Sparaxis

Sparaxis is a genus in the Iridaceae family that is endemic to South Africa and found mostly in the southwestern Cape and the western Karoo. They are easy to grow in Mediterranean climates. They have been in cultivation for a number of years and there are many colorful hybrids grown as well. The genus Synnotia is now included in this genus. Sparaxis can become virused. Plants may continue to bloom, but there can be a color break in the petals. There are photos on our wiki Virus page that illustrate this problem. Sparaxis hybridize easily in the garden. Illustrations of hybrids can be found on our Sparaxis Hybrids wiki page.


Sparaxis bulbifera is white and has numerous cormels that grow in the stems. It has stems that are often branched. It is found on wet sandy or limestone flats. Photos 1-2 were taken by Bob Rutemoeller. Photos 3-6 were taken September 2006 in the West Coast area of South Africa on the way to Darling by Mary Sue Ittner and Bob Rutemoeller. The first population we saw blooming in mass had white flowers and the second population had flowers that were yellow and white.

Sparaxis bulbifera, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis bulbifera, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis bulbifera, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis bulbifera, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis bulbifera, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis bulbifera, Mary Sue Ittner

Sparaxis elegans a plant found on clay flats has salmon or white flowers with a purple cup edged in black and yellow and coiled purple anthers. The first two photos were taken by Bob Rutemoeller, the third by Paul Tyerman and the last two by Alan Horstmann.

Sparaxis elegans, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis elegans, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis elegans, Paul TyermanSparaxis elegans, Alan HorstmannSparaxis elegans, Alan Horstmann

Seen blooming near Nieuwoudtville September 2006, the first five pictures below were taken by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner. They show a number of them blooming next to the road with close-ups showing a pollinator and the detail of the flowers. The next to the last picture shows a plant with different coloring in the same population and the last shows a group mixed with Geissorhiza splendidissima blooming at the same time.

Sparaxis elegans, Nieuwoudtville, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis elegans, Nieuwoudtville, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis elegans, Nieuwoudtville, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis elegans, Nieuwoudtville, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis elegans, Nieuwoudtville, Mary Sue Ittner

The first picture of a rare white form was taken by Ragnhild Crawford near Papkuilsfontein in September 2006. The second photo was taken by Andrew Harvie in the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve. The last two photos were taken by Cameron McMaster at the Biekoes Farm near Nieuwoudtville September 2011.

Sparaxis elegans, Papkuilsfontein, Ragnhild CrawfordSparaxis elegans, Oorlogsklook Nature Reserve, Andrew HarvieSparaxis elegans, Biekoes, Cameron McMasterSparaxis elegans, Biekoes, Cameron McMaster

Sparaxis grandiflora is a species of the Northwestern and Southwestern Cape with four subspecies recognized. It is usually found on clay flats and slopes. Seed photo by David Pilling.

Sparaxis grandiflora seed, David Pilling

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. acutiloba is bright yellow, sometimes with dark markings. The tepals are acute. This species is found in the Olifants River Valley. Photo by Bob Rutemoeller of a garden ground plant that has been difficult to maintain and of one taken by Mary Sue Ittner in habitat in South Africa in September 2006.

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. acutiloba, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis grandiflora ssp. acutiloba, Mary Sue Ittner

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. fimbriata has cream to white flowers with tepals rounded at the tips and is found in the southwest Cape. The first photo by Mary Sue Ittner is of a cultivated plant and the next photos were taken September 2006 at Lion's Head in the southwest Cape by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner.

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. fimbriata, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis grandiflora ssp. fimbriata, Lion’s Head, back, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis grandiflora ssp. fimbriata,  Lion’s Head, Mary Sue Ittner

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. grandiflora had deep plum red flowers with tepals that are rounded at the tips and is found in the Tulbagh Valley. Photos one and two were taken by Mark Mazer and Bob Werra. The last picture taken near Tulbagh by Bob Rutemoeller in August 2006 was taken the same day that Babiana villosa and Geissorhiza inflexa were blooming in the same area. Since they all three are similar one wonders if they share the same pollinator.

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. grandiflora, Mark MazerSparaxis grandiflora ssp. grandiflora, Bob WerraSparaxis grandiflora ssp. grandiflora, Bob Rutemoeller

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. violacea has cream to violet flowers with purple markings with spoon shaped tepals and is found in the Southwest Cape. The first photo below was taken by Mary Sue Ittner and the second by Alan Horstmann.

