How to Grow Blackberry Lilies Although They Are Neither a Blackberry or a Lily
They Found Their Way to America
A blackberry lily (Belamcamda chinensis) is a stunning flower that is native to China, Japan, Russia, and Korea, but we gardeners in the United States are lucky that they have managed to find their way into many gardens across parts of North America. Across many of the northeastern states, they can be found growing wild along roadsides and in pastures.
Note: There are many exotic plants that have been introduced across North America, some of which have become naturalized. Some of those naturalized plants are also considered to be invasive, but the blackberry lily does not appear to fall in that category.
This herbaceous, rhizomatous* perennial will grow to be about 2-4 feet tall with green, sword-shaped, iris-like leaves that extend upward to about 10-12 inches. The leaves, in flattened fans, and resembling those of a German garden iris, are long and broad and give rise to stems that can grow up to two feet long. The two-inch-wide, six-petaled, orange flowers with crimson red speckles appear on the stems, although the flowers will only last for one day. Then they will dry into a tight spiral and fall as pods (pear-shaped seed capsules that fade from green to tan) appear and eventually open to reveal the round, shiny black seeds. The arrangement of the seeds in clusters gave rise to the common name since they look very much like ripe blackberries.
You shouldn’t, however, let the brief life of the flower keep you from planting these easy-to-grow beauties, as they are soon followed by other blossoms and you should have a succession of flowers all through July and August, after which the oval, green pods will split open to reveal some very attractive, shiny black seeds. The seed pods resemble blackberries and will remain on the plant for several weeks, but they are NOT EDIBLE, regardless of how delicious they may look.
*In case you are new to gardening, a herbaceous plant is one that doesn’t have much wood. The stems are green and soft, and the plants grow quickly producing flowers and seeds in a relatively short length of time. Rhizomatous refers to a plant stem that grows horizontally along or under the ground, often sending out roots and shoots.
Don't Eat These Blackberry Look-AlikesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sowing Inside or Outside
Having blackberry lilies in your yard begins with planting the tubers, which you can plant at any time in USDA zones 5-10a (they are considered hardy in those zones) when the ground is not frozen, or sowing the seeds about two inches deep at the start of either spring or autumn. Plant the tubers (bulbs) or seeds about 6-10" apart in a sunny to a lightly-shaded area with soil that drains well, but if you don't have loamy soil, don't worry, as rich soil is not a necessary requirement for these easy-to-grow flowers, as they tolerate many different types of soil. The main thing is to keep the soil moist.
The tubers from mature plants will transplant easily. Flowers will usually appear the second year after planting, but if you are planting seeds and plant them early enough, the flowers will usually appear the first year.
If you plan to start your plants inside, mix the seeds in a moist growing medium about two months before you plan to plant them outside, then place in a freezer bag. To achieve stratification, refrigerate the bag for a week. Seeds will germinate in two weeks to two months. The best time to transplant them outdoors is when two leaves have appeared, and any danger of frost has passed (or at the beginning of autumn).
- Treasury of Gardening (1994), Publications International, Ltd. (Page 278)
- Fell, Derek (1992), The Encyclopedia of Flowers, Smithmark Publishers, Inc. (Page 128)
- Heriteau, Jacqueline & Dr. H. Marc Cathey (1990), The National Arboretum Book of Outstanding Garden Plants, Simon & Schuster
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney