Neomarica is a small genus of tropical plants in the iris family, found in the tropics of the Americas and Africa. There are fewer than 20 species placed in this genus, and historically some plants have been moved in and out of the genus to accommodate the acquisition of new information about the genetics and history of the genus. Several Neomarica species are cultivated as ornamental plants and houseplants and they can sometimes be obtained at nurseries and garden supplies. Gardeners may also be willing to sell, trade, or gift plants from their own gardens.
Like other members of the iris family, Neomarica puts out rhizomes to propagate itself. In its native regions, these plants are perennial, maintaining blade-like green foliage and producing very short-lived and highly aromatic flowers on long, flat stalks that resemble the leaves. When the plant is finished blooming, a small plantlet will develop on the end of the stalk and it will bend over from the weight, allowing the plant to take root. This growth habit explains the common name “walking iris,” as the plant does indeed seem to walk around the garden. Neomarica irises are also known as apostle plants, a reference to the belief that the plant needed to put out 12 leaves before it could flower.
The flowers of species in this genus look like irises and can be blue, white, purplish, or a mixture of colors. Many are very visually striking and can be an interesting visual addition to the garden even though they do not live very long. The irises prefer loamy to sandy soil in partial shade. Well-drained soil is needed to prevent rotting of the rhizomes and the plants should periodically be dug up to separate the rhizomes and redistribute the irises. Failure to divide Neomarica can contribute to crowded growing conditions and the plants may fail to thrive.
Theoretically, Neomarica species can be grown in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight through 10. In cooler regions, it is advisable to grow the plants in a sheltered area and to provide them with protection if the weather becomes frosty. Adapted for the tropics, the plants may not be able to survive as perennials if the weather gets too cold. People can also cultivate members of this genus as houseplants. They need a warm, slightly humid area of the house with indirect light.
In the garden, Neomarica irises can be grown in beds as massed plantings, or along borders. The plants should be positioned where they can be easily enjoyed, as the short-lived flowering is something gardeners do not want to miss.