Freesia is a genus in the Iridaceae of about 14 species from southern Africa, mostly from the winter rainfall region of South Africa. Two species, Freesia grandiflora and Freesia laxa, are summer rainfall species. An important resource for this genus is the 2010 monograph by Manning and Goldblatt. This genus has a long history of cultivation in Europe and is one of the more horticulturally important genera in the family with its colorful fragrant flowers popular as cut flowers. There are many cultivars that have been derived from repeated crosses of two species. Some of these may be virused and therefore not long lived garden plants. A photo from Janos Agoston illustrates a virused cultivar.
Freesia alba (G.L.Mey.) Gumbl., syn. Freesia picta, is a very fragrant mainly coastal species from the winter rainfall regions growing in sandy or stony soil. Growing from 20 to 50 cm, this species has inclined or suberect leaves and white to cream colored flowers with dull purple on the tepal reverse. Usually the lower median tepal is marked with yellow or orange. It flowers late July to early October. This species is now considered by Manning and Goldblatt to be a subspecies of Freesia leichtlinii. It has naturalized in coastal Northern California gardens, but may not be reliably hardy elsewhere. Photos by Mary Sue Ittner of flowers that have naturalized in her garden, growing both in sun and shade. There is also a picture of a flower with extra petals, one showing the purple backs, and the seeds next to the capsule (on a 1 cm grid).
The sport Freesia alba 'Burtonii' arose in New Zealand and is very widely grown there. The flowers are creamy yellow and lack the purple flush in the top petal. This is a photo of a naturalised clump in a garden in Whakatane, NZ, taken on 11th September 05. Photo by Peter Richardson.
Freesia andersoniae L.Bolus is the only gullet-flowered species that occurs out of the winter rainfall area of South Africa. It is scattered across the central interior of South Africa and is typically restricted to the lower southern slopes of the dolerite and dolomite outcrops, wedged among rocks where there is protection from predators and cooler root temperatures and more moisture. Corms sprout with summer or fall rainfall, but flowering does not occur until spring, August to October but sometimes as early as May. This species is reported to be frost hardy. Growing 10 to 25 cm high, this species has 10 to 14 inclined to suberect leaves and 2 to 5 flowers in a spike, Flowers are 5 to 6 cm long, white to cream colored with the base of the lowermost tepal and inner edges of lower lateral tepals flushed orange. All three lower tepals have a dark brownish midline with purple chevrons in the tepal sinuses. Flowers are strongly lily scented, even at night which suggests they may be moth pollinated. It is similar to Freesia speciosa but has longer and narrower, acute leaves and the internally marked purple lines.
Freesia caryophyllacea (Burm.f.) N.E.Br., syns. Freesia elimensis, Freesia herbertii, Freesia parva and Freesia xanthospila, is a short strongly scented plant with yellow or cream flowers with yellow markings. Photos taken in the Overberg by Cameron McMaster.
Freesia corymbosa (Burm.f.) N.E.Br., syns. Freesia armstrongii, Freesia aurea, and Freesia metelerkampiae, grows on loamy or sandy soils in open renosterveld and succulent Karoo scrub or grassy fynbos in the southern Cape. Growing from 15 to 40 cm, this species has conical or globose corms with medium to coarse textured fibers and 7 to 10 erect lanceolate leaves with acute tips. The flowering spike is horizontal or deflexed and usually 6-10 flowered. Bracts are important in distinguishing it from Freesia refracta. They are obtuse, tipped dark brown. Flower color is variable, with various shades of yellow or rarely white or rose or deep pink with the base of the tube and lowermost tepals and inner margins of lower lateral tepals bright yellow to orange. Pink flowered plants were used in hybridization. The first three photos by Cameron McMaster. The next two photos were taken by Mary Sue Ittner of flowers and corms (on a 1 cm. square grid). This species doesn't seem to be very happy in her winter wet Northern California garden, but occasionally blooms.
Freesia fergusoniae L.Bolus is found on clay soils in Renosterveld in the southern Cape where it blooms best in cleared or open sites. Growing from 6 to 20 cm, this species has 7 to 13 prostrate to inclined leaves and flowers in a horizontal or drooping spike, pale yellow to cream colored that are dull purple on the reverse with the base of the lower tepals marked orange. Corms are coarse textured and flowers are sweetly scented. Flowering is early, in winter, mid July to late August, and sometimes earlier. There is variation in the flowers from year to year and in new plants grown from saved seed. Photos by Mary Sue Ittner.
