What is Patersonia?

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  • Written By: Carey Reeve
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 28 March 2020
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Patersonia is genus of perennial flowering plant in the monocot group. It is herbaceous, meaning that it does not develop true wood, with grass-like leaves that grow in tufts from a ryhzomatous stem and flowers with three petals. Most of the approximately 20 species of Patersonia are originally from Australia with a few species native to the Philippines and Indonesia. The plants were named in honor of Colonel William Paterson who was an explorer and a botanist and became the first Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales, Australia in 1794.

Patersonia is a wild flower with most species growing abundantly in different temperate areas of Australia, but it is often used in gardens as well. A member of Iridaceae family, Patersonia is closely related to irises and crocuses. Very few members of this family are found in Australia leading it to be commonly referred to as Native Iris. Many species are characterized by flowers that range from blue to purple inspiring another common name, Purple flag. Only one, P. spirafolia or spiral flag, has been listed as a rare species and is listed as endangered according to Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999.


Australia has several temperate areas in which different varieties of Patersonia are found. P. fragilis has grayish-green leaves and flower stems that are shorter than the leaves and can be found all along the coastline in the Southeast quadrant of the mainland and Tasmania. P. occidentalis is most common in the southwest region but is also found in the southeast and Tasmania, and it is more frost hardy than most. The eastern edge of Australia is home to both P. sericea and P. glabrata. The first of which grows best in hot areas and has dark purple flowers, and the second is so similar to the first that some consider it to be a glabrous, i.e., having a smooth, shiny leaf surface, version of the same species.

Most species of Patersonia require a sandy, fast-draining soil and thrive with regular watering and full sun. The seeds of these plants are easily germinated, but they can also be propagated by dividing large, established clusters. This is possible because of the formation of rhizomes, i.e., stems that run along just underneath the surface of the ground and can sprout new clusters of roots, leaves, and flowers from their internodes. Like other members of the family Iridaceae, Patersonia species have a calyx, or set of sepals, that appears to be part of the corolla, i.e., the set of petals.


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