Today’s photograph features Tigridia chiapensis (Iridaceae), and was taken in the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden here at the Univeristy of British Columbia Botanical Garden. Tigridia chiapensis is native to Chiapas, Mexico, where it typically grows in moist grassy meadows with well-drained soil (at elevations of 1800 to 2700m).
Tigridia (tiger-flowers or shell-flowers) is a genus of herbaceous perennials. Species are distributed mainly in Mexico and Guatemala, with a few present in Chile and Peru. Tiger-flowers have tunicate bulbs and pleated leaves with a fan-like habit. Plants are dormant through dry season and bloom during the wet, with an often short-lived inflorescence–in some species a single flower will only last a day!
The genus is known not only for its striking flowers, but also for its ability to provide sustenance. There is evidence dating back roughly a millenium ago that suggests Aztecs cultivated various species of Tigridia. Aztecs refer to the plant as cacomitl and the flower as ociloxochitl. Various indigenous cultures throughout its native range have been known to roast and eat the bulbs of Tigridia species, which have been noted to taste similar to roasted chestnuts.
For gardeners, tigridias can be obtained and grown relatively easily. In temperate areas, plants are usually grown as annuals (planted after the last frost) or as tender perennials, with the bulbs removed before the first frost and stored in a frost-free location in sandy soil until the next spring.