Plant This: Candy lily blooms are a sweet surprise

Visiting the garden of my friend Cat/The Whimsical Gardener earlier this summer, I exclaimed over a dainty, freckled flower on a long stem, with the sword-like leaves of an iris. Candy lily, she said, adding that she took no particular care and it thrived in morning to mid-afternoon sun. I was smitten.

By happy coincidence, a week later Katina of Gardening in Austin mentioned on Facebook that she’d seen 4-inch pots of candy lily (× Pardancanda norrisii) on sale for $.99 at Barton Springs Nursery. Despite the fact that late June is way past my stop date for planting anything except cactus or succulents, I drove straight there to buy a dozen, not knowing or caring what color their blooms would be. I planted some in my front garden (risking deer foraging), some in the back (risking too much shade), and gave the rest to my mother to try in her garden. I watered them in well and then left them alone except for our allotted once-a-week irrigation.

Last week I was surprised and delighted to see a bloom stalk forming on one of the candy lilies in the front garden, and two days ago it bloomed! I didn’t expect it to flower in late summer, nor so soon after I planted such a small plant. Now another one is putting up a flower stalk.

Each bloom lasts just one day, but online sources say candy lily has a long bloom period. I don’t know whether late-summer blooming in my hot climate is typical or unusual, so if you have experience with this plant in central Texas, please comment; I’d love to know more. What I do know is that candy lily is a man-made hybrid of blackberry lily (Iris domestica, syn. Belamcanda chinensis) and vesper iris (Iris dichotoma, syn. Pardanthopsis dichotoma). Despite its name, it’s not a lily but rather in the iris family. It’s said to be short-lived but may seed out. I hope so. I’d love to have more, especially if it turns out to be as deer resistant as iris.

While I was out front admiring the candy lily, I noticed an old favorite also going strong in the driveway-island bed.

Pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata), the Brazilian cousin of our native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala), has tissuey, pale-pink flowers with a wine-colored eye and veins. In favorable conditions it seeds out prolifically, but in my fairly dry garden it doesn’t overseed its welcome.

Deer leave established plants alone (in my garden at least), but they occasionally sample young seedlings I’ve planted. Hard winters sometimes kill off pale pavonia. Luckily a few seedlings always seem to pop up in spring to keep these lovely, hibiscus-like flowers coming.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

28 Responses

  1. Alison says:

    I have blackberry lily, which definitely seeds around, but not aggressively, so candy lily may do the same. I just sowed some candy lily seeds this past winter, but haven’t planted the seedlings out yet, I’ve been waiting for our fall rains to return. I love the pretty spots on yours.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Are blackberry lilies freckled as well, Alison? I have to say, candy lily blossoms look so unlike anything that would grow in central Texas that I’m having a hard time believing it’ll last. But hoping! —Pam

  2. Kylee Baumle says:

    Like Alison, I’ve got blackberry lily and it does self-seed but is well-behaved. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with it, just like I do with irises because we’ve got a horrible problem with borers that I can’t seem to get a grip on, despite digging everything up and cleaning them out and replanting.

  3. Cat says:

    So glad you found some! I’ve noticed that they bloom late spring/early summer and then if I cut the spent stalks off they will send up new stalks and bloom again. Individual blooms last a day as you said but overall the largest/most mature plant in my garden bloomed for a long while…maybe 6-8 weeks if I remember correctly. I snipped the old stalks and I noticed this morning that it’s sending up new stalks just in time for a fall bloom! My pavonia died last winter sadly. I’d love some seed or a seedling if you’ve got any to spare. Happy Friday, friend!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Yours is blooming too? It must not be unusual then. Yay for two blooming periods! I’d be glad to save pale pavonia seeds for you this fall, Cat, and look for seedlings next spring. —Pam

  4. I brought a clump of Candy Lily with me, when we moved down here from DFW. It bloomed like crazy up there, not so much here.
    I divided it, gave some to my daughter-in-law. Hers bloomed, mine hasn’t for a couple years now. Not sure why. Maybe just too old.
    The deer have never bothered it, and it never seeded out. I did find that if you deadhead, it will bloom more. A pain, since the bloom only lasts one day.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’m so glad to hear that deer haven’t bothered it in your garden, Linda. Your deer problem is worse than anyone else’s around here, it seems, so you’re my canary in a coal mine. —Pam

  5. There are so pretty and look very similar to the Blackberry lilies. I love the soft shade of pink of your pavonia!

  6. Kris P says:

    I’m impressed that they’re flowering with just a once a week watering. I’ll have to see if the bulbs are available when the fall supplies arrive in nurseries. My Sunset guide references only the blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis), which is said to need regular water during the growing season.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I was hoping that, like bearded iris, which grows well here, it wouldn’t need a lot of supplemental water. So far so good! Just for reference, mine get about 4 hours of late afternoon sun. I think a long stretch of morning sun would be preferable, but I just don’t have it. —Pam

      • Alison says:

        I’ve only watered my blackberry lilies once since June, when our rains petered out for the summer. Of course, they get plenty of water the rest of the year.

  7. I had a patch of candy lilies in one of the front beds for years, but the Death Star baked all of the organic material out of them and the soil around them when I looked the other direction for a week or two. May now try again after being reminded how cute they are.

  8. Tina says:

    Those are cute, cute, cute. Another plant I want that I haven’t room for! I just came back from BSN with 5 plants and no where for them to go. I need to stop reading blogs and visiting nurseries.

  9. I have a blackberry lily that looks a lot like this. It has never reproduced.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Candy lily is a hybrid of blackberry lily and vesper lily, Lisa. Too bad your blackberry lily doesn’t seed out — in a small way, of course. —Pam

  10. TexasDeb says:

    Absolutely adorable. I’ll be watching for these to reappear on nursery tables and for your ongoing experience with deer. If as Linda says the deer leave them alone then I’ll have to give them a try!

  11. Jayne says:

    What a sweet lily. I’m not familiar with it. I wonder how it would do down in the Houston area. I think we are typically more humid than your area.

  12. I have blackberry lilies and really love them. They are so tough. They reseed but aren’t pests. These candy lilies are so cute I need to check them out, too.

  13. Lucy Wiley says:

    I’m in Lafayette, Louisiana, and I started with 2 candy lily plants last year, one is reddish and the other purple. When I got them, they didn’t even have buds so I had no idea what color they were. I’m just glad I got two different ones. I’ve read that the reason for the name is the twisted shape of the spent flower, looking like barley sugar candy (English, I think). They are so cute. I don’t know if the seeds from last year re-seeded or if the plant simply multiplies on its own, but I have more this year. It gets a bit lanky and doesn’t stand up straight, but I like it anyway.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Mine didn’t have buds either when I bought them, so it was a fun surprise to see what color they’d turn out to be. I didn’t actually know they came in so many colors. —Pam