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What is Patersonia?

By Carey Reeve
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Patersonia is genus of perennial flowering plant in the monocot group. It is herbaceous, meaning that it does not develop true wood, with grass-like leaves that grow in tufts from a ryhzomatous stem and flowers with three petals. Most of the approximately 20 species of Patersonia are originally from Australia with a few species native to the Philippines and Indonesia. The plants were named in honor of Colonel William Paterson who was an explorer and a botanist and became the first Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales, Australia in 1794.

Patersonia is a wild flower with most species growing abundantly in different temperate areas of Australia, but it is often used in gardens as well. A member of Iridaceae family, Patersonia is closely related to irises and crocuses. Very few members of this family are found in Australia leading it to be commonly referred to as Native Iris. Many species are characterized by flowers that range from blue to purple inspiring another common name, Purple flag. Only one, P. spirafolia or spiral flag, has been listed as a rare species and is listed as endangered according to Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999.

Australia has several temperate areas in which different varieties of Patersonia are found. P. fragilis has grayish-green leaves and flower stems that are shorter than the leaves and can be found all along the coastline in the Southeast quadrant of the mainland and Tasmania. P. occidentalis is most common in the southwest region but is also found in the southeast and Tasmania, and it is more frost hardy than most. The eastern edge of Australia is home to both P. sericea and P. glabrata. The first of which grows best in hot areas and has dark purple flowers, and the second is so similar to the first that some consider it to be a glabrous, i.e., having a smooth, shiny leaf surface, version of the same species.

Most species of Patersonia require a sandy, fast-draining soil and thrive with regular watering and full sun. The seeds of these plants are easily germinated, but they can also be propagated by dividing large, established clusters. This is possible because of the formation of rhizomes, i.e., stems that run along just underneath the surface of the ground and can sprout new clusters of roots, leaves, and flowers from their internodes. Like other members of the family Iridaceae, Patersonia species have a calyx, or set of sepals, that appears to be part of the corolla, i.e., the set of petals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Patersonia?

Patersonia is a genus of perennial plants native to Australasia, commonly known as Native Iris. These plants are part of the Iridaceae family and are characterized by their grass-like foliage and vibrant, three-petaled flowers, which can range in color from purple and blue to yellow and white, depending on the species.

How many species of Patersonia are there?

There are approximately 20 recognized species of Patersonia, primarily distributed across Australia, with a few species found in New Guinea and Southeast Asia. Each species has adapted to its unique environment, from coastal dunes to forest understories, showcasing a diversity of growth forms and ecological niches.

What are the ideal growing conditions for Patersonia?

Patersonia species thrive in well-drained soils and can tolerate a range of conditions from full sun to partial shade. They are generally drought-resistant once established, making them suitable for gardens in arid and semi-arid regions. Regular watering during the first growing season helps establish a robust root system.

Are Patersonia plants easy to cultivate?

Patersonia plants are relatively easy to cultivate, especially in regions with a climate similar to their native habitat. They can be propagated by seed or division, with the latter being the quicker method to establish new plants. They require minimal maintenance, making them a popular choice for low-maintenance gardens.

Can Patersonia be used for landscaping purposes?

Yes, Patersonia is an excellent choice for landscaping, particularly in native plant gardens and xeriscaping. Their striking flowers and foliage add visual interest, while their hardiness and low water requirements make them ideal for sustainable garden designs. They can be used as border plants, groundcovers, or as part of a mixed perennial bed.

Are there any notable varieties of Patersonia that gardeners should consider?

Gardeners might consider Patersonia occidentalis, known for its vibrant purple flowers, or Patersonia fragilis, which has delicate blue blooms. Patersonia sericea, with its silky, silvery foliage and deep blue flowers, is also a popular choice for its striking appearance and adaptability to various garden settings.

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