Bark-a-lounger Botanists #3, April 5, 2020

Amazingly Graceful Libertia

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Libertia Amazing Grace

Libertia ‘Amazing Grace’

If you’ve been near the Garden House at Heronswood recently, you’ve no doubt noticed the cloud-like profusion of small white flowers blooming by the front door. This plant stopped me in my tracks when it first opened a few weeks ago, and I’m thrilled to see that it shows no signs of stopping. This charming little Iris relative is Libertia “Amazing Grace”, a cultivar from a genus that is native to the southern hemisphere, primarily found in Chile and New Zealand.

Any of the cultivated Libertia are a worthy addition to the Pacific Northwest garden, but “Amazing Grace” stands out as a noteworthy cultivar for its cold hardiness, particularly floriferous nature, and distinct foliage. Many of the straight-species have elongated, strap-like foliage very reminiscent of other Iridaceae family members, most commonly in a glaucous blue-green shade. “Amazing Grace” stands out for having its foliage blushed with bronze, an especially stunning feature when viewed through the copious flowers.

The flowers themselves are similar across the genus, and are commonly less than 1” across, bright white, and tripartite (three petals, three smaller sepals, three anthers). They are borne in branched inflorescences with stiff, wiry stalks that hold the minute flowers a foot or so above the plant, dancing gently in the slightest breeze.

In addition to “Amazing Grace”, which is a hybrid of New Zealand origin, we have a lovely species from Chile in our lower woodland, Libertia chilensis (also known as L. formosa). It demonstrates the more typical foliage form of the genus, with linear, blue-green leaves forming a clump at the base of the plant. This one is content in the dappled shade, while “Amazing Grace” is thriving in full sun near the house. Either is reliably hardy for us, and other than supplemental water in the summer, will not ask for much, but will reward you handsomely in return.

We look forward to seeing you at Heronswood this Friday, Saturday or Sunday, 10AM-3PM.

– Nathan Lamb, Curator/Assistant Director