Candy Lilies: Why I Love ’em, How to Grow ’em

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Candy lilies (Iris ×norrisii) are fun, easy-to-grow, underused perennials that bloom in gumdrop colors.

I grew them in my garden in Kentucky and became smitten; now that I’m settled into a new garden in Portland, Oregon, I’m ready to turn that romance into a full-fledged obsession.

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They’ll grow pretty much anywhere, asking only for full sun, soil with decent drainage, and average water. They’re hardy to Zone 5.

Blackberry lily
Blackberry lily

If you didn’t gloss over that Latin name, you noticed that this plant isn’t a lily at all, but an iris. You may have also noticed that it was a hybrid.

They were hybridized by the late plant breeder Sam Norris of Kentucky, who crossed the seldom grown lilac-colored vesper iris (Pardanthopsis dichotoma) with the orange-freckled blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis) to come up with the colorful hybrids that were known as ×Pardancanda norrisii, or candy lily.

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Pardanthopsis dichotoma
has since been renamed Iris dichotoma, and Belamcanda chinensis has been renamed Iris domestica, so now candy lilies are simply called Iris ×norrisii.

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Check out the pretty soft yellow ones in the background, too.

Have you guessed yet that it’s the colors and patterns that have me enthralled? I want to start hybridizing these myself and see what other cool color combos I can come up with. It seems like it would be pretty easy to do; the flower structure is quite simple.

Joseph Tychoneivich’s excellent book, Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener, will show you how to do it if you want to try it yourself.

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I’ll admit my candy lilies got a little floppy when I grew them in Kentucky. They get about 3 ft. tall and do need some discrete staking or at least some other strong plants to lean on. Or you can grow a dwarf form, like these cuties from the ‘Dazzler’ series.

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Like bearded irises, they can get iris borers, but otherwise they’re pretty much pest-free.

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In the Cincinnati area (Zone 6), candy lilies usually start to bloom around the 4th of July and finish up in early August.

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The bee in this photo is after the Monarda fistulosa; bees don’t seem to care for candy lilies, but hummingbirds do like them. The yellow flower in the background belongs to Inula helenium.

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One of my favorite quotes from renowned garden designer Piet Oudolf is that we should seek out plants that “live well and die well.” Although he was talking more about plants that have structural interest in the winter, I think of that quote when I see candy lilies because of the way their flowers age.

Their blooms only last one day, but then they twist up in the most charming way—first a loose twist…

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and then a tighter one.

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Eventually green pods form, which gradually turn beige and split open to reveal the “blackberry” fruits which give their blackberry lily parent its name.
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The fruits are showy from mid-August to early October (in the Lower Midwest).

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Oh, yeah, the foliage is pretty, too! These are some plants I started from seed about six months ago. Only one has bloomed so far.

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Candy lilies are easy to grow from seed, which is the way to grow a wide assortment of colors economically. You’ll want to stratify the seeds over the winter, which is a plant-nerdy way to say, “Put them in a baggy in the fridge with some barely moist sand or peat moss.”

I sowed mine under fluorescent lights indoors to give them a head start, but you can also sow them outdoors, and they’ll sprout when it gets warm enough.

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They will self-sow a little in your garden, but not obnoxiously.

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Could you possibly have too many anyway?


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13 Responses

  1. Janet Loughrey
    Janet Loughrey at | | Reply

    Great post! I loved all the background info. I didn’t know they had been renamed to Iris and I didn’t know there were so many colors! Now I want to grow some from seed myself.

  2. Grace Peterson
    Grace Peterson at | | Reply

    So we should check Park Seed later in the season? Are there any other sources? I bought my first Candy Lily, a gallon pot of Pardancanda ‘Sangria’ about a month ago. It’s blooming now and I’m smitten bad! Yours are to die for Amy. Great post.

  3. Mindy
    Mindy at | | Reply

    They’re fantastic!!! I am now especially excited to have adopted one of your babies.

  4. Casa Mariposa
    Casa Mariposa at | | Reply

    I grow the blackberry lilies and I love them. I love that little twist when they’re done. What a classy plant. 🙂

  5. Cathy Mitchell
    Cathy Mitchell at | | Reply

    I am in southern Indiana and my candy lilies are about 4 years old. Even though the plants look great, they have never bloomed. What should I do to help them along.
    They get about 6 hours of sun and are well drained.

  6. Traci Franek
    Traci Franek at | | Reply

    I just read your post while researching this plant for my garden. I have another source for you. I heard about it from emails I receive from Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL. This is my favorite place to buy flowers and they sell it in perennial form, not from seed. Thanks!

  7. Cathy Mitchell
    Cathy Mitchell at | | Reply

    Well patience pays off! They are blooming beautifully!

  8. Todd Hudspeth
    Todd Hudspeth at | | Reply

    How have you gotten so many colors? I have ordered the seeds from parks several times. Every time I get mostly orange to reddish that look very much like the common blackberry lily. I was excited last year. Finally got one that was light pink. All the rest looked pretty much orange again. ;/

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