Patersonia sericea

Native Iris or Native Flag

Family: Iridaceae

A monocotyledonous, densely tufted, herbaceous perennial to 0.6 metres high by about 0.3 metres wide, with basal leaves growing from a woody rhizome. It is a native Iris.

It has a mostly coastal distribution in NSW but extends into the tablelands, as well as central and north-western slopes (west to about Dubbo). It extends through similar areas in Queensland, as far north as near Mackay and west of Springsure. It grows in north-eastern Victoria with disjunct records north of Bairnsdale, as well as around Albury.

It is typically found in heathlands and shrublands as well as dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, usually on sandy soils or sandstone.

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, leaves are basal, linear, to 60 cm long and only 0.6 cm wide, typically mid to dark green in colour, often with some brown tones, flat to tubular with some hairs on the margins and densely hairy at the base.

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, flowers are blue violet to purple, rarely white, with 3 broad-ovate tepals to 30 mm long by 20 mm wide, extending from a tube to 30 mm long. The inner tepals are small to 2 mm long. Flowers open one at a time on the scapes, (rarely 2 flowers at the same time), occurring in winter-spring.

Patersonia produce a capsule-fruit; three-celled and triangular in cross section with abundant seed. In this species, the capsule is oval to cylindrical, to 25 mm long with cylindrical seeds to 3 mm long, waxy brown in colour.

In the garden

This plant is known to be cultivated and is sold in nurseries. Check with local native nurseries for availability.
It is a reliable garden plant for hot dry positions on sandy soil with good drainage.

Patersonias make showy rockery plants when planted either singly or en masse.
This author has found plants with basal leaves, look their best when planted in odd numbers, ie 1 or 3 or 5 etc. So consider this when planting.
Full sun is recommended.


Propagated is by seed which is very easy or by division.

Other information

There are currently two recognised varieties in NSW:
P. sericea var. longifolia: Mainly grows on coast and ranges. Occasionally elsewhere. Leaves are to 2 mm wide.
P. sericea var. sericea: Widespread from the coats to western Slopes. Leaves are to 6 mm wide.

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.

sericea – from Latin sericeus, meaning “silky”, referring to the silky hairs on the edges of the leaves.

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 sericea profile page

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Patersonia sericea 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.