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Sunny Character is Easy to Grow

This article was first published on 28 Oct 2015.

Sparaxis tricolor

Sparaxis tricolor

Often called the harlequin flower, Sparaxis tricolor aptly reflects not only the chequered costume, but the light hearted charm of Harlequin himself.

Six flower petals radiate out, starting with a yellow base, followed by a dark arrow shape, then crowned with scarlet or salmon coloured tips. Natural selections have been cultivated and bred from, to produce a wider range of flower colours including various shades of red, orange, pink and white.

Again evocative of the theatrical character, the harlequin flower teases us by closing on dull days, only displaying its full colour while the sun is out and all is well.

Leaves develop in a fan shaped arrangement in very early spring with the flower emerging from the centre. The plant then dies back, retreating underground before the heat of summer hits. This suits in its native environment in South Africa where Spraxis grows in damp clay and stony soils in the Northwest Cape - there are plenty of pollinators on the wing in spring, and water is scarce over summer.

Very easy to grow in well-drained soil, it requires full sun in order to flower well. The corms are small, round and covered with a fibrous tunic. They multiply readily and don’t seem to mind being over-crowded, flowering reliably for many years when left undisturbed.

There are several clumps of Sparaxis tricolor flowering near the southern end of the rock garden in the lower Dunedin Botanic Garden.

Robyn Abernethy is the Rock Water & Alpine Collection Curator at the Dunedin Botanic Garde