Blackberry Lily

Iris domestica (formerly Belamcanda chinensis)

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Photo of blackberry lily showing open and spent flowers and developing fruits.
Blackberry lily has leaves like an iris, flowers like an Asian lily, and seeds that look like blackberries.
Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org
Other Common Name
Leopard Flower
Family

Iridaceae (irises)

Description

Perennial with bladelike leaves growing from yellowish-orange rhizomes. Flowers in terminal cymes at ends of branches, 1½ to 2½ inches across. Sepals and petals (together called tepals) similar, spreading, orange, with crimson or brownish spots. Each flower remains open for only a single day. There are 3 stamens. Blooms July–August. Leaves in flattened fans, nearly identical to those of the German garden iris, long and broad. Fruit a pear-shaped capsule about an inch long, that splits open and withers, revealing shiny black seeds, looking very much like a blackberry. The seeds remain attached for many weeks.

Similar species: At a glance, blooming blackberry lilies may be confused with day lilies (Hemerocallis), which have also escaped from cultivation. Day lilies more often occur in dense colonies in grassy areas, and less in dry, rocky areas, and although their leaves are creased somewhat, they are not folded into flattened, swordlike fans like those of this and other irises.

Size

Height: aerial stems usually to about 3 feet, sometimes to 4 feet; leaf blades to 15 inches.

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Photo of two blackberry lily fruits, one split open, the other not.
Blackberry Lily Fruits
The fruit of blackberry lily is pear-shaped, about an inch long, and splits open to reveal shiny black seeds that look like blackberries.

blackberry_lily_flowers_07-03-14.jpg

Photo of blackberry lily flowers.
Blackberry Lily Flowers
In blackberry lily, the sepals and petals (together, the tepals) are very similar: spreading, orange, with crimson or brownish spots.

blackberry_lily_leaves_07-03-14.jpg

Photo of blackberry lily leaves.
Blackberry Lily Leaves
The swordlike, tightly folded leaves of blackberry lily grow in broad, flattened fans, like those of the familiar garden iris.

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Photo of blackberry lily fruit stalk showing blackberry-like fruits.
Blackberry Lily Fruit Stalk
Blackberry lily is a short-lived perennial. But it readily self-seeds, and naturalized populations can endure for many years.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs along roadsides, old homesites, edges of dolomite glades and bluffs, disturbed, dry, brushy areas, and rocky, open woods. Introduced; native to central and eastern Asia, but naturalized widely in the eastern United States.

image of Blackberry Lily Leopard Flower Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Scattered nearly statewide.

Status

Botanists, using the relatively new technique of molecular DNA sequencing, in 2005 determined that this plant should be placed into the genus Iris. It had long been the sole member of the genus Belamcanda. Its attractive orange flowers, with petals and sepals that look quite similar, do not resemble those of familiar garden irises. But as with paternity testing in humans, DNA evidence in blackberry lilies has proven a relationship not obvious to the naked eye.

Human connections

Blackberry lily is a favorite low-maintenance ornamental in Ozark yards where it has plenty of sun, little competition, and moist soils with excellent drainage. It self-seeds readily. The interesting seed heads can be used in dried flower arrangements. Several cultivars are available.

Ecosystem connections

Many exotic plants have been introduced to our country, and many of those have become naturalized (that is, they escape from cultivation and live and reproduce on their own). Some of those that become naturalized are also invasive, but this does not seem to be one of them.