750 Crocosmia X crocosmiifloraCommon Names: montbretia, crocosmia Family: Iridaceae (iris Family)
Montbretia (sometimes spelled montebretia) is a vigorous and spreading perennial that was created by crossing Crocosmia aurea with C. pottsii. Montbretia grows from bulblike corms that are about 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter. New corms are continually produced on short underground stolons rapidly forming large and dense clumps of pale green straplike leaves 2-3 in (5-7.6 cm) long and 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) wide. Montbretia graces the summer with showy red, orange or yellow funnel-shaped flowers on slender, arching, zigzag spikes. Each flower is about 2 in (5 cm) across and the nodding cluster can be several inches long. Montbretia dies back to the ground in winter only to regrow from its circular, flattened, corms in spring.
This is an extremely variable hybrid and gardeners have selected many beautiful cultivars and hybridized some of them back to other wild species. Most are known by their cultivar names without the botanist's "X crocosmiiflora". Crocosmia 'Citronella' (a.k.a. 'Golden Fleece') has gorgeous lemon yellow flowers. 'Emily McKenzie' is a real beauty with nodding flowers that are vibrant orange with crimson throats. 'Jackanapes' has smaller, bicolored orange and yellow flowers. One of the most spectacular cultivars is Crocosmia 'Lucifer', which was selected from hybrids created by crossing C. X crocosmiiflora 'Jackanapes', with C. paniculata and C. masonorum; this is a larger, more robust plant, to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall, with larger, fire engine red flowers that face upward on branched spikes.
Montbretia is a hybrid of garden origin, first produced in France in the 1880's. Both of the parent species, and in fact all 7 species of Crocosmia, are originally from South Africa where they grow in moist grasslands. Montbretia is an invasive plant and has escaped from gardens and become established in mild, damp areas in many parts of the world, especially Europe and eastern North America.
CultureMontbretia needs to be crowded before it will bloom profusely, but if it gets too crowded it loses vigor and stops flowering. Best results seem to come when the clumps are divided every 3-4 years. Light: Grow montbretia in full sun or light shade. Moisture: Montbretia does best in soils that retain some moisture, but don't become waterlogged. Cv. 'Lucifer' likes well-drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. Montbretia can be grown north of zone 6, but the corms must be lifted in fall and stored indoors, as for gladiolas. Propagation: Montbretia constantly produces new offset corms on short underground stolons that come out from the mother corm. To get new plants, just dig the little offset corms, preferably in spring. Plant 3-5 in (7.6-13 cm) deep and 4-6 in (10-15 cm) apart.
Grow montbretia in masses in herbaceous borders or at the edge of shrubs. A single plant can produce 8-10 stems with a hundred flowers that last for weeks. Expect them to multiply and spread. Montbretia requires little or no attention, but you may find yourself on your knees trying to contain their vigorous spreading every few years.
Crocosmias are related to gladiolas, crocuses and irises. Montbretia and its cultivars are hardier, more robust and have larger flowers than either of the parent species. The flowers persist for up to 4 weeks in the garden and are excellent as cut flowers, even used by professional florists in floral arrangements and bouquets. The dried flowers smell like saffron.
Montbretia may be invasive. Check locally to see if this plant poses a threat to native plant communities in your area.
Steve Christman 7/25/00; updated 7/17/03, 10/24/03