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What is a Peacock Flower?

The Peacock Flower, with its vibrant red and orange hues, is a tropical marvel resembling the flamboyant tail of its namesake bird. This ornamental plant, also known as Caesalpinia pulcherrima, thrives in warm climates, offering both beauty and medicinal properties. Intrigued by nature's splendor? Discover how the Peacock Flower can transform your garden into a burst of color.
Terrie Brockmann
Terrie Brockmann

The peacock flower is a member of the iris family, Iridaceae, but it is more exotic looking than the typical garden iris. Even when the plant is not blooming, the willowy, evergreen foliage has the architectural beauty of ornamental grass. The South African native usually grows in grasslands where moisture is seasonal, rather than recurrent, so gardeners may need to learn when and how to water it. Sometimes people call it other names, such as African or Spanish iris, bicolor iris, or evergreen iris, and there are other plants that growers call peacock flowers.

With so many different names, gardeners who want to add the peacock flower to their landscapes may need to know its botanical name. The peacock flower now belongs to the Dietes genus, but it used to be in the genus Moraea. Often nurseries list it under its old name, Moraea aristata, or the synonym Moraea glaucopis. Some nurseries mistakenly sell Dutch iris or other types of irises as the peacock flower.

Often it is listed as D. bicolor. There are other plants called the peacock flower, including Caesalpinia pulcherrima, Tigridia meleagris, and Delonix regia. Most well-informed growers buy the plants from knowledgeable or reliable nurseries.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Peacock flowers are usually white or pastel yellow and have a large, blue, or violet eye on each outer tepal. These tepals are the petal-like flower parts at the flower base. The flowers typically are 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) across and produced in late spring on slender stems that are occasionally branched. Peacock flower plants may take two to three years or more before they produce flowers.

Typically, gardeners in climates similar to the USDA zones nine and ten plant peacock flower plants in rock gardens or as border plants. In climates where they are marginally hardy, growers plant them at the base of warm, sunny walls or in greenhouses. In the winter, growers generally do well by providing deep, dry mulch, but an unusually severe frost may kill the plants. They may rot if the winter is not dry enough because they are South African plants and accustomed to an extremely dry winter climate.

Generally, the plants are 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm) tall, and some of the long, flat, narrowly linear leaves may grow to 18 inches (45 cm) long. Some gardeners have reported that, in ideal growing conditions, their plants reached heights of about 3 feet (1 m). The long, tough, leaves are basal, meaning that they grow only from the base of the plant. This perennial plant grows from rhizomes. Gardeners propagate the plant by sowing the seeds or by dividing the tufted offsets during the dormant season.

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