Belamcanda chinensis BlackBerry lily

Blackberry lily or leopard lily in bloom.

Blackberry lily, also referred to as leopard lily and several other common names, is a short-lived perennial native to eastern Russia, China and Japan. The dried rhizome has long been used medicinally in Eastern Asia for a variety of ailments.

This plant is not a true lily, but is a member of the iris family (Iridaceae) with the name Belamcanda chinensis. However, recent evidence suggests it is more closely related to Iris, and should actually be placed in the genus Iris. Because of taxonomic priorities, the name I. chinensis is already taken, and the new name of I. domestica was proposed in 2005 (see box to the right for a detailed explanation), but the old name is still in general use. Forms with pure yellow flowers are sometimes listed as another species, B. flabellate, but there is only one recognized species in the (former) genus Belamcanda. Despite the fact that some reputable references suggest it is hardy only in zones 8-10, it survives and flowers reliably in zone 4.

A New Name for Blackberry Lily

As a result of DNA sequence evidence, Peter Goldblatt and David Mabberley proposed a new name for this species in 2005, published in the journal Novon 15: 128: Iris domestica.

“The eastern Asian genus Belamcanda (Iridaceae: Irideae), with its sole species, B. chinensis, the leopard or blackberry lily, has long been understood to be most closely related to Iris dichotoma (syn. Pardanthopsis dichotoma), but has nevertheless been maintained as a separate genus because of its distinctive floral, fruit, and seed morphology. Molecular DNA sequence evidence shows B. chinensis and its sister species, I. dichotoma, to be nested within the large Northern Hemisphere genus Iris (ca. 280 spp.). Not only does consistent taxonomic treatment of genera of the Iridaceae require that Belamcanda be transferred to Iris, but we argue that taxonomy should follow the principle of monophyly, which requires that Belamcanda and any other genus nested in Iris be treated as members of that genus. A new combination, I. domestica (basionym Epidendrum domesticum), is made for B. chinensis (based on Ixia chinensis), because the name Iris chinensis is preoccupied. The names Belamcanda pampaninii Léveillé and B. chinensis var. taiwanensis S. S. Ying are here included in the synonymy of I. domestica.”

The flowers are typically bright orange with darker spots

Regardless of its correct botanical name, this plant is very similar in appearance to an iris plant, with flat, sword-like leaves arranged in a fan on a small tuberous rhizome. The foliage grows to 18” tall and the plants produce many offsets. The flowers, however, are very different in appearance from typical iris flowers. They are borne on 2-3 foot tall slender stems in loose, branched spikes. The tall flower stems sometimes flop or are blown over in strong winds, so they may benefit from staking. The flowers are 2” wide with 6 flaring petals of equal size. Flower color in the species ranges from yellow to orange, with darker (often crimson) speckles on the petals. Individual blooms are short-lived – generally lasting only a day – but the plants produce a succession of flowers over a period of several weeks in summer.

The flowers are followed by pear-shaped seed capsules that fade from green to tan. These eventually open to reveal the round, shiny black seeds arranged in clusters resembling large blackberries that give rise to the common name. The seeds remain on the stalks for several months. When left standing, the seed heads offer good winter interest, especially when viewed against a backdrop of snow. The seed heads are also a unique addition to dried flower arrangements.

The flowers are followed by numerous seedpods, which open up to reveal the black seed clusters resembling blackberries that give rise to the common name of blackberry lily.

Grow blackberry lily in full sun or light shade. It prefers well-drained, moderately fertile loamy soil, but does just fine in sandy or clay soils. It will be shorter when grown in poor, dry soil, and taller if the soil is rich and moist. Deadhead to prolong blooming (and prevent self-seeding). Even in colder climates it does not need winter protection.

The flowers and the seed heads are interesting, but not particularly showy so this species is best planted in a location where they can be appreciated up close. Before the plants begin flowering they are not especially eye-catching, so you may wish to mix it with other plants that can attract attention until the blackberry lily begins flowering. It is suitable for perennial borders, in containers, and for naturalizing in an informal area.

A blackberry lily seedling.

This perennial plant is easily grown from seed, and will flower the first season if started early enough. Sow the seed ¼” deep in warm soil (indoors in pots 6-8 weeks before planting outside or in the garden after the danger of frost has passed). Keep the seedbed evenly moist and germination should occur in 1-2 weeks. Seedlings are easily transplanted. This species can also be propagated by division in spring or early autumn.

The cultivar ‘Hello Yellow’

Blackberry lily will also self-sow enough to be considered invasive, particularly in eastern North America where it has naturalized in some locations. In Wisconsin the only place it has spread is on dry prairies, so do not to plant it near prairie remnants. The seedlings are easy to identify and are not difficult to remove, so it can be managed without much difficulty. Remove the flower stalks before the seed pods mature if you wish to eliminate reseeding (and are not counting on the ornamental interest of the opened seed pods).

