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What is a Corn Lily Plant and How to Care for It?

Here's everything you need to know about the corn lily plant, what it looks like, its growing conditions, uses, and some of its species. We've included some propagating tips so you can incorporate one into your own garden.

Amazing image of light blue ixia plant flowers growing along an evergreen stem

Genus Ixia

If you’ve been in search of an ornamental plant that will blow the socks right off of its onlookers, you needn’t look further than an ixia plant. These plants are quite rare and chances are you’ll be the only one in a several block radius that has one in their garden.

Ixia plants are part of the iris botanical family (iridaceae) and this is clear by their absolutely gorgeous flowers. This plant is sometimes more commonly called a corn lily, wand flower, cornflower, or African corn lily.

These exotic flowering plants are highly coveted because of their incredibly brilliant flower blossoms that make for spectacular garden plants and cut flowers for tropical and elegant flower bouquets as well. Read on to find out where they come from, how to grow them, and why you want to!

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What do Corn Lily Plants Look Like?

Focus image on pink and white ixia flowers growing in clusters along evergreen stem

Flowers

An ixia flower is a spectacular thing to behold. These brilliant flower blossoms are borne in inflorescences of flowers with at least a dozen in each inflorescence.

Ixia flowers are star shaped flowers that are rather dainty and have 6 petals to each one. When growing in warmer, southern regions they will usually bloom in the late spring, whereas when growing in cooler, northern regions they will usually bloom in the early summer or late summer.

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An ixia flower will be brilliantly colored and will sometimes be decorated with petals of one color and contrasting spots or throats of another. Different varieties will have different colors, and some color options include red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, green, or white.

Leaves

Complimenting the brilliant ixia flower is ixia foliage! Corn lily leaves are long and sword shaped, like a magnified blade of grass. Each leaf is quite firm and sturdy and is a deep green color.

Focus on yellow ixia flower with red centre growing among evergreen leaves

Growth Habit

Starting underground, the corn lily plant grows from a corm. A corm is an underground bulbotuber or swollen stem that acts as a storage for water and nutrients. This helps a plant survive harsh conditions.

Ixia corms are rather cute in the way that they are shaped like a chocolate kiss candy! They are very similar to the corm of a crocus plant and both plant species are very resilient.

Growing as either a short lived perennial (continuing to blossom year after year) or an annual (completing its life cycle within a year), these cormous plants also grow long and wiry flower stems.

These wiry stems – usually growing up to 20 inches in height – are also quite stiff. This feature of long and sturdy stems make them for a great cut flower variety, along with their long lasting blossoms.

Where are Corn Lilies Native Plants?

It is very useful to learn about the native region of a particular plant, as this will help you understand which conditions to mimic in order to keep them as happy as possible.

Corn lilies are native plants to South African regions. They thrive in hottest and sunniest places there. They can exist as perennial plants in USDA zones 8 through 10, and as annuals in USDA zones 4 through 7.

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What are some Ixia Species?

Striking turquoise ixia flowers growing in flower spikes in the garden

Turquoise Ixia (Ixia Viridiflora)

We should all wish to be lucky enough to ever bear witness to the turquoise ixia plants. This is a very rare flowering plant that is native to Cape province of South Africa. Its population is severely diminished by human influence destroying their natural habitat.

Ixia viridiflora can be identified its incredible flowers. They are borne in long inflorescences with each individual ixia flower has spectacular turquoise flower petals with a deep purple centre. This flower is incredibly rare and even seeing a picture of it makes you feel shocked by its beauty.

Spotted African Corn Lily (Ixia Maculata)

The spotted African corn lily is a member of the iris family that is native to the Cape provinces of South Africa. They’ve also been naturalized in other hot and dry places like Australia and the southern United States.

Ixia maculata can be identified by its straight and unbranched flower stems (heights between 1-2 feet) that bear dense and showy flower spikes of orange or yellow flowers with purple or red spots.

What are the Growing Conditions of Corn Lilies?

Beautiful pink wand flowers growing in the sun in the garden

Soil Type

Thanks to their ixia bulbs, corn lilies make for very resilient and tough plants. This means that they can tolerate a great many soil types, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their preferences.

