Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis)
aka Iris Domestica, Leopard Flowers, Leopard Lily, She-gan (Chinese), Yakan (Japanese), Leopardblomst (Danish)
About This Plant
Blackberry Lily, a short-lived perennial, is not a true Lily, but rather a member of the Iris family (Iridaceae). It has the leaves of an Iris, the flowers of a Lily, and a fruit that resembles a Blackberry–truly a curious specimen! Its flowers are orange splattered with lots of red spots like that of a Leopard. It blooms from July to September and its flowers have a showy, yet delicate appearance. Each flower is about 1 ¼-2” across. Each flower only lasts for one day, but the plant will produce a succession of blooms over the course of several weeks. It can be planted in mass for a sea of blooms.
Blooms are followed by shiny, black, Blackberry-like seeds in the Fall. It’s often found growing in habitats such as hillsides, grasslands, fields, and open areas in USDA Zones 5-10. Winter protection may be required in Zone 5 and colder. It reaches heights of one to three feet tall. Its leaves are often grouped together into the shape of a fan. Leaves are green to grey-blue and sword-shaped, up to about two feet long. Blackberry Lily’s Root system consists of a thickened yellow-orange crown at the base of the plant which has fibrous roots underneath. It also produces spreading rhizomes. Dried rhizomes of the Blackberry Lily have long been used medicinally in Eastern Asia for a variety of ailments.
This plant spreads by rhizomes and it also self-seeds readily. Unwanted seedlings are easy to remove, however. Plants may require staking, especially in rich soil. Dead or rotting leaves should be divided regularly to prevent Iris Borer pest problems. When dividing the plant, only healthy, uninfected roots should be replanted. This is an easy plant to grow and is easy to care for.
The seeds of Blackberry Lily germinate readily and should be started indoors two months prior to the last frost. Germination takes about two weeks. Blackberry Lily can be propagated by seed or division. If planting rhizomes, it’s best done in the Spring.
Plants should be spaced about 15-18” apart.
Blackberry Lily requires sandy or loamy soil in a bright sunny position or with light shade. It makes a good companion plant for Irises as they enjoy the same growing conditions: lots of sun, average moisture, and soil that drains easily. It also does best with long hot summers. The plants are not susceptible to mildew or fungus. It’s a fairly hardy plant, tolerating deep freezes if given a deep dry mulch cover for Winter and placed in a well-drained location. (Boggy soils will cause the rhizome to freeze in Winter). Blackberry Lily’s are drought tolerant, but they much prefer regular watering.
Blackberry Lily is not a heavy feeder and will tolerate average soil. Bulbs are often dug up in the Autumn in colder climates and stored in a cool, frost-free place over the winter, and replanted in Spring. Blackberry Lily plants, when not in bloom, are not particularly attractive, but rather plain. If planted early enough, the plant may flower its first year, but typically, it will flower in its second year. The plant is attractive to Butterflies. It is also attractive to Slugs. The plant is considered slightly toxic including the berries, which might look quite enticing to a child or unsuspecting adult, so use caution.
Roots are harvested for medicinal purposes either in the early Spring before new sprouts appear or in the Autumn when stems and leaves have withered.
Simply collect seeds after the pods dry and split open, and the fleshy fruits have shriveled and the seeds inside are hard. Cut off the seed heads and continue to allow them to dry further before storing.
- Plant in borders or masses, container or woodland garden
- Flower arrangements.
There are no known culinary uses of Blackberry Lily. The plant is slightly toxic.
Roots are what is commonly used for medicinal purposes with Blackberry Lily. Roots are dug up either in the early Spring before new sprouts appear or in the Autumn when the stems and leaves have withered. Roots should then be washed and dried in the sun. The root is either sliced into small pieces or ground into a powder to be used in decoctions, extras, capsules, and poultices.
In traditional Chinese Medicine, the root of she-gan (Blackberry Lily) is viewed as bitter and cold in nature and it is mostly used medicinally as a treatment for ailments related to the lungs and liver. In China, it is also used to lower high fevers, expel phlegm, relieve sore throat and decrease inflammation. Blackberry Lily has been included in the official Chinese Pharmacopoeia since 1985.
The scientific community has taken a recent interest in Blackberry Lily as a possible supportive treatment for breast cancer, but more studies are needed in this regard.
Blackberry Lily roots should not be taken by pregnant women.
Blackberry Lily is native to eastern Russia, China, and Japan.