The lovely soft looking flowers that don’t last long on the plant make it surprising that wild irises of the Dietes genus are in fact incredibly hardy, to the extent that they are a familiar sight in mass plantings in urbanised places such as business parks and shopping malls.

The yellow wild iris (top left in the photo above) and the large wild iris (top right) are the best known, and we have a third species in our garden, the forest wild iris (at bottom in the photo above).

The large wild iris or fairy iris (Dietes grandiflora), in keeping with its natural habitat along forest margins, does well in our garden in sun or semi-shade, perhaps flowering best in full sunshine. In the summer, particularly after rain, the plants are often shimmering with flowers. In its natural habitat it occurs in the the coastal areas of the Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal growing in forest margins as well as on exposed slopes facing the sea when partially sheltered by larger shrubs.

The complexity of the flower can be challenging to photograph, but in silhouette the central violet cluster really stands out above the yellow nectar guides on the white petals. The flowers attract honey bees and other pollinators.

Although individual flowers only last a few days, in peak flowering season a succession of flowers makes for a good display over time. The SANBI website’s description of the flower notes that the name ‘fairy iris’ refers not only to the white petals resembling fairy wings, but to the fact that the flowers may disappear mysteriously overnight (

The slender, pointed leaves of the large wild iris may reach a length of about a metre (about 3 feet) and are evergreen, with the plants withstanding dry winter conditions and being frost hardy.

Clumps of Dietes grandiflora, with some of the clumps in flower, help screen a fence between us and our neighbours. Clumps can be dug up and divided as plants multiply easily from their root stems (rhizomes).

The plants are well suited to planting near a pond or other water feature.

Nestling next to an open flower is the still green and developing seed capsule of an earlier flower on the same stem. The seed capsules slowly dry on the plant, turning to brown.

This seed capsule is splitting open to release the seeds within. The Dietes grandiflora self-seeds quite readily and I often find tiny plants growing near to the parent clump. These seedlings can easily be transplanted to other spots in the garden.

As they continue drying the seed capsules open attractively to an almost flower-like shape. The pods can be used in flower arrangements, unlike the flowers themselves that are too ephemeral to be picked for the vase.

It was only while going through a collection of photos I had taken of wild irises that I noticed a cryptically coloured grasshopper well camouflaged in an open dry seed capsule.

There are six species in the Dietes genus, five of which occur in the eastern regions of South Africa. These species are endemic to southern Africa, but some have been exported to other countries and in some regions they have naturalized and unfortunately become invasive, as in parts of Australia for example.

Dietes belong to the Iridaceae family. They used to be classed as Moraea, but were reclassified on account of them having rhizomes rather than corms as in Moraea species. The name Dietes reflects the fact that this genus is associated with two relatives in the Iridaceae family. Derived from Greek word dis, which means twice, and etes, meaning an associate, the Dietes genus is associated with the Moreae and Iris genera (

I think that in this photo the Dietes grandiflora looks particularly iris-like. The grandiflora part of its name means large-flowered.

The photos in this post I selected from my collection of wild iris photos taken in the garden over the past few years. I end with a photo of our cat Nougat who came to see what I was up to when photographing wild irises in the cats’ garden. I kind of like the rather random composition.

I had intended to include all three wild irises in this post, but I have decided instead to postpone until next week talking about the yellow wild iris and the less well-known forest wild iris.

Posted by Carol