The species is generally available only as seed, but sometimes plants are offered for sale. There is only one cultivar generally available. ‘Hello Yellow’ is a yellow flowered selection with a neat, compact habit. It grows 18-24” tall and is relatively slow growing.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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Caring Of Belamcanda Blackberry Lilies: How To Grow A Blackberry Lily Plant

Growing blackberry lilies in the home garden is an easy way to add summer color. Grown from bulbs, the blackberry lily plant provides flowers with a showy, yet delicate appearance. Their background is a pale orange or a yellow color on the ‘flabellata.’ Petals are mottled with spots, giving them the sometimes common name of leopard flower or leopard lily.

The blackberry lily plant is also commonly named, not for the flowers, but for clusters of black fruit that grow after flowering, similar to a blackberry. Flowers of the blackberry lily plant are star-shaped, with six petals and are about 2 inches across.

Blackberry Lily Plant

Blackberry lily plant, Belamcanda chinensis, is the most commonly grown plant of the species, the only one cultivated. Belamcanda blackberry lilies are of the Iris family, and were recently renamed ‘Iris domestica.’

Flowers of Belamcanda blackberry lilies last just a day, but during the bloom season there are always more to replace them. Blooms are followed by a dry cluster of black fruits in autumn. Foliage is similar to the iris, reaching 1 to 3 feet tall.

Blooms of growing blackberry lilies close at night in a twisting form. Ease of blackberry lily care and the beauty of the blooms make them a popular garden specimen for those who are familiar with them. Some U.S. gardeners don’t yet know about growing blackberry lilies, although Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello.

How to Grow a Blackberry Lily

Growing blackberry lilies begins with planting the bulbs (actually tubers). The blackberry lily plant can be planted at any time the ground is not frozen, in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 10a.

When learning how to grow a blackberry lily, plant in a sunny to lightly shaded area with well draining soil. The yellow flowering type, Belamcanda flabellata, needs more shade and more water. Rich soil is not a requirement for this plant.

Blackberry lily care is not complicated. Keep the soil moist. Try growing blackberry lilies with Asiatic and Oriental lilies, such as ‘Cancun’ and ‘Stargazer.’ Or plant them in mass for a sea of the delicate, mottled blooms.

Blackberry Lily (Iris domestica)

Description of Blackberry Lily (Iris domestica).
A tough perennial hardy to zone 5 with leaves more like an iris than a lily. Leaves are linear sword shaped leaves with parallel veins and are green to grey blue in color. They have smooth margins and are usually between 1′ – 3′ long most often grouped in a fan shape. From the center arises a stout pale green flower stalk that can be either branched or unbranched and rise 2′ – 3 ½’ in height. The stalk terminates in a group (cyme) of flowers. Each flower is about 2″ across consisting of 6 elliptic oblong petals spread out like a wide star with three long yellow stamens in the center. The petals are orange with purple or dark red dots arranged in rough parallel rows across the petal. Flowers are produced continuously from the grooping with flowering beginning in mid to late summer and lasting about 1-2 months. Flowers are followed by oblongish shaped seed capsules which turn from green to straw colored when ripe and open to reveal a mass of shining black seeds that resemble a blackberry. Roots are bright yellow rhizomes with many fibrous roots.

HOW TO GROW Blackberry Lily (Iris domestica).

Location and Care
An easy plant to grow and care for. It prefers full sun but can take partial shade. Its not really fussy about the soil type and is happy on sandy, loamy or even rocky soil as long as it is well drained. While it can do well in moist conditions it cannot tolerate waterlogged soils, it is also tolerant of semi dry conditions and does very well in meadow and prairie settings. Does not need to be watered much unless there are long spells without rain. Plants will be larger in richer soils with more water than in poor conditions but they are survivors. Its mostly a plant and forget sort of plant. It is hardy to zone 5 and while it is a fairly short lived perennial its life can be extended by mulching in colder zones to help protect the roots.
Suggested spacing is 12″-18″. Clumps will slowly expand by creeping rhizomes. In optimum conditions it may self seed and form larger clumps, deadhead to prevent seeding and encourage more blooms. .
Flowers can be fairly small and plant does not attract much eye attention until a reasonable size with many blooms. Consider this when choosing a location for the plant as you may want to blend it with other plants that will accentuate the flowers and show them off to their best. The sword shaped leaves make a wonderful addition to any garden adding drama amongst more delicate leaves like Astilbes or fern-like foliage. Like most iris type plants the foliage is rarely bothered by disease or insect pests.

Blackberry lilies are particularly fond of dry prairie like conditions. In some prairie states this plant has escaped and naturalized into the prairies where it can be considered invasive. We recommend that you do not plant blackberry lilies near prairie remnants to prevent accidental invasion of native ecology.

