Prairie superstar: Nemastylis geminiflora

Meet my newest plant obsession: Nemastylis geminiflora, or prairie celestials.

These charming iris relatives are native to Texas, east to Alabama and Tennessee, and as far north as Kansas and Missouri. They prefer full sun and well-drained, alkaline soil. They look like grass until they bloom. The flowers last one day, opening in the morning and closing in the late afternoon, and are attractive to bees.  I understand that the flowers are as beloved by deer as they are by me.

Something that intrigues me is that although this plant is apparently neither rare nor endangered, it is difficult to come by commercially (we always want what we cannot have, no?). I have searched high and low for seeds or bulbs but with virtually no reliable source to show for my efforts. I contacted the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to learn if they knew of a commercial source for the plant (they don’t sell seeds or bulbs online, only through their on-location plant sales). They politely responded that they didn’t know, but they noticed that it was not native to my area and gently suggested I stick to plants native to central North Carolina.

Well, what else were they going to say? I respect both their mission and the problems that can arise from introducing non-natives into a landscape (Kudzu, anyone?). But there are also plenty of plants that adapt well given proper conditions, yet still behave themselves. To earn a place in my garden, plants must be self-reliant without being bullies. I’m too cheap and lazy to waste resources coddling prima donna plants, and life is too short and real estate too limited to set myself up for extra work with plants that can’t stay in control.

I intend to keep pursuing this plant, and hope to raise some from seed and grow them in a container until I see how they behave. I think they’d be a nice addition to my scree garden if they don’t multiply rapidly.

If you have experience with this plant, I’d love to hear about it.


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