What is a Montbretia?

Deborah Walker
Deborah Walker
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Montbretia, also known as copper tips, Portuguese lily, autumn gold, falling stars, and crocosmia, is a perennial flower native to various tropical regions around the world. It is a member of the Iris family and bears funnel- or star-shaped flowers and sword-shaped, evergreen foliage that is between 12-20 inches (about 30-50 cm) long. A relatively low-maintenance plant, it is suitable as an in-ground bedding plant, or it can be planted in container gardens. It is quite a hardy and resists most pests and serious diseases.

About two years after planting, Montbretia will begin producing red, orange, coral, red-orange, or bright yellow flowers during the summer and early fall. These plants grow to be 36-48 inches tall ( about 90-120 cm), and will spread six to 18 inches (about 45.72 cm) across. It is found growing wild along roadsides and near streams in tropical areas of the Pacific, the Pacific Rim, and Indian Ocean. Montbretia can grow in United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones six to nine. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil with a slightly acidic, neutral, or slightly alkaline pH.

Although it is considered an invasive plant in some areas, many gardeners appreciate its vivid colors, and use Montbretia as a bedding plant in their landscaping. Montbretia is known to attract butterflies, birds, and bees, and may make a good addition to gardens created for this purpose. In addition, it makes a fine, long-lasting cut flower.

At planting, corms, which are similar to bulbs, should be placed 4-6 inches (about 10-15.24 cm) apart and about five inches (12.7 cm) deep. Montbretia should be fertilized in spring, mid-summer and fall. In areas where temperatures dip below 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 degrees Celsius), gardeners may find it easier to plant Montbretia in container gardens that can be brought inside during the winter. If not brought inside, the bulbs should be transplanted to storage in peat or vermiculite and kept in temperatures of at least 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius). In warmer areas that allow the plant to be left in the ground over the winter, the foliage should be left intact until spring.

Montbretia typically needs to be divided every two or three years to avoid overcrowding. It is a generally hardy plant that is not susceptible to serious disease. It is prone, however, to pests such as thrips and spider mites. To control these pests, one may use an insecticidal soap approved for use on this type of plant.

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