They tend to perform the best when they are planted in sandy loam soils. It is best that the soil is fertile – high in nutrients – and very well drained soil.

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If you’re worried about the nutrient level of the soil on your property, simply incorporate some compost to the mix! Some mulch or manure will do the trick too.

Water Level

During the growth season of a corn lily, it is important that they receive plenty of water to perform their absolute best. Once they are out of their growing season they are far more drought tolerant.

During their growing season, ensure to keep soil moist for your corn lily. Since they prefer to live in sunny spots they will require more frequent watering.

That being said, it can be detrimental to the plant if it is over watered. Under watering is always better than over watering, so don’t over do it! Stick to a couple of inches of water per week.

Another way to check water level is by sticking your finger into the soil. If the top soil is dry by a couple inches below is still moist, it doesn’t need to be watered. Better established plants are tolerant of temporarily dry soil.

Sun Exposure

Sun exposure is one of the most crucial aspects of ixia care. These plants absolutely thrive in the hottest and most sunny spots in the garden (as it indicated by the native growing region of the plant).

Ixias are more than sun loving creatures. Full sun exposure usually means at least 8 hours of sun or more, but these plants want all the sun that the day has to offer.

When it comes to the ixia, the hotter the better. Place them in an area that is not covered by larger plants at any point in the day. They will thank you with brilliant flower blossoms.

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That being said, they are entirely tolerant of partial shade as well, there’s just always a chance of their flower blossoms being less enthusiastic.

Absolutely beautiful hot pink flowers of the ixia plant growing in garden

Temperature

As indicated by their love of sun, it isn’t hard to guess that corn lilies also love the heat. They prefer to exist in areas that receive regular temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Otherwise, they should be kept in pots in areas that have summer highs between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit but will dip down to 30 degrees in winter. In these temperatures they need to brought inside for the winter.

Pruning

Absolutely nothing needs to be done to the corn lily in terms of pruning. Spent flowers will fall away and act as natural compost for the underground corm, so just let them do their thing!

Fertilizer

A corn lily will respond very well to some fertilizer during its growing season. Feel free to incorporate a high quality fertilizer every few weeks in the spring and summer.

Intolerances

As you can clearly see, the corn lily is a marvellously resilient plant. It can tolerant a great many things, but the main thing to keep in mind is that they are not tolerant of water logged soil and they are not tolerant of cold winters.

How do you Propagate a Corn Lily Plant?

Blooming flowers of delicate white ixia plant growing in garden

Propagating a corn lily bulb is super duper simple to do. Now that you know a little bit about the ideal growing conditions of the plant, here are some tips on how to introduce one into your very own garden!

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Time of Year

The time of year to plant an ixia bulb will depend on the growing zone that you live in. Southern gardeners (zones 4 and 5) should plant their bulbs in the spring, and northern gardeners (zones 6 and 7) should wait until autumn. In these zones you should also cover the area with a heavy layer of mulch to protect the bulbs through the winter.

Pick a Spot

Remember to pick a spot on your property that receives a ton of sunlight and that has well draining soil. However, since they grow from corms, ixia plants are also very easy to transplant, so if they don’t seem so happy you can always try out a different placement.

Plant a Bulb

The next step is planting the bulb! Each spring flowering bulb should be planted 3 inches into the soil and 3 to 5 inches apart from one another. this will give the bulbs plenty of room to grow, but also create a dense spray of ixia flowers once they blossom. When planted in a clump they many not perform as well.

Maintenance

During their growing season, your ixia plant should be receiving a generous amount of moisture. They are not particularly drought tolerant as they are being established.

They can also be given a high quality fertilizer every few weeks! If you live in a cooler climate make sure that your bulbs are brought inside once the threat of frost starts to approach.

How is the Corn Lily Plant Used?

Hot pink flowers of the ixia plant in full bloom

Ornamental Plant

Planting your own patch of corn lily plants brings excellent ornamental value to your lawn, landscape, container, or windowsill. They are highly coveted because of their showy blossoms and ease of care.

