Tritonia crocata, Ixia crocata, South African rock garden perennial, Spring flowering, Orange blazing star, 20 seeds

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Tritonia crocata is a deciduous, winter-growing geophyte up to 350 mm high. It has a flattened corm surrounded by a few layers of fibrous outer tunics and multiplies by cormlets produced around its base. It produces a fan of short, lance-shaped leaves in autumn and a spike of numerous bright fiery orange or reddish orange, almost regular, cup-shaped flowers in early spring (March-April in Malta). The three lower tepals of the flower have a narrow yellow or dark red central stripe in the throat, and all the tepals have attractive narrow translucent zones or 'windows' on the margins. The ripe fruit is a small brown capsule that ruptures lengthwise from top to bottom, releasing numerous small, hard, angled brown seeds.

Tritonia crocata is a protected plant. Its habitat is being threatened to a certain extent by the construction of houses, but it is not currently regarded as threatened.

Tritonia consists of 27 species and is concentrated in the southern part of the Western Cape. It grows in clay soils. It is well suited to cultivation in temperate climates but is not resistant to prolonged periods of frost.

The genus Tritonia was brought into being by the English botanist J.B. Ker Gawler in 1802, who named it for the Latin word triton, a weather vane, due to the variable orientation of the stamens in some species.

The cup-shaped flowers of T. crocata are pollinated by honey bees. The capsules split open when ripe and the seeds fall to the ground as a result of buffeting and the shaking action caused by strong summer winds.

Growing Tritonia crocata

A sunny, well-ventilated aspect, a sharply-drained growing medium, heavy drenching at regular intervals during the growing season and maintenance of a dry period in dormancy are required for the successful cultivation of Tritonia crocata. It can be grown in containers, window boxes, rock garden pockets and as a front border to larger herbaceous plants. Plant the corms in autumn (September-October) in a sandy soil containing some well-decomposed compost, at a depth of about 2 cm of growing medium above the corm. Corms should be planted close together (about 5 cm apart) to create a massed effect. Allow the growing medium to dry our completely for the summer, or lift them and store in a cool dry place until autumn.

Prapagating Tritonia crocata from seeds

Sow the seeds in autumn (September-October) in deep seed trays or pots, in a well-drained medium such as equal parts of finely sifted compost and coarse river sand. Cover the seeds with a 3-4 mm layer of sowing medium and keep moist by watering with a fine rose about twice a week, depending on weather conditions. Germination of fresh seeds takes place in about three weeks, and under ideal conditions, flowers can be expected for the first time in the second season.

The developing flower buds are sometimes attacked by aphids, and the foliage often falls prey to rust fungi in winter and to red spider mites in early summer. The corms are subject to mealy bug infestation when grown in containers under enclosed, poorly ventilated conditions.

©Graham Duncan, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, October 2008