturally in evergreen forests or open clearings in the bush. It is not often seen in gardens and this is a great pity, because it is a wonderful garden subject with all the good qualities of the other Dietes species. It is very similar looking to Dietes grandiflora but the leaves are broader and the plant is shorter, growing +-50cm tall. The flowers are also marked with yellow and violet but are smaller than the large wild iris.

Propagation is best by division of the established clumps in early spring, just before active growth begins.

Additional Info

  • Common Name: Wild Iris, Wilde-Iris, Isiqungasehlati
  • Latin Name: Dietes