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. violacea, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis grandiflora ssp. violacea, Alan Horstmann

Sparaxis maculosa is found on clay slopes in renosterveld in the southwest Cape. Plants have one to three yellow flowers with a dark maroon-black center. Photo taken in the bulb room of the Conservatory in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden by Mary Sue Ittner August 2006.

Sparaxis maculosa, Kirstenbosch, Mary Sue Ittner

Sparaxis metelerkampiae (syn. Synnotia metelerkampiae, Synnotia variegata ssp. metelerkampiae) is found on rocky sandstone slopes and has trumpet-shaped flowers that are purple with white marks on the lower tepals. Anthers are purple. Photos one and two by Bob Rutemoeller and Alan Horstmann of garden plants. The third was taken by Mary Sue Ittner near Clanwilliam, South Africa, September 2006. The fourth was taken by Rod Saunders.

Sparaxis metelerkampiae, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis metelerkampiae, Alan HorstmannSparaxis metelerkampiae, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis metelerkampiae, Rod Saunders

Sparaxis parviflora (syn. Synnotia parviflora) grows on granite slopes and rocks in the Southwest Cape. It has small cream and yellow flowers flushed with purple. Photo 1 by Mary Sue Ittner. Photo 2 taken in South Africa by Andrew Harvie.

Sparaxis parviflora, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis parviflora, Andrew Harvie

Sparaxis pillansii is native to the Western Cape Province of South Africa where it grows in shale and heavy doleritic clay in waterlogged depressions and blooms in spring. The first photo below was contributed by the UC Botanical Garden. The second was taken by Alan Horstmann.

Sparaxis pillansii, UC Botanical GardenSparaxis pillansii, Alan Horstmann

Sparaxis roxburghii (syn. Synnotia roxburghii) grows on rocky sandstone slopes in the Olifants River Valley. It has mauve to lilac flowers with yellow on the lower tepals. It is described as having zygomorphic, mauve to lilac and yellow flowers with the lower tepals yellow in lower half to two thirds. The perianth tube is obliquely funnel-shaped, 20-30 mm long. It is distinguished by its long-tubed flowers and the finely fibrous corm tunics that extend upwards in a neck around the leaf bases.


Sparaxis tricolor has orange scarlet flowers with a yellow center edged with black. It grows on damp clay and stony soils in renosterveld in the northwest Cape and blooms in spring. It is one of the species used in hybridizing. The first photo was taken by Mary Sue Ittner and the second by Arnold Trachtenberg at Wave Hill where it was growing. Photos 2-5 s taken by Mary Sue Ittner and Bob Rutemoeller are of plants seen flowering in Nieuwoudtville September 2006. Photos include a close-up with a beetle pollinator and the last shown with Lapeirousia jacquinii. Photo 6 was taken by Cameron McMaster at the Biekoes Farm near Nieuwoudtville September 2011.

Sparaxis tricolor, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis tricolor, Arnold TrachtenbergSparaxis tricolor, Nieuwoudtville, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis tricolor, Nieuwoudtville, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis tricolor, Nieuwoudtville, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis tricolor, Biekoes, Cameron McMaster

Sparaxis variegata (syn. Synnotia variegata) has trumpet shaped violet flowers with a long bent tube with white and/or yellow markings on the lower tepals with purple tips markings at the tips or margins. Anthers are whitish. It grows on rocky sandstone slopes in the northwest Cape and blooms late winter-early spring. The first two photos were taken in the Karoo Desert NBGin August 2006 by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner. There was a color break in the flowers. Could they be virused? The last photo below was taken by Bob Rutemoeller of plants grown by Rachel Saunders and Rod Saunders in South Africa (blooming September 2003). This picture has previously been identified on the wiki as Sparaxis variegata and then was changed to be S. roxburghii, but now John Manning has confirmed that the original identification was accurate.

Sparaxis variegata,Bob RutemoellerSparaxis variegata, Mary Sue IttnerSparaxis variegata grown by Rachel and Rod Saunders, Bob Rutemoeller

Sparaxis villosa (syn. Synnotia villosa) is found growing on clay and granite slopes in the northwest and southwest Cape. It has small cream to yellow flowers. The hooded top segment is flushed violet. Photos by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner.

Sparaxis villosa, Bob RutemoellerSparaxis villosa, Mary Sue Ittner

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Page last modified on February 02, 2014, at 05:18 PM