Blackberry Lily
Belamcanda chinensis
Iris family (Iridaceae)

Description: This perennial plant has sword-shaped alternate leaves about –2' long; they originate primarily toward the bottom of the flowering stalk. These leaves are often grouped together into the shape of a fan; they are green to grey-blue, linear in shape, glabrous, and glaucous. Their margins are smooth, while their veins are parallel. The erect central stalk is 2–3' tall and either branched or unbranched; it is terete, fairly stout, glabrous, glaucous, and pale green. This stalk terminates in a cyme or compound cyme of flowers. There are pairs of small linear-lanceolate bracts at each fork of the stalk; these bracts are slightly membranous and tend to wither away. Each flower spans about 1–2" across, consisting of 6 spreading tepals, 3 distinct stamens, a style with a tripartite stigma, and an inferior ovary. The tepals are orange with purple dots and elliptic-oblong in shape, while the ovary is green, glabrous, and narrowly ovoid. Each cyme usually produces several flowers. The blooming period occurs from mid- to late summer and lasts about 1-2 months. There is no noticeable floral scent. Each flower is replaced by an oblongoid seed capsule about 1" long; the 3 sides of this capsule become strongly recurved, revealing a mass of shiny black seeds that resembles a blackberry. The root system consists of a thickened crown at the base of the plant, which has fibrous roots underneath; spreading rhizomes are also produced. Both the crown and rhizomes have an orange interior. This plant can spread by either rhizomes or seeds.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, moist to dry conditions, and soil that is loamy, rocky, or sandy. The flowers and foliage are rarely bothered by disease or insect pests.

Range & Habitat: Blackberry Lily has naturalized throughout Illinois in widely scattered locations (see Distribution Map). In the wild, it is uncommon, although its population within the state may be increasing. Habitats include thin woodlands, rocky bluffs, hillsides, fallow fields, roadsides, and sites of old homesteads. Blackberry Lily was introduced from East Asia as an ornamental plant and it is often cultivated in gardens because of the attractive foliage and flowers.

Faunal Associations: Very little is known about floral-faunal relationships for this introduced plant. The flowers offer nectar and pollen to insects and other floral visitors, but it unclear who these visitors are. There are anecdotal reports that the seeds are eaten by birds.

Photographic Location: A flower garden at the Arboretum of the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: This remarkable plant has the leaves of an iris (Iris sp.), the flowers of a lily (Lilium sp.), and a fruit that resembles a blackberry (Rubus sp.). There is nothing that quite resembles it. The flower of Blackberry Lily has only 3 stamens, while the flower of a lily has 6 stamens. The Blackberry Lily differs from other members of the Iris family in having 3 distinct stamens that are not petal-like in appearance. It is still unclear whether the Blackberry Lily will become invasive. Another common name of this species is the Leopard Lily.

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