Aristea

Aristea is a genus of evergreen rhizomatous perennials in the Iridaceae family found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Most are rarely grown although Aristea ecklonii is a common garden plant.


Aristea abyssinica is found from the Eastern Cape, South Africa to Tropical Africa where it grows in on rocky outcrops, in grassland, and marshy areas. It has narrow leaves clustered at the base and sky blue, violet, deep red, or pink flowers. Photo #1 taken by Cameron McMaster in the Eastern Cape. Photos #2 and 3 taken January 2010 by Mary Sue Ittner at Satansnek Pass. Photos 4 and 5 taken by Cameron McMaster and Bob Rutemoeller January 2010 at Naude's Nek.

Aristea abyssinica, Cameron McMasterAristea abyssinica, Satansnek, Mary Sue IttnerAristea abyssinica, Satansnek, Mary Sue IttnerAristea abyssinica, Naude's Nek, Cameron McMasterAristea abyssinica, Naude's Nek, Bob Rutemoeller

Aristea africana is an evergreen short plant with blue flowers and a style with three fringed lobes. It is found on sandy flats and mountain slopes in the winter rainfall area of South Africa. The first photo was taken by Mary Sue Ittner September 2006 near Bainskloof and the second was taken by Cameron McMaster near Napier in the Overberg. The 3rd and 4th photos were contributed by the UC Botanical Garden. The 5th and 6th photos were taken by Nhu Nguyen at the UC Botanical Garden showing growth habit and a closeup of a flower.

Aristea africana, Bainskloof, Mary Sue IttnerAristea africana, Cameron McMasterAristea africana, UC Botanical GardenAristea africana, UC Botanical GardenAristea africana, Nhu NguyenAristea africana, Nhu Nguyen

Seed from Silverhill in this microscope photo by M. Gastil-Buhl are dark brown, angular and about 1.5 mm x 2.5 mm with a dimpled texture.

Aristea africana, M. Gastil-Buhl

Aristea bakeri Klatt syn. Aristea confusa Goldblatt, syn. Aristea macrocarpa G.J.Lewis, syn. Aristea paniculata Baker is an evergreen rhizomatous plant found on stony sandstone slopes over a broad range from the northwestern, southwestern to the eastern Cape province of South Africa. It has linear to sword shaped fibrotic leaves (6-20 mm wide), rounded stems that are usually much branched, and spathes and bracts that are rust brown with transparent margins. It grows from 0.6-1.79 meters. Peter Goldblatt states it is not a great rebloomer. In the wild it needs fire to stimulate bloom.

The plant grown from Silverhill Seed that bloomed for the first and only time in Northern California in May-June 2004 pictured below in photos 1 and 2 by Mary Sue Ittner is a short plant with blue short-lived (not even all day) flowers, but many were produced. Photo 3 by M. Gastil-Buhl shows seed from Silverhill, cataloged as Aristea macrocarpa, a synonym for A. bakeri, on a 1 mm grid. The seed are D-shaped and flat with a frayed edge. Photo 4 by M. Gastil-Buhl shows Silverhill seed cataloged as Aristea confusa, another synonym of A. bakeri but with distinctively different seed.

Aristea bakeri, Mary Sue IttnerAristea bakeri, Mary Sue IttnerAristea macrocarpa, syn. A. bakeri seed, M. Gastil-BuhlAristea confusa, syn. A. bakeri, seed, M. Gastil-Buhl

Photos below from Mary Sue Ittner show the first blooming of a plant that bloomed for a very long time the spring of 2012 (probably from seed sown in either 2004 or 2005). The tag was misplaced, but Peter Goldblatt is of the opinion that it is this species. It is quite a tall plant unlike the one pictured above, but is growing where it gets much more light. Flowers were short lived, opening in the morning and closing later in the day, but most mornings for more than a month there was quite a display of new flowers.

Aristea sp, likely A. bakeri, Mary Sue IttnerAristea sp, likely A. bakeri, Mary Sue IttnerAristea sp, likely A. bakeri, Mary Sue IttnerAristea sp, likely A. bakeri, Mary Sue IttnerAristea sp, likely A. bakeri, Mary Sue Ittner

These seed pods and seeds are from the plants shown above grown by Mary Sue Ittner, photographed by M. Gastil-Buhl. Note that these seeds look a bit different from the ones photographed above that are also supposed to be this species, but look more like the ones cataloged as A. confusa which was the name given to seeds of this species Mary Sue grew.

Aristea sp, likely A. bakeri seed pods, M. Gastil-BuhlAristea sp, likely A. bakeri seeds, M. Gastil-Buhl

Aristea biflora is native to the southwest Cape of South Africa. It has large lilac to purple flowers with transparent to translucent bronze windows on the lower margins. These pictures were taken September 2003 near Caledon by Bob Rutemoeller.

