Strictly Correct Ixia

The bright pink Ixia stricta, with its contrasting yellow anthers, appears towards the end of the season of spring bulbs in the Overberg. The stem is very thin and delicate, like most Ixia species, yet it holds itself quite upright. From this habit it gets its name, “stricta”. Stricta is Latin for being very tight, close together, with little room for manouveur. In plants, this is used to denote that the plant is neat and erect, not spreading, untidy or floppy. The flat thin leaves also lie tight to the stem, though by this time in the season they have already begun to fade. By midsummer these plants have disappeared completely, awaiting next season as a small corm buried beneath the ground.

Ixia stricta (Iridaceae) flower
Ixia stricta flowering spike
Ixia stricta (Iridaceae) flowers
Ixia stricta flowers point at an angle upwards and the stamens point straight out from the centre of the flower
Ixia scillaris (Iridaceae) flower
Ixia scillaris flowers point to the side and the stamens bend downwards
Ixia scillaris (Iridaceae)
Ixia scillaris flowering spike

Ixia stricta has been recognised as a distinct species for over fifty years, but it is still confused with a more widespread species that also has the distinctive colour of bright pink petals and yellow anthers, Ixia scillaris. Ixia scillaris grows from Cape Town to Somerset West and up the western mountains as far as the Cederberg. Ixia stricta on the other hand is only found in the Overberg from Houw Hoek to Bredasdorp. It is not geography alone the separates the species but also the position and shape of the flowers. Ixia stricta, as its name implies, has a neater, more regimented flower spike. The tube of the flower is held straight and points at an angle upwards. The anthers in the middle also are directed straight out from the centre of the flower. The flower when viewed straight on is radially symmetric. Ixia scillaris on the other hand has a flower tube that bends so that the flowers point to the side. The anthers also droop downwards, so the flower appears only bilaterally symmetric when viewed straight on. A third similar species that overlaps the ranges of both these species is Ixia erubescens, but this is easily distinguished by its very crisped undulating leaves. For those who want to read about the differences in more detail they can access the most recent scientific paper on Ixia section Dichone.

Ixia stricta is found along the lower slopes of the Klein River Mountains and elsewhere in the Overberg in dry stony habitat amongst fynbos. It is most noticeable after fire but does not require fire to flower, often appearing alongside paths. The flowers clearly share the same way to attract pollinators as members of the genus Chironia in the gentian family. Both have bright pink petals and yellow anthers in the middle. There is no mistaking the two as Ixia has 6 petals and Chironia only 5. They have overlapping flowering times, so would attract similar pollinators. The pollination is most likely to be done by bees, which are attracted to the open flower with their clear indication of easily accessible pollen. Ixia stricta is best grown as a pot plant, where its small corms can be protected during the dormant season. (Chironia, especially Chironia baccifera, would make better garden plants for those looking for a similar colour combination.)

Ixia stricta (Iridaceae) habit
Ixia stricta plant in typical habitat with leaves

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