Patersonia glabrata

Leafy purple-flag

Family: Iridaceae

An erect monocotyledonous herbaceous perennial, to 80 cm high, with leaves mostly produced above the ground on stems arising from a woody rhizome. It is a native Iris.

It has a mostly coastal distribution in NSW, growing close to the coast in many areas, extending into the east of the central and northern tablelands, as far inland as Rylestone and also east of Tenterfield. It extends into Queensland, as far west as Bluff and as far north as towards Townshend Island (north of Rockhampton) with a final large disjunction to Hinchinbrook Island. It extends into north-eastern Victoria towards Bairnsdale, with a final disjunction on Wilsons Promontory.

It is typically found in coastal heathlands and shrublands as well as dry sclerophyll woodlands and forests, often on sandy soils and sandstone but also on laterites and sandy soils enriched with shale.

Patersonia spp. have simple leaves with parallel venation, which are typically heavily clustered on the rhizome. The leaves are tough and fibrous and have evolved to reduce water loss. In this species, the leaves are alternate, up 60 cm long and only to 0.5 cm wide, linear, mid-green to blue-green and with margins with tiny hairs towards the base. The leaves are well elevated off the ground, growing on the flowering stem.

Patersonia spp. produce flowers from between a pair of bracts on a leafless stem or scape.
They have three large outer tepals that are usually blue to violet, and three tiny inner tepals (petals and sepals which cannot be allocated assuredly). Individual flowers open for less than one day but many flowers are produced from the one stem.
In this species, flowering stems are to 30 cm long, with the outer tepals of flowers ovate to circular, to 30 mm long by 25 mm wide, with the inner sepals only 2 mm long, pale violet in colour and emerging from a tube to 5 cm long; appearing mainly in August to October but also other times.

Patersonia produce a capsule-fruit; three-celled and triangular in cross section with abundant seed. In this species, the capsule is cylindrical, to 40 mm long with seeds oval to cylindrical and approximately 4 mm long, glossy brown in colour.

In the garden

This plant is known to be cultivated and can be purchased commercially. It grows well in a sunny situation on sandy-well drained soils.
Patersonia make showy rockery plants when planted either singly or en masse.and grow best in soils with good drainage and full sun.

Thia author has found plants with the basal leaves, look their best when planted in odd numbers, ie 1 or 3 or 5 etc. so consider this when planting.

No pests of problems are known but this may come through hands-on experience.


Propagated is by seed which is very easy or by division.
Seed is available commercially.

Other information

This plant might be found growing with P. sericea but can be distinguished by the leaves growing well above the ground on flowering stems.

Patersonia is a genus of about 20 species, occurring in Australia, New Caledonia and other areas of the Pacific and Asia. Australia has 17 endemic species in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. NSW currently has 3 species.

Patersonia grow in very fire-prone environments and can regenerate from the buried rhizomes or the seed bank.

Patersonia – named for William Paterson (1755-1810) who was a Scottish soldier, explorer, botanist and the first Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales in Australia.

glabrata – from the Latin – glabra meaning “hairless” (glabrous) – referring to the hairless flowering scapes.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.

Australian National Herbarium – Patersonia profile page

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Patersonia glabrata profile page

Friends of Lane Cove National Park – Patersonia glabrata profile page

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.