I’m just in from walking my back gardens, and the blackberry lilies are getting ready to bloom. It’s always fun to watch new buds turn to flowers, but this plant excites me. There is something special about its flower, like it is hiding a secret to reveal later.
My first blackberry lily was given to me by my friend, Valerie, years ago. As I always say, my garden is a gift basket of plants from friends, and I love it. Watching the plants grow is a reminder of friendships that have also grown over the years.
The first year in your garden the blackberry lily plant may be small, maybe 1 to 1½ feet tall, with few flowers. But remember, perennials sleep, creep, then leap in their first three years. This is true for the blackberry lily.
Plant your blackberry in full sun. Once established, this plant will be about 2 feet wide, and although it likes a bit of water and well-drained soil, it can withstand summertime drought. Another plus: The deer are not interested in this plant, they just walk on by.
Mature plants will shoot stems that reach 3 to 5 feet tall. This is where the bloom forms. Flowers are a sunny shade of orange with six spotted petals. These red spots are where it gets its nickname — the leopard lily.
The flower is small in comparison to other lily blooms. Like daylilies, it doesn’t last long, but most plants produce several blooms so don’t worry. Although the spotted flower is very pretty, it’s the next step of this bloom that I enjoy.
After flowering, the seed pods will appear, and — you guessed it — they looks like blackberries. It is now, with the blackberry seed pods, that these stems often make their way to cut flower arrangements, fresh or dried. It is important to note that although they are named after a delicious fruit, these seeds are not edible and can be poisonous if consumed.
This perennial will spread, but slowly. The rhizomes grow and create new clumps, but don’t worry. This is not an aggressive plant and will not devour your garden space.
Funny thing, the blackberry lily is really not a berry or a lily. Genetic testing on its DNA (yes, this is done on plants!) shows it to be a member of the iris family. When you look at the leaves of the plant, this classification makes sense. They are thin, spear-like leaves as long as 18 inches that form a fan shape from the base of the plant, just like an iris.
Speaking of DNA and the history of this plant, it is originally from Asia and was called “Chinese Ixia” by Thomas Jefferson. He was an avid gardener and kept detailed notes on seeds and planting of the gardens he saw. Jefferson was given the seeds in 1807, during his second term as president of the United States.
According to the Monticello website, these seeds were sown in an East Front oval flowerbed. If you visit the Monticello gardens today (and I highly recommend you do), the blackberry lilies you see naturalized on the grounds are believed to be descendants from his original plantings. Their site also sells four-inch pots of blackberry lilies propagated from seeds collected at Monticello.
Whether your blackberry plant comes from a president, a good friend, or the local nursery, have fun watching this flower awe you with its beauty as a spotted leopard, then transform to a blackberry seed pod. Just another reminder of the wonders of nature that we can observe in our own backyards.