Ferraria--PBS TOW

John Bryan
Mon, 20 Dec 2004 07:49:04 PST
Thanks to John Bryan for this interesting Introduction to my next to the 
last Topic of the Week
Dear all,

The first time I saw Ferraria in flower, was on a visit to Cape Point right 
next to the Cape of Good Hope. It was in early October, and while the 
masses of color in this area of other flowers were fantastic, at the first 
sighting of Ferraria crispa  I was amazed and awed. The pattern of
colors reminded me of those found in Paisley shawls, which happened to be 
the favorite patterns of my mother. I wondered if, when she lived in South 
Africa during the English winters, she had ever seen this species.

The flowers were some 2 inches in diameter, and while there are only two or 
three open at the time, I wondered why I had never seen this species in 
flower before in one of the botanic gardens in Europe. After all it was 
introduced into cultivation way back in 1755. Velvety textured brownish 
purple with V shaped markings of greenish white in the center with the tips 
of the petals slightly recurved with the margins very crisped. A 
magnificent combination of colors and while the petals were quite thick, it 
had a delicateness about it that added to its beauty.

The brown stigma is much dissected at the tip, with a tube formed by the 
anthers surrounding the lower part. The leaves reminded me of the Ice plant 
we often see along our freeways in California. The leaves are some 12 
inches in length, overlapping, often a little shorter on the stem and those 
under the flowers almost bract like.

There are some 11 species of Ferraria which is in Iridaceae and they were 
named in honor of Giovannia Battista Ferrari (1584-1655) the Italian 
Botanist who first described this genus. The majority of the species are 
dwarf, and the basal leaves are larger than the others all
clasping the stem, almost as if protecting it. The flowers in the genus are 
mostly brown, green or purple and are mottled or spotted. F. crispa subsp 
nortierii has flowers which are more yellow spotted brown which color is 
also found along the edges of the petals.

The rootstock is a corm, and these do not have a tunic and are often, to 
the eye, misshapen. They need full sun, should be planted quite deeply, 
some 4-6 inches in well drained soil, but should be grown with other plants 
and seemingly prefer to be close to rocks, where no doubt they
appreciate the additional moisture in the early summer. They do require 
good moisture in early to late spring and into the summer, then they like 
to have warm soil so that by fall they are warm and dry. Unless the soil is 
poor, no feeding is necessary.

Of the species, perhaps F. divaricata, native to southern Namibia and the 
Northern and Western Cape deserves greater attention. But as is the case 
with other species, this is not hardy and will not (to my knowledge) 
withstand any frost. The basal leaves are spreading; other leaves do not 
cover the stem as much as in other species. The flowers are green with 
triangular brown markings and the lower portions of the petals are quite 
erect forming a small cup in the center of the flower. The petals become 
almost horizontal, but the flowers are not at all long lasting.  The height 
is some 14 to 18 inches, not unlike the majority of the species.

F. ferrariola has unbranched stems spotted purple, the petals dull greenish 
at the margins spotted purple, very crisped along their edges. This species 
has a sweet fragrance unlike so many others which are fetid, and in the 
wild it flowers in winter, June to September where it can be found in S. 
Namaqualand and Vredenburg in the Western Cape. It is not the most 
attractive species but if used in any breeding program might pass along its 
fragrance, an advantage to be

F. foliosa has purple to maroon flowers and flowers in very early summer or 
late spring. F. glutinosa has flowers which are brown, maroon or deep 
purple, and is found in southern tropical Africa, in Botswana and Namibia, 
flowering in the summer months.

F. uncinata was introduced in 1825. The 10 inch stems are branched, and the 
leaves exceed the stems. The petals are held horizontally with the edges 
curling downwards the color is a rather lackluster blue to yellowish orange 
at the tips which curl upwards, the remainder of the
flower being greenish with blue blotches, a most unusual combination! This 
species seems to thrive in sandy soil and quite possibly has a use in sand 
dunes in warmer climates. All of the species seem to have no objection to 
salt sea spray.

Will anyone undertake breeding ferrarias? Perhaps not, but the fascinating 
color combinations and patterns are, once seen, never forgotten. I do not 
know how many people grow these remarkable plants, but they are worthy 
subjects for those appreciating unusual, and to me,
remarkable flowers.

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