Mexican Tiger Flower: How To Care For The Tigridia

The Mexican Tiger Flower, (Tigridia pavonia) or simply called the “Tigerflower”, “Peacock flower”, or the “Mexican shell flower” is one plant that should get more recognition for the garden.

People often confuse this with the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia), which blooms a different flower famous among butterflies of North America such as the heliconius hecale and the tiger swallowtail butterfly.

This colorful native of Mexico, where Yucca trees and ponytail also call home it’s flamboyant blossoms of red, yellow, lavender or white last only a day but each plant produces a number of blooms.

mexican tiger flower

Since the “mexican flower” is a member of the Iris Family and related to the gladiolus, it is grown the same way. Its corms or bulbs are not planted until the soil warms up in spring and are dug up at frost.

The bulbs or corms of this Native American flower planted several inches deep, about 4 to 6 inches apart. They may be grown in a row but are more effective when planted in beds.

The Tigridia pavonia plants are especially charming grown in groups in the perennial border where they provide bright color from mid-July to September. A sunny spot is ideal for this drought tolerant plant but some shade is all right, too. Height varies from 2-1/2 to 3 feet.

Thrips sometimes disfigure the blossoms but are easily controlled with a Malathion spray. Be sure to follow the label. We like Neem oil spray as a more natural alternative that should work as an insecticide too.

Storage in winter should be in a cool, frost-free basement.

Tigridia Provide Brilliant Interesting Flowers

Tigridia pavona (red) and Tigridia conchiflorum (yellow) are the two familiar varieties of this brilliant and interesting flower. Breeders have produced many new types, with colors ranging from red, yellow, pink, rose, orchid and lavender to pure white.

The increasing demand for the bulbs (or more correctly speaking, corms) will continue to bring about still greater improvements, as the species seems quite susceptible to hybridization and quickly forms flowering bulbs from seed.

Tigridia, Or Mexican Shellflower - Return To Eden 1951

Here’s how Mrs Forest Huss of Afton, Iowa described her Tigridia over 60 years ago in May of 1951 – Return To Eden “Friendly Flower Magazine”

Tigridia, Or Mexican Shellflower is a lovely very gaudy bulbous summer flower. The shape and coloring of the bloom is unusual, and interesting. They are easily grown from bulbs or seeds. Being native to Mexico they demand full sun.

The bloom remains open for only a short time and does not open again, but in a few days another will open from the same bud sheath. They, are being hybridized which has made a marvelous difference in the coloring and size of the flower. In storing the bulbs never break them apart. If broken from the base the bulb will decay while in storage. Store in dry sand, or soil, away from mice. Separate bulbs when planting.

In storing the bulbs never break them apart. If broken from the base the bulb will decay while in storage. Store in dry sand, or soil, away from mice. Separate bulbs when planting.

Advantages Of Mexican Tiger Flower Bulbs

Two advantages of Tigridia bulbs are their long blooming season and ability to withstand intense heat.

On the downside, is their fleeting, one-day bloom, with consequent lack of cut-flower value. They are strictly a decorative garden flower and as such, well earn their place in the sun.

Tigridias, although of Southern origin, with a wide range from Mexico to Chile, thrive exceptionally well in the Pacific Northwest.

Their flowering season extends from July to November and, unlike most members of the iridaceae family, which are once-blooming, they continue sending up spike after spike of flowers, to compensate for their short-lived splendor.

Blooms measure from three to five inches across and an increase in size may reasonably be expected to follow present efforts of breeders for improved strains.

The “tiger plant,” generally speaking, require the same culture as Gladiolus. They can, in some areas with a light protection of leaves, be left in the ground over winter; but the general practice is to lift and store the corms in the fall.

The corms are very starchy and at one time were used as food by Mexican Indians and by the Aztecs. This starchiness perhaps accounts for their keeping qualities.

Other minor qualities include tolerance against fauna such as the white-tailed deer and rabbits.

Planting And Caring For Tiger Flowers

Constant moisture, while growing, is more important to these tropical flowers than to Gladiolus, although they too, respond to regular irrigation.

The native habitat of Tigridias is in moist ground by running streams, yet they are in no ways a swamp plant, hence require a well-drained soil.

When planted in clumps in a perennial border, a moist pocket in the rock garden, or by a water pool they furnish a constant element of surprise; flashing their meteor-like blooms, one after another constantly, to brighten the garden all summer.

Any good loam will grow them and they should be planted four or five inches deep, depending upon the type of soil. A light mulch of peat moss, or other moisture conserving material, is also beneficial.

Commercial growers have, at times been unable to keep pace with the growing demand for these entrancing flowers and stocks are usually exhausted quite early in the season.

From which it may be inferred that Tigridias constantly improved strains of them will eventually become a familiar sight in gardens.

The Tigridia bulb is not difficult to grow, and it is a beautiful and unusual thing, worthy of space in any garden.

Tigridia - Mexican Tiger Lily - Curtis Botanical Magazine Vol 15-16 - 1801 -1816

Tigridia – Mexican Tiger Lily – Curtis Botanical Magazine Vol 15-16 – 1801 -1816

Growing Tigridia From Seeds

I’ve found them very easy to grow from seed, so a good stock of bulbs can be produced at very small cost. The seed germinates a bit slowly in about twenty-five days.

It seems best to start them inside in early March in order to get fine bulbs for the following year.

Also some of them will bloom the first year. If started outside, after all danger of frost is past, they should be protected from the midday sun, and kept moist at all times.

Mine were planted in a mixture of equal parts of peat moss, sharp sand and heavy garden soil.

The mixture retains sufficient moisture, and excessive moisture drains of readily. I favor flats not over three inches deep that have a large number of holes through the bottom for drainage.

The top of the soil apply is very light dusting with Captan after planting to combat damping off. Of course, the soil must not be allowed to dry out.

The seedlings are very interesting, because of their unusual appearance, and they develop rapidly, if growing conditions are favorable.

Mine are pricked out to the coldframe in late April, in order that they get all the sunshine possible as they need full sun.

You see, my coldframe is covered with a flexible glass substitute that passes sun rays that are blocked by ordinary glass. The plants develop a very heavy root growth that transplants readily.

In late May, the young Tigridia plants are shifted to the garden and blooms appear in September.

The bulbs (or are they corms?) are dug before the ground freezes, and given the care of Gladiolus corms during storage. Nevertheless, mine are stored in dry sand to prevent much shrinking, and are doing well.

For this year, I have a spot picked out for them, where they will have partial shade during the hottest part of the day, and I anticipate a brilliant and beautiful display.