Growing Blackberry Lily (Iris domestica) from seed
Germination of seeds can be slow and erratic. In most cases seeds need a period of cold before they can germinate. Many sources recommend stratification before sowing. We have found that keeping the seeds cold for a period of time before sowing will produce germination in most of the seeds. All of our seeds have been refrigerated before shipping. However since germination is erratic we recommend sowing inside so more control can be maintained over the seeds. Sowing indoors also provides for larger plants that may flower in the first year since they have had more time to grow. Seeds can however be planted directly if desired.

Sowing outside. Seeds can be sown in the fall for spring germination or early spring either when the ground is first workable or after frost has passed. Cover seed to about ¼” and water well until seedling are large enough to combat any small weeds alone. Since germination can be erratic weeds need to be removed from the area for a prolonged period of time. Seeds sown the previous winter may flower the first year, but spring sown seed mostly do not.

Sowing inside. Plant seeds in small individual pots or large cell seed tray in mid to late winter. Germination can be erratic so the ability to move plants individually without disturbing smaller or as yet ungerminated plants is best. Grow in pots until seedlings have at least two leaves about two inches long. Place outside to harden off before planting out in desired location. For details on seeding see our general growing instructions.

Medical Uses of Blackberry Lily (Iris domestica).
Blackberry lily rhizomes have long been used in Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, most commonly sore throat, tonsillitis, bronchitis, malaria, cough, asthma, mastitis, acute hepatitis and gonorrhea. Its compounds strongly inhibit common pathogenic fungi, as well as some viruses, such as adenovirus and ECHO11 in cold and throat disorders. It has anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and analgesic effects as well as producing a significant diuretic effect. From the Chinese medicine perspective it clears heat, removing toxicity, reducing swelling and relieving coughs especially if accompanied by heavy phlegm. Recent studies have shown possibilities for use in treatment of certain cancers of the prostate and lung.

Other Uses
The seed branches can be used to great effect in dried flower arrangements.

What is blackberry lily?
Well its not a blackberry and its not really a lily either. Its actually more of an iris. The leaves are very iris like, while the flowers do look more like a lily and the fruits do resemble blackberries albeit rather large ones. This is a unique plant with no other close relatives and is the sole species of the genus Belamcanda. The flowers although they look like lilies have only three stamens while lilies have 6. For some considerable while it has been a dilemma for botanists. Recent DNA sequencing has finally determined that this plant is far more Iris than lily thus it has been moved from its original family to the iris family and given a new nameIris domestica. This name was chosen since Iris chinensis had already been taken. While accepted by many gardeners and botanists the plant is still referred to by its original name by many who are used to the older name.

Other Names
leopard lily, leopard flower, Freckle Face, Belamcanda Lily, Belamcanda Rhizome, Rhizoma Belamcandae, Shegan,

More Information About Belamcanda

The genus Belamcanda is in the iris family and contains a single species, Belamcanda chinensis. Recent genetic work has caused some taxonomists to move Belamcanda chinensis into the Iris genus (I. domestica), but we are holding off on the move for now. The sword-shaped upright leaves of belamcanda are topped in midsummer by clusters of 2in wide, typically orange or yellow, red-spotted flowers. Belamcanda flowers are followed by clusters of small, long-lasting black berries that look like a single blackberry fruit.

Belamcanda is easy to grow in a wide variety of environments, but prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Belamcanda is somewhat drought-tolerant once established, needing attention only during extended droughts. Belamcanda will form clumps that can be periodically divided and given to friends. It will also re-seed itself occasionally if given the chance. Try combining Belamcanda with dahlias, kniphofias, and echinaceas in a colorful mixed perennial border. When you are ready to buy belamcanda for your perennial garden, check out our on-line offering of belamcanda for sale.

Blackberry Lily Seeds – Belamcanda Chinensis Flower Seed

Flower Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 5 – 9

Height: 24 inches

Bloom Season: Summer and fall

Bloom Color: Orange

Environment: Full sun

Soil Type: Well-drained, pH 5.8 – 7.2

Planting Directions

Temperature: 70F

Average Germ Time: 28 – 56 days

Light Required: Yes

Depth: 1/4 inch

Sowing Rate: 1 – 2 seeds per plant

Moisture: Keep moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 24 inches

Care & Maintenance: Blackberry Lily

Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda Chinensis Freckle Face) – Blackberry Lily flower seed produces an unique eye-catching flower for the garden. The flower has red to black freckled orange blossoms 2 inches in diameter. This perennial is hardy, only requiring a moderate amount of water so it does well in drier, hotter climates. After the Belamcanda Lily has bloomed, shiny black seed clusters that resemble blackberries appear. Blackberry Lily Freckle Face makes a great cut flower and it dries nicely too. The flower seed clusters also go well in fall arrangements.

To start the Belamcanda Chinensis seed, sow them directly in the garden about 1/4 inch deep in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Or you can start indoors 4 – 6 weeks before last frost. Transplant after danger of frost when two true leaves have appeared. If you have existing Blackberry Lily Freckle Face plants, the tubers from mature plants transplant easily. Flowers will normally appear the second year after planting, but if the flower seed is planted early enough, flowers will appear the first year.

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