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With memorable nicknames, this ‘walking iris’ can take August heat

Toad cup lily (Neomarica caerulea) is a “walking iris” that thrives in the hottest months without much water.
Toad cup lily (Neomarica caerulea) is a “walking iris” that thrives in the hottest months without much water.

This is one part in a weekly series featuring the UC Davis Arboretum’s “Life After Lawn” series – 45 can’t-fail, easy-care, low-water plants well adapted to our region and ideal for drought-tolerant landscapes.

Toad cup lily

Neomarica caerulea

Size: Clumps up to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Bloom season: Deep blue-violet flowers in summer

Exposure: Prefers morning sun and afternoon shade; needs some sun for best bloom

Pruning needs: Remove spent flowers as desired.

Water needs: Low; once established, deep water twice a month.

Snapshot: With its interesting common names such as Poor Man’s Orchid, this dramatic “walking iris” can be an eye-catching accent in a shady dry garden. The 3- to 5-foot sword-shaped gray-green leaves form strong vertical lines. During the hottest months of summer, this iris produces a succession of intricately patterned violet-blue flowers that only last a day, but keep on coming. Its “Toad Cup” nickname comes from the flower’s distinctive shape. It’s also known as Apostle Plant because growers observed that the plant wouldn’t bloom until it had 12 leaves. “Walking iris” denotes how this plant can spread. After blooming, a plantlet forms on the blossom stem. It weighs down the stem, which gradually lowers down to the ground. The plantlet can then take root, forming a new iris. In that way, this iris “walks” across the garden, creating new plants in its path.

For more on “Life After Lawn,” click on arboretum.ucdavis.edu.

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