Aristea biflora, Bob RutemoellerAristea biflora, Bob RutemoellerAristea biflora, Bob Rutemoeller

Aristea capitata syn. Aristea major is an evergreen rhizomatous species that grows up to 1.5 meters high. It is a very striking species with many blue flowers on the flowering spike. It occurs over a wide range of the Cape growing on mountain slopes and blooming spring to summer. The first photo was taken by Cameron McMaster in the southern Cape. The next pictures were taken by Mary Sue Ittner of plants growing in her northern California garden and blooming finally after many years. The first one shows the forming flowering stalk and other pictures show the flowers that opened for a short time over a long period. These flowers attract honey bees, as shown in the sixth photo by M. Gastil-Buhl of the first bloom from a plant obtained as a 4" seedling three years prior. The blooming period spanned several weeks in May.

Aristea capitata, Tsitsikamma, Cameron McMasterAristea capitata buds, Mary Sue IttnerAristea capitata, Mary Sue IttnerAristea capitata, Mary Sue IttnerAristea capitata, Mary Sue IttnerAristea capitata and honey bee, M. Gastil-Buhl

Aristea cantharophila grows on clay and granite slopes in fynbos or renosterveld in the southwest Cape. These pictures were taken near Paarl in September 2003 by Bob Rutemoeller. Flowers are lilac to cream with a dark center.

Aristea cantharophila, Bob RutemoellerAristea cantharophila, Bob RutemoellerAristea cantharophila, Bob Rutemoeller

Aristea ecklonii is a summer rainfall Aristea. It grows on forest margins, streambanks, grassland, scrub from the Eastern Cape to Tanzania. It has basal leaves in a fan and mauve-blue flowers. It flowers early in the morning and the flowers fade by afternoon, but it can bloom off and on throughout the year and the color of the flowers is quite striking. This species has a reputation for being weedy, even when grown in a Mediterranean climate. Ironically it grows and blooms much better than winter flowering species. Removing seedheads is important or you'll have a lot of seedlings in your garden. Photos by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner.

Aristea ecklonii, Bob RutemoellerAristea ecklonii, Mary Sue IttnerAristea ecklonii, Mary Sue Ittner

Aristea lugens grows on low granitic hills in renosterveld in the southwest Cape, South Africa. Plants are evergreen and rhizomatous with striking pale blue to white flowers with dark blue-black outer tepals. Photos taken near Brackenfell August 2006 by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner in an area that had burned earlier.

Aristea lugens, Brackenfell, Bob RutemoellerAristea lugens, back, Brackenfell, Bob RutemoellerAristea lugens, Brackenfell, Mary Sue IttnerAristea lugens, Brackenfell, Mary Sue Ittner

Aristea oligocephala is found on sandstone slopes from the Hottentots Holland Mountains to Bredasdorp (South Africa.) Flowers are blue and the style has three fringed lobes. Photo taken near Napier in the Overberg by Cameron McMaster.

Aristea oligocephala, Napier, Cameron McMaster

Aristea rigidifolia grows on sandy flats in the southwest Cape. It is an evergreen rhizomatous plant that grows to 1.5 m. Plants have rounded stems with short branches, blue flowers with a minutely three-notched style and rusty ovate spathes and bracts. Capsules are three-winged. This species is rare.


Aristea schizolaena is an evergreen rhizomatous species that grows in coastal grassland in the southeastern regions of the Cape. It grows to 80 cm high and has blue flowers. Photos by Cameron McMaster taken in the Eastern Cape.

Aristea schizolaena, Waainek, Cameron McMasterAristea schizolaena, Waainek, Cameron McMasterAristea schizolaena,  Cameron McMasterAristea schizolaena, Morgan Bay, Cameron McMaster

Aristea spiralis is found growing on rocky sandstone and granite slopes from the Cape peninsula to Knysna (South Africa.) Flowers face to the side and are white or pale blue. The first two photos were taken by Bob Rutemoeller near Paarl September 2003 and the last picture was taken by Cameron McMaster near Fairfield in the Overberg.

Aristea spiralis, Bob RutemoellerAristea spiralis, Bob RutemoellerAristea spiralis, Fairfield, Cameron McMaster

Photos below were taken by Mary Sue Ittner. The first two photos of the leaves and flowers show a plant blooming for the first time in her California garden. For many years later she never saw another flower, although the flowers only last a day and she could have missed them. In 2015 she discovered the plant blooming a number of days over several months. After the flowers bloom, the spent flower coils and later seed pods are formed.

Aristea spiralis, Mary Sue IttnerAristea spiralis, Mary Sue IttnerAristea spiralis, Mary Sue IttnerAristea spiralis, Mary Sue IttnerAristea spiralis, Mary Sue IttnerAristea spiralis, Mary Sue Ittner

Aristea teretifolia grows in the southwest Cape on low clay hills in renosterveld. Flowers are large, lilac to cream. Tepals are unequal; the inner has a large dark mark toward the base. The first picture was taken September 2003 near Boskloof by Bob Rutemoeller and the second one near Napier in the Overberg by Cameron McMaster.

Aristea teretifolia, Boskloof, Bob RutemoellerAristea teretifolia, Napier, Cameron McMaster

Return to the PBS wiki Photographs And Information page
Page last modified on June 26, 2015, at 01:52 PM