Normally I’m all about the latin names for plants, but in this case, I think it actually makes it less specific.
Blackberry Lilies *used* to be Belamcanda chinensis, and Candy Lilies are sometimes referred to as Pardancanda norrisii, or Pardancanda chinensis, but really, Candy lilies are a hybrid between Blackberry Lilies and Iris dichotoma, so despite the fact that they will grow essentially true from seed, they aren’t really a species, and so don’t deserve their own latin name. PLUS, Blackberry lilies were recently reclassified as Iris domestica, making Candy lilies officially Iris x norrisii, but most places haven’t made these update yet, so if you go searching for them you’ll come up empty except for a few taxonomy nerds. Therefore common names it is.
Anyway, they’re interesting plants. Leaves like iris, spotted blooms shaped a bit like a daylily, though you can see the iris relationship there too. The ‘blackberry’ in the name comes from the seeds, which are big and round and glossy and look rather like blackberries.They bloom around the same time dayliles do as well, but to my eye are rather more exotic looking – I particularly like how the spent flowers twist up into spirals.
I heard about them a few years ago, but they were hard to find, particularly in my price range, so I took a gamble growing them from seed. There wasn’t a lot of guidance on how this process was supposed to go at the time, so I thought it would be useful to make what I’ve learned available.
I normally have poor luck direct seeding things, but these have worked pretty well. The flowering stems fall down in late fall, so at that point they can be cut off and scattered wherever you want to establish more plants. You don’t seem to need to cover them, despite the relatively large size, and I’ve never seen anything eating them. The seeds will sprout sporadically through the spring and summer, and will be big enough to flower the following year. The leaves look like tiny iris leaves and are quite substantial, so they are easy to see and you don’t have to worry too much about weeding them out accidentally despite the prolonged germination period.
One of the sources I got my original seeds from noted that the seeds did not last well and should be kept in the refrigerator until planted. I don’t know how true that is, but I did follow that advice. If you’re growing from your own seeds, you could also just leave them out on the plant until you’re ready. In any case, this isn’t the same as needing stratification. They should germinate fine without a chilling period, it’s just that they will theoretically dry out quickly if kept in warmer conditions.
The seeds themselves have a shiny outer coating which gives them the name ‘blackberry’. That coating is actually like a brittle balloon containing the real seed, which is coated in dirty mossy looking stuff. You don’t need to remove the shiny coating, but don’t worry if it cracks either, it doesn’t indicate your seed has gone bad. I got similar germination from cracked and uncracked seeds.
The initial steps in growing from seed are very familiar and simple. Place the seeds in seed starting mix and water well. They don’t seem to care if they are buried or exposed on the surface, though I prefer the later as you can see germination that much sooner. They also don’t seem to have a temperature preference, though a warm location can be helpful as I’ll explain.
The big trick I’ve learned is to let the planting medium dry out again immediately. Don’t re-water until it is seriously completely dried out to an extent that would kill any other seedling. THEN soak them and let the cycle begin again. It seems the seeds germinate in response to these wet-dry cycles. Weird, but in my experience true. The reason bottom heat is useful is that it helps the soil dry out faster, so you can get more cycles in quickly.
My germination rates haven’t been bad (around 30%), but they take a long time, and are very irregular. I imagine I could have coaxed a few more seeds into sprouting, but by then it was springtime and I had enough and just planted what I had outside and dumped the rest rather than sit and fuss over flats of unsprouted seeds while spring was going on. I’m not kidding about slow and irregular. I would say one seed every week or so starting about a month after sowing. You want to start these three months or so before your last expected frost. Be Patient. They will sprout.
The seedlings themselves are slow growing, but pretty robust. I normally pull out the sprouted ones to a different tray to keep them more consistently moist, but they won’t die even if they do dry out completely along with the unsprouted seeds. They also aren’t particularly susceptible to mold or damping off or getting leggy or any of the other common seedling ailments. I don’t think I’ve lost a single seedling of these once it’s sprouted, which is pretty impressive given how attentive to these things I usually am (how do you think I figured out they needed to dry out in order to sprout? It wasn’t careful research and controlled trials, I’ll tell you that). Anyway, it takes at least a month to get from the first leaf to a size that you could conceivably plant outside. They grow slowly and hold well in pots, so err on the side of earlier when deciding when to sow. Assuming they aren’t too tiny and late when you transplant them, there’s a good chance of blooms the first year, though fewer and later than on older plants.
So, this is all terribly unscientific, but that’s what I’ve learned. They sprout on wet – dry cycles, and try your patience like nothing else, but ultimately are pretty simple and hard to kill assuming you can wait for them to do things at their own pace.