Nuytsia@Tas@Flickr is responsible for today’s photograph from the Sentinel Range in Tasmania. Thanks for the photograph and introducing the genus to me (Isophysis tasmanica via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool).
Isophysis is one of 15 or so recognized genera of vascular plants endemic to Tasmania. The genus is monotypic, meaning Isophysis tasmanica is the only species. As noted by Nuytsia@Tas, Isophysis is the basal group in the iris family. In other words, it has been determined to be the earliest group to diverge from the rest of the Iridaceae. Sometimes, the terminology “primitive” is used instead (e.g., the most primitive group in the iris family), but that term carries some scientific imprecision and is generally avoided these days.
With its sometimes-nodding flower heads, reflexed tepals and superior ovary (unique among the Iridaceae for this characteristic), the species can superficially resemble some species of Erythronium (Liliaceae). The fan-shaped leaf clusters growing from the ground, however, clearly suggest iris family to me.
Plants of Tasmanian purplestar grow to 30cm (12 in.), and sport either the dark purple flowers seen in today’s photo or occasionally pale yellow flowers. It is a species of alpine and subalpine environments in Tasmania, preferring habitats dominated by heath or sedges. It might be something we could grow in the Australasian section of the E. H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden here at UBC, so I’ve suggested it to the Curator for the area, Brent Hine.