Freesia fucata J.C.Manning & Goldblatt is an early blooming fragrant species that is white flushed purple with yellow markings. It is found on clay slopes in the renosterveld in the southwest Cape. Grown from Silverhill Seed and blooming December 2003 in Northern California, photos by Bob Rutemoeller.
Freesia grandiflora (Baker) Klatt, syns. Anomatheca grandiflora and Freesia rubella, is a summer rainfall species (KwaZulu-Natal extending to tropical Africa) that blooms in spring. It typically grows in humus rich soils in scrub, deciduous woodland or more rarely forest, sometimes along streams. It prefers subtropical climates, but has also been found in temperate forests where in may occur in deep shade. The flowers resemble Freesia laxa but are much larger, scarlet or sometimes pink with a darker red blotch at the base of the three lower tepals. The tube is more or less as long as the tepals or only slightly longer and the tepals are somewhat cupped and filaments exserted beyond the tube. Corms are globose-conical. This species has an unusual feature in that it produces rhizomes late in the growing season giving rise to a terminal cormel at the end of the second season after which they wither and sever the connection from the parent plant. Seeds are deep orange to red, when fresh and then darkening.
According to Graham Duncan in Grow Bulbs this species is ideal for growing in containers or woodland gardens in sun or light shade. Photo 1 taken April 2004 by Lee Poulsen. Photos 2-6 from Mary Sue Ittner. These flowers are much larger and the stems are branched and the bloom time is earlier and much longer than the Freesia laxa I have growing in my garden. It seems to be quite happy growing in a container in my greenhouse. The last photo taken on a 1 cm grid in July shows a corm with the rhizomes attached.
Freesia laxa (Thunb.) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning has been known by many different names (Anomatheca laxa, Anomatheca cruenta, Lapeirousia laxa). It is native to several countries in Africa and is a smaller version of Freesia grandiflora. It is native to summer rainfall areas and has subglobose-conical corms and seeds that are bright orange or red when fresh. It has smaller flowers than Freesia grandiflora and has a tube that is more than twice as long as the tepals which spread horizontally from the base and filaments that are scarcely exserted from the tube.
Freesia laxa subsp. laxa, the typical subspecies, is widely distributed along the eastern coast and near interior of South Africa extending into eastern tropical Africa to western Kenya, eastern Uganda and southern Sudan. It favors rocky habitats on the edge of bush clumps and afrotemperate forest and is also found in coastal forest and bush near sea level in KwaZulu-Natal. It blooms from August to January (peak flowering south of the equator is between November and January and May to July north of the equator.) The most common forms are red with darker blotches flowering late spring and summer. They bloom quickly from their bright red seeds and can be a bit invasive in situations where they are happy as they self sow. The first photo was taken by Cameron McMaster. Photos #2-5 were taken by Mary Sue Ittner.
The photos below taken by Mary Sue Ittner are of the seeds and corms on a 1 cm. square grid.
Freesia laxa 'Joan Evans' is a form with white flowers and a red blotch. The first photo from Cameron McMaster, the second from Mary Sue Ittner and the last two from Sheila Burrow, including one that does not have the white blotch.
Freesia laxa subsp. azurea (Goldblatt & Hutchings) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning is a form with blue flowers and is often reported as more difficult to grow than some of the others. It is restricted to coastal habitats between KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique where it grows in coarse sandy soils in exposed sites such as grassy dunes or in light shade. Unlike the other subspecies it flowers in winter and early spring between June and September. The first photo is by Sheila Burrow. The second photo is by Diane Whitehead grown from seeds in an unheated glasshouse in April. The seeds came from Sheila Burrow's plants. Notice that the petals have four marks vs. three seen in Sheila's specimen. In photos 3 and 4 taken by Darm Crook five of the six tepals are marked with red instead of purple.
Photos shown below were taken by M. Gastil-Buhl of plants grown from seed outdoors under an arbor. The first photo shows the red seeds and seed pods. The second photo shows the depth of corms grown in a terracotta pot from seed sown on the surface of this pot. In the third photo an unusual bloom has blotches on all six tepals. The fourth photo compares the color to blue paint-masking tape and measures the perianth tubes about 4 cm long. The undersides of the tepals are pale, almost white.
