I used to be quite the sucker for exotic plants, but after numerous deaths I’ve become a bit more selective. So it’s not surprising that many years ago while trolling through bulb catalogs I was pulled in by all the alluring unknown summer-blooming bulbs. Glads and dahlias? Bah! I wanted those sexy South Africans: Ixia, Sparaxis, Agapanthus, Galtonia, Crocosmia. A fair number of those bulbs joined the legion of plants I’ve killed but the Crocosmias have proven themselves to be hardy stalwarts in Seattle.
(Crocosmias aren’t bulbs per se; they are corms. They may look essentially the same, but bulbs store their incipient plants and reserves in fleshy modified leaves whereas corms are modified stems. Onions, tulips and daffodils are true bulbs whereas crocuses and crocosmias are corms. If you cut a bulb in half you’ll see rings which are the layers of leaves. You won’t get that with the modified stem of a corm.)
Crocosmias bloom in mid-late summer and have a relatively short bloom period. Fortunately, they have other positive attributes. The leaves are sword-shaped, neither terribly droopy nor super stiff like a bearded irises and add texture in a sea of roundish leaves. The seed pods are quite ornamental, little balls threaded along the stem. The tubular flowers are all warm toned – apricot yellow, pale to dark orange and hot red. Crocosmias like sun and are more likely to flop in shade. In my experience they need water. They also need dividing every few years. Again, I think that helps keep them from flopping open.
- ‘Lucifer‘ at 2.5-3′ tall with hot red flowers is the most noticeable cultivar. It seems to grow in random places throughout Seattle. I love how the flower stem bends at right angles to the leaves like the head of some tropical bird with the flowers standing up like a topknot of feathers.
- One of my favorites is ‘Solfaterre’ with bronzy leaves and warm yellow flowers.
- Another common Crocosmia is ‘James Coey‘ which may be the same thing as ‘Carmine Brilliant.’ ‘James Coey’/'Carmine Brilliant’ has green leaves, orange flowers with bits of yellow and luscious purple calyces. The flower stems are works of art and worth taking a close look at. The flower buds are staggered along a zigzag green stem. The buds are tri-color, smoky purple calyces at the base followed by a hint of yellow and ending in reddish orange. Open the flowers have red outer petals, orangey inner petals and yellow stamens. Just luscious.
- A variety of other cultivars can be seen at the crocomia garden website.
If you want to get some crocosmias on the cheap, find some you like and offer to help divide them (dig them up when they are dormant) and take some corms home. You may or may not know which cultivar you have, but you will know you’re getting exactly the ones you want.