Tigridia is a tender annual with a delicate three-lobed flower. Native to Mexico, the flowers are monocots of the family Iradaceae; they form from bulbs or corms.The family indicates that they are close relatives of the iris. There are around 35 species of the plant, most being semitropical to semi-alpine. All species come in many colors and are short-lived blooms, often just in bloom for one day.
Tigridia is native to Central and South America, and there is evidence that the plants were cultivated by Aztecs around 1,000 years ago. Mexican tribes have roasted and eaten its corms for centuries, which taste a bit like chestnuts. The plant was relatively unknown to Europeans, until its arrival in 1796. Aztecs called the plant cacomitl, and the flower was called oceloxochitl.
Tigridia has a bush-like habit and the characteristic three-lobed leaves. In the wild, Tigridia will grow at between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, which makes them hardy to zone 7. They will grow to a height of twelve to fourteen inches, and they should not be planted too closely together. Tigridia plants will naturalize in mild climates, where they can be left outside. An interesting feature of the flower is that its stamens join at a central column and then fan out, like three antlers above the corolla. The delicate mottling inside the petals has earned it the nickname Mexican Shellflower, and it will flower continuously throughout the season, in spite of the fact that individual blooms only last a day. The blooms will open in the morning and close by dusk, never to be seen again as a whole. A new flower will bloom the next day.
Planting and Sowing
The seeds of Tigridia are quite large and may require soaking at first. Sow indoors under a bell cap or in a propagator. Alternatively, they can be started in a seed tray, which has a lid to preserve moisture. When seedlings are about two to three inches high, they can be moved to larger pots and put in a cold frame to harden. The plants can remain until May, when they should be transplanted into the garden soil. The plants need heat and well-drained soil, so a rockery or raised bed suits them well. Plant them at least eight inches apart; keep them well-watered until established.
Two species of Tigridia are most commonly grown in the western hemisphere. Tigridia Juss is called Peacock Flower; it blooms in Summer, around July and August. Tigridia pavonia is often called a tiger flower, due to the striping in the center. Tigridia Conchiflorum is a yellow variety and commonly cultivated. Tigridia August is a small spring flowering plant, while Tigridia ehrenbergii is a tall flower that is found in dry tropical areas. There are over thirty five species of Tidgridia, most of which are only suitable to the lower western hemisphere.
Because the plants are so tender, they will not overwinter well, except in semi-tropical climates. The plant is very sensitive to cold and should be moved indoors if temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The bulbs should go into sand or peat moss to keep them from molding and stored in a cool area like a basement. Plant out in springtime, usually at the beginning of May, or when there is no danger of frost and soil has warmed. In very mild climates the plants can become invasive, spreading by corms and becoming a nuisance to other plants. Pull or dig out corms frequently to prevent them from taking over the garden.