Freesia leichtlinii Klatt is a coastal species found in the southern Cape growing in sandy soils. It is found in coastal bush, thicket or restioid fynbos. It grows from 6 to 25 cm high and has sword-shaped leaves and cream colored scented flowers with yellow markings. In the monograph, Botany and Horticulture of the Genus Freesia (Iridaceae) published by John C. Manning & Peter Goldblatt in Strelitzia (2010), the species Freesia alba has been included in this species as a subspecies. The photo below taken by Mary Sue Ittner is of plants grown from seed labeled by the source as Freesia leichtlinii. It was hard to distinguish from the plants naturalized in her garden that were received as Freesia alba. Since there is variation in amount of yellow to orange on the lower tepal(s) of the plants in her garden, she suspects that differentiating the subspecies if the tube is less than 25 mm might be a challenge.
Freesia leichtlinii subsp. alba (G.L.Mey.) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt, syn. Freesia alba, is described as all white, or cream, flushed purple, usually with the base of only lower median tepal marked yellow to orange. The tube is 20 to 40 mm long with the basal narrow part 5 to 20 mm. It has smooth to slightly wrinkled seeds and flowers late July to early October.
Freesia leichtlinii subsp. leichtlinii, syns. Freesia muirii and Freesia middlemostii, is described as pale yellow or cream, lightly flushed purple outside, with base of lower three petals marked deep yellow to orange and the perianth tube 20-25 mm long with basal narrow part 5-9 mm long. It has wrinkled seeds and flowers early August to late September.
Freesia occidentalis L.Bolus, syn. Freesia framesii, grows from 9 to 50 cm high and is found on stony, mainly sandstone soils, from the northwest Cape to the western Karoo. The fragrant flowers are in a horizontal spike and are creamy white and yellow. Photo by Rod Saunders.
Freesia refracta (Jacq.) Klatt, syn. Freesia hurlingii, is found on dry stony slopes and flats in the southwestern Cape and also the Little Karoo. It is relatively common and found on many soils including shales, sandstone and on limestone outcrops. It usually grows from 15 to 40 cm high with 7 to 10 erect narrowly lanceolate-attenuate leaves and a horizontal to deflexed spike of 5 to 10 flowers. Flowers are 25-35 mm, pale greenish yellow or dull white flushed purplish on the reverse and the base of the tube. The lowermost tepal and inner margins of the lower lateral tepals are bright orange with all three lower tepals having a dark brownish midline. Flowers are unscented or strongly scented of rose and violet. Freesia refracta can be distinguished from Freesia corymbosa by its uniformly pale bracts. The bracts of the latter are tipped with brown. This species is listed on the Virus page as being susceptible to virus. Flowering time is July to September. Photos taken by Cameron McMaster in the Overberg.
Freesia sparrmannii (Thunb.) N.E.Br. is a much smaller flowered species that has been reliable in a Northern California garden (in a raised bed) blooming every year but not increasing much. In South Africa it is found in forest margins in loam. Photos by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner. The last shows the corms on a 1 cm grid.
Freesia verrucosa (B.Vogel) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning, syns. Anomatheca verrucosa and Freesia juncea, grows in clay soil in renosterveld in the Karoo mountain center and the southeastern Cape. It blooms late winter into spring. Photo by Bob Rutemoeller of plants grown by Alan Horstmann.
Freesia viridis (Aiton) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning, syns. Anomatheca viridis and Lapeirousia viridis (Aiton) L.Bolus, is more of a collector's plant with greenish flowers. It is found on stony clay and limestone, occasionally sandstone in the north and south western Cape and flowers winter into spring. In captivity, it sets seed very readily and can spread itself to other pots if not watched carefully. The first photo is by Nhu Nguyen showing the flower and fruits - these fruits seemed to have developed on their own. I haven't noticed any pollinators. The second and third images show the same cold frame grown plant blooming (on the left) in 2007 and (on the right) in 2008. Photographed in the Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7 garden of Jim McKenney. Note the difference in color. The last image was taken in cultivation in California by Michael Mace.
Freesia hybrids Hybridisation of Freesia began after Freesia alba became available in 1878 when it could be crossed with Freesia leichtlinii. However significant progress required the introduction of rose pink and yellow forms of Freesia corymbosa at the start of the 20th century. The first three photographs by Judy Glattstein are of three cultivars, 'Ambiance', 'Port Salute' and 'Red River', flowering in her greenhouse in New Jersey in February 2014. The last photo from Mary Sue Ittner is of an unnamed hybrid.