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Family: Iridaceae (iris family)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Asparagales

There are about 70 genera and 1800 species (cosmopolitan), of which 33 genera and 1133 species are native to southern Africa, which is the region of the world with the highest diversity of this family. An additional genus and species is naturalised, and 10 genera and 25 species are cultivated in southern Africa.

Genera native or naturalised in southern Africa

List from Goldblatt & Manning (2000).


About 52 species, mainly southern African but the distribution of this genus extends to Senegal and Ethiopia, and there are seven species on Madagascar. Forty-six species are native to southern Africa.


Endemic to southern Africa. Most of the 91 species are endemic to the Western Cape and Namaqualand (Northern Cape).


Fifteen species, endemic to the Western and Eastern Cape, found mainly in montane rocky sandstone soils and particularly prevalent after fires.


Three species, endemic to the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, occurring usually in bushy places or on forest margins. Closely related to the genus Crocosmia.


Seven species, native to southern and eastern Africa as well as Madagascar (one species).  


Contains a single species, Devia xeromorpha, found on the Roggeveld Escarpment in the western karoo on clay soils in mountain renosterveld. 



The 44 species are found mainly in the summer rainfall region of eastern southern Africa, but the overall distribution extends from Knysna in the Western Cape, South Africa, to Ethiopia. Thirty-nine species are native to southern Africa.


Has a strange distribution with five species native to southern Africa (one of which has a distribution extending into East Africa) and one species found on Lord Howe Island (east of Australia). The species found on Lord Howe Island is Dietes robinsoniana and is closely related to Dietes bicolor, found in the Eastern Cape. These two species have primitive characters for the genus (Goldblatt & Manning 2000).


The only species in this genus is Duthieastrum linifolium, found in the northern Karoo (Northern Cape).



Total of 13 species, all native to southern Africa, distribution extending to south tropical Africa. Most species are found along the west coast of South Africa (Western and Northern Cape), mainly in sandy soils.


Eighteen species, 16 of which are native to southern Africa (mainly to the winter-rainfall region). The remaining two species are found in south tropical Africa, one of which has a distribution extending as far north as Sudan.


The 100 species are endemic to South Africa, found mainly in the Western Cape but also in Northern and Eastern Cape.


About 260 species, with a distribution extending from South Africa, through tropical Africa and Madagascar to Europe and the Middle East. About 178 species are found in southern Africa, mainly in the Western Cape and eastern highlands.


About 82 species, found from the Western Cape to Ethiopia, with centres of diversity in the southwestern Cape, western Karoo and the Drakensberg.


Endemic to Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, with 69 species present.


The three species are endemic to the Western Cape.



Occurs from Nigeria and Ethiopia through to the Western Cape in South Africa. Of the 40 species, 38 are found in southern Africa. The greatest diversity is in the semi-arid habitats of the Northern Cape (Namaqualand and western karoo).


One species, Melasphaerula ramosa, found from southern Namibia to the Western Cape.


Three species, found in the Western Cape, usually in damp situations on sandstone soils. 


About 200 species, found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and with two species also occurring in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. A total of 184 species are native to southern Africa, with a concentration of species in the Western Cape.


The 10 species are endemic to the Western Cape.


One species, Pillansia templemannii, occurring from Kogelberg to Kleinrivier Mountains in the Caledon district of the Western Cape. 


Two species, found in mountainous areas from Mpumalanga and Swaziland through to southern Tanzania. The pink, long-tubed flowers are pollinated by the long-proboscid fly Prosoeca ganglbaueri (Nemestrinidae).


About 88 species (79 in southern Africa, especially diverse in winter rainfall area), found from southern Africa through to Europe, Middle East and Canary Islands.


The 15 species are endemic to the Western and Northern Cape, found mainly on clay soils in renosterveld and to a lesser extent in coastal sandveld. 


The eight species are found in the Northern and Western Cape, mainly on clay soils in karoo vegetation.


The seven species are endemic to the Western Cape. 


Occurs from South Africa through to Tanzania but most of the 27 species are found in the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape and Namaqualand (Northern Cape).


The 24 species are endemic to the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, mainly on sandstone soils in fynbos.


The 52 species are endemic to southern Africa, with most species found in the Western Cape and the grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland and Mpumalanga. 


The only species in this genus, Witsenia maura, is in low-lying, peaty, sandstone soils in the Western Cape, from the Cape Peninsula to Swellendam.


The two species are found from southern Namibia to Western Cape. 


Genera natarulised in southern Africa

List from Plants of Southern Africa - an Online Checklist (SANBI).


One species naturalised in southern Africa and three species cultivated.


Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002). Species names are given for genera where only one species has been cultivated in southern Africa.

Belamcanda chinensis (Leopard lily)

Indigenous from India to Siberia and Japan.


Cypella herbertii

Indigenous from Brazil to Argentina.


Eleuthrine bulbosa

Indigenous from Cuba to Brazil.


Herbertia caerulea

Native to southern USA.



Twelve species cultivated.


Libertia ixioides

Native to New Zealand.



Two species cultivated.


Patersonia glabrata

Native to eastern Australia.


Solenomeles pedunculatus

Native to Chile.


Tigridia pavonia (Tiger lily, Peacock flower)

Native to Mexico.


The spice saffron is derived from the stigmas and styles are Crocus sativus (Saffron flower). Surprisingly, there is no record of this species being cultivated in southern Africa (Glen 2002).


  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.

  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J.C. 2000. Iridaceae. In: Seed Plants of Southern Africa (ed. O.A. Leistner). Strelitzia 10: 623-638. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.


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