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Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower)

More Information About Tigridia

The genus Tigridia contains around 30-35 species of bulbous perennials native mostly to Mexico and Guatemala. The name tigridia refers to the tiger-like coloration and spotting of the flowers, but they might more accurately be called jaguardia because of their jaguar-like spots and because the Aztecs called them "Jaguar flower". They are in the Iris family and have the familiar 3-sepal, 3-petal arrangement.

Depending on their native habitat, tigridia species can be summer dormant or winter dormant and prefer alpine, semi-alpine, semi-arid, or semi-tropical climates. The species commonly grown in gardens are winter dormant and have a fan-shaped clump of leaves topped in summer with a succession of short-lived flowers in a rainbow of bright colors (purple, red, orange, yellow, and white with a blotched center).

By far, the best known species is Tigridia pavonia which combines cold tolerance, large flowers, and bright colors to perfection. Its flowers open in the morning and are finished by 5pm, but are replaced by more flowers the next day. A favorite of the Aztecs, Tigridia pavonia has been cultivated for over 1000 years.

Tigridia species live in montane habitats and have some specific requirements for the garden. They must be kept dry in the winter to prevent root rot. This entails planting tigridia in a well-drained soil that is sloped or at least above the surrounding grade. From May to August, tigridia are in active growth and prefer regular irrigation and a half-day of morning sun.