What is Bartram’s Ixia?

September 16, 2015
pete/joel

wm bartramIf you’ve ever seen or heard of the Florida plant Bartram’s Ixia, you may have wondered about the Bartram family connection. In that light, we asked curator Joel Fry to explain the history of this rare, but beautiful, native plant:

“William Bartram first described the Ixia plant (currently classified as Calydorea coelestina) in a letter to Benjamin Rush, dated December 5, 1767. William put together a detailed botanic description of the plant for Rush, shortly after it was first discovered by he and his father in Florida a year or two earlier. He wrote:

“The colour of this most delightfull of Flowers is a lively blue reflecting a slite cast of purple. The delicate texture of these Flowers is admirable beyond anything that Vigitation presents besides.”

Ixia courtest National History Museum, UK“William also made a very good color drawing of the Ixia for his London plant agent, Peter Collinson, probably sent in the autumn of 1767, which Collinson mentioned in a letter in early 1768 as a ‘fine Painting… beyond any Discreption.’ There is also some description of the Ixia in Travels.

“Ixia has a very complex botanic history with many different names over time. Ixias are now generally as a genus are limited to South Africa—and there are a number of garden plants, grown as bulbs, often called ‘Cape bulbs’ that include Ixias and relatives. William Bartram’s blue Ixia is a rare plant with a limited range in Florida, so wasn’t generally seen by botanists and never grown in gardens—maybe once a generation someone found it, and would then give it another name.

Calydorea-coelestina.i-5020.s-63830.r-01“The Ixia remains a rare plant in the wild, but it often crops up along highway cuts and new clearings in Florida, only to vanish after a few years. But I’ve also seen it recently offered as a cultivated plant—and people seem to have some more success growing it in pots than gardens these days.”

I'm interested in:

Biking & Walking

Birds

Boating & Fishing

Flowers, Plants & Trees

Gardening

History

Kids' Activities

Sankofa Community Farm

Southwest Philadelphia

Water Quality

Workshops, Wellness & Culture

Youth Internships

I'm interested in:

Biking & Walking

Stroll the Schuylkill River Trail or join us for biking!

Birds

Look up! More than 100 species of birds rely on this ecosystem.

Boating & Fishing

Enjoy all that the Tidal Schuylkill River has to offer.

Flowers, Plants & Trees

See what’s blooming, find a favorite tree, and stroll the gardens and natural lands.

Gardening

Bring the Garden home! Shop for plants and grow your own food.

History

Uncover the interconnected stories of this historic site.

Kids' Activities

Join us year-round to learn, make, share, and wonder.

Sankofa Community Farm

“Go back and get it!” Growing food sovereignty with an African Diaspora focus.

Southwest Philadelphia

Resources and opportunities especially for neighbors in Southwest Philly.

Water Quality

Find our latest data on the river’s bacteria levels and recent rainfall.

Workshops, Wellness & Culture

Enjoy upcoming workshops, self-care, and events. Are you a Southwest artist? Let’s partner!

Youth Internships

Calling Southwest students: paid internships available with the river, the farm, and the trees.