Houseplant of the month Houseplants

The walking iris, a surprisingly easy houseplant!

When we talk about houseplants that are easy to grow, also called plants for beginners, we often mention Spider Plants (Chlorophytum spp.), the Snake Plant (Sansevieria spp.) or Pothos (Scindapsus spp .). We rarely hear anything about the walking iris (Trimezia northiana, formerly Neomarica northiana), and yet…

The walking iris flower is simply gorgeous! Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The walking iris belongs to the family Iridaceae. Yes, it is a close cousin of garden irises. It’s from South America, Brazil, more precisely. It’s a plant that can reach up to 12 inches (30 cm) in height and its main charm is its slender leaves, arranged in a fan. Simply with its leaves, the plant looks great. It could be called a medium-sized plant, which could sit on a table, but could also be placed on the ground.

But the real charm of this plant is its bloom. This occurs quite naturally, without doing anything special, between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s a beautiful iris flower, white and blue, with rusty brown flecks and a hint of yellow! The flower stalk will carry two or three flowers which will bloom one after the other. Each flower has a short duration: a day or two. We must therefore remain vigilant when they are about to open! And what about that perfume! So sweet! This is one of the great mysteries surrounding this plant: how is it that with such sublime flowering, it isn’t more widespread?

Simple Indoor Care

The beautiful foliage makes it an interesting houseplant. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

There are several species of walking irises, but the most popular is Trimezia northiana, which is the species grown as a houseplant. This plant prefers a location that receives indirect light. It prefers moist, but well-drained soil, and needs regular watering to maintain moisture. If the drainage is good, It’s a plant that can really be watered often, much like an hibiscus. It’s also important to maintain a temperature between 16 and 21°C (60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit). If desired, it can be fed every two weeks with a natural fertilizer. It likes to be packed in its pot and it’s only when necessary that it will be repotted into a larger container.

In my beautiful house where everything must survive without much care, I’ve grown this plant for about ten years. A mealybugs invasion forced me to get rid of it. But the plant has found its place in my cocoon of greenery for two years now. Because the big (and practically the only) challenge of this plant is to find it on the shelves of retaillers!

In fact, the walking iris is so little recognized for its qualities as a houseplant that it’s often missing from houseplant books.

The Iris Walk

The flowering stalk transforms itself to become a clump of leaves. Notice the small root on the plant on the right. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the coolest things about this plant is its ability to grow quickly. It produces many rhizomes, which divide and spread easily. But it also multiplies thanks to the floral stem. Indeed, the long stem that bears the flowers ends up dropping to the ground, sometimes a meter further than the original plant. The top of the flower stalk takes root with the ground, which gives rise to a new plant. How aptly named this plant is!

When spring arrives, the walking iris can be taken outside for the summer, by sheltering it from direct sunlight. Mine goes to the back of the garden, with most of my indoor plants, under a large vinegar tree. It survives very well there with the rain as its only water supply. Then, in the fall, before the first frosts, the plant is carefully inspected (for scales, of course) and brought into the house for the winter.

It’s a wonderful plant to discover and add to your collection. Its extreme ease of care and unique flowering will certainly satisfy you!

The flower… again. Just couldn’t resist! Image: Unsplash.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

11 comments on “The walking iris, a surprisingly easy houseplant!

  1. Brad Junop

    This is my favourite houseplant. I’ve had one for many years and love the gracefull arching leaves, as well as the flowers that started opening today. I plant about 10 in a large pot to make a huge statement in my front window. Saskatoon SK.

  2. Thanks for the information. It is quite useful.

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  3. Thanks for the information. I was given one years ago but I didn’t know what it was. It did flower once for me and it was beautiful. I think its winter location is a little too cool because it has only happened once. It also seems to prefer being a bit pot bound and I have probably been giving it too much room.

  4. An acquaintance gave me some “walkers” of this years ago and I have loved the sweet scented winter flowering ever since, and shared many pieces with friends and family. Every summer I put it out on a screened porch, but this year for the first time somehow it picked up scale.
    I check it over nearly every day, and scrape off any scaleybugs I find, and the plant overall looks as healthy as it ever did. Despite the scale it is once again starting to bud. But the scale worries me. Do I have to throw the plant out? It does seem to have passed the scale along to some other plants in my house — chiefly spiderplants and ivy, which I’d much rather throw out than my one and only walking iris. Please advise!

  5. This plant sounds so interesting; it’s like the Egyptian or walking onion. Julie threw me at summering the plant under her “vinegar tree”. I had to look that up — sumac! That common name was new to me, one of the many joys of gardening is that I’m constantly learning.

  6. Elaine ransom

    I had watched for one for years but never found any so gave up about 25 years ago. It was in one of my original houseplant books published in the 60ies or early 70 it’s.

  7. Patricia Baron

    I’ve never seen them here (Middle East). Can they be grown from seed?

  8. Granny Pat

    Ok. Want one! Yes. So where oh where can I find one? Anyone with a source, please share.

  9. Thank you. Very much appreciated.

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