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Corn lilies make for amazing border plantings and they should be planted in large numbers to creates a massive flurry of star shaped flowers. They are awesome container plants (this helps with bringing them indoors as well).

Corn lilies are excellent cut flowers on top of all that! They make for a stunning centre piece to a flower arrangement, and fresh cut flowers can last for several weeks in a vase with regular watering.

Not to mention they also provide an important source of nectar for various pollinating species like bees, wasps, moths, and butterflies.

FAQs

Are ixia plants perennials?

When growing in the natural growing region or in climates that are similar, an ixia plant will grow as a perennial plant, meaning that it will continue to blossom year after year if its ideal growing conditions are met. When growing outside of these conditions it will live as an annual plant, where it will complete its entire life cycle after one flowering season.

Are ixia bulbs hardy?

Ixia bulbs are hardy in terms of resilience to heat and to drought, though they are not particularly cold hardy. They will need to be covered with a layer of mulch in cool climates, and will not survive a severe winter.

Do ixia grow from seed?

Ixia does not grow from seed, but from a corm. A corm is an underground bulbotuber or swollen stem that acts as a storage for water and nutrients. This helps a plant survive harsh conditions.

Ixia corms are rather cute in the way that they are shaped like a chocolate kiss candy! They are very similar to the corm of a crocus plant and both plant species are very resilient.

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How tall do ixia plants grow?

Growing as either a short lived perennial (continuing to blossom year after year) or an annual (completing its life cycle within a year), these cormous plants also grow long and wiry flower stems.

These wiry stems – usually growing up to 20 inches in height – are also quite stiff. This feature of long and sturdy stems make them for a great cut flower variety, along with their long lasting blossoms.

Are corn lilies drought tolerant?

Once a corn lily is well established it can tolerate a short period of drought, though it can’t last like this forever as they are moisture loving plants.

Is wand flower deer resistant?

The wand flower is rated B on the deer resistance scale, meaning that they are seldom severely damaged by deer grazing but it is not unheard of.

When do ixia flowers blossom?

Ixia flowers are star shaped flowers that are rather dainty and have 6 petals to each one. When growing in warmer, southern regions they will usually bloom in the late spring, whereas when growing in cooler, northern regions they will usually bloom in the early summer or late summer.

How should wand flowers be pruned?

Absolutely nothing needs to be done to the corn lily in terms of pruning. Spent flowers will fall away and act as natural compost for the underground corm, so just let them do their thing!

Are cornflowers an invasive species?

Members of the ixia genus are not invasive species, though the common cornflower is. Cornflower is another common name for certain ixia varieties, hence the confusion.

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Can cornflowers be grown in pots?

A cornflower plant can easily be grown in pots as long as the pot has proper drainage and the plant is placed in an area that receives enough sunlight exposure.

Can cornflowers grow in shade?

Sun exposure is one of the most crucial aspects of ixia care. These plants absolutely thrive in the hottest and most sunny spots in the garden (as it indicated by the native growing region of the plant).

Ixias are more than sun loving creatures. Full sun exposure usually means at least 8 hours of sun or more, but these plants want all the sun that the day has to offer.

When it comes to the ixia, the hotter the better. Place them in an area that is not covered by larger plants at any point in the day. They will thank you with brilliant flower blossoms.

That being said, they are entirely tolerant of partial shade as well, there’s just always a chance of their flower blossoms being less enthusiastic.

How should an ixia plant be watered?

During the growth season of a corn lily, it is important that they receive plenty of water to perform their absolute best. Once they are out of their growing season they are far more drought tolerant.

During their growing season, ensure to keep soil moist for your corn lily. Since they prefer to live in sunny spots they will require more frequent watering.

That being said, it can be detrimental to the plant if it is over watered. Under watering is always better than over watering, so don’t over do it! Stick to a couple of inches of water per week.

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Another way to check water level is by sticking your finger into the soil. If the top soil is dry by a couple inches below is still moist, it doesn’t need to be watered. Better established plants are tolerant of temporarily dry soil.

Should cornflowers be given fertilizer?

A corn lily will respond very well to some fertilizer during its growing season. Feel free to incorporate a high quality fertilizer every few weeks in the spring and summer.