How to Grow and Care for Tiger Flower

Two red tiger flowers (Tigridia pavonia) in a garden setting

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Of more than 50 species in the Tigridia genus of bulb-forming plants, by far the most well-known and widely-grown is Tigridia pavonia, more commonly known as the tiger flower. With sword-like foliage similar to that of Gladiola, and flowers that bloom for just a single day like daylily, tiger flowers come in vivid pinks, reds, yellows, and oranges. The blossoms feature three large petals around a center cup that features contrasting speckles of color. The sparse foliage of the tiger flower is often mistaken for that of gladiola, and the two plants, both members of the iris (Iridaceae) family, have similar care requirements. Like Gladiola, tiger flowers are tender perennials whose bulbs must be lifted and stored for the winter in colder climates. Tiger flowers are usually planted as bulbs in the spring. They grow quickly to flower in summer, with the foliage dying back in fall.

Common Name Tiger flower, Mexican shellflower, peacock flower
Botanical Name Tigridia pavonia
Family Iridaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 12–24 in. tall, 5 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline (6.1 to 7.8)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Pink, red, yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 8–10 (USDA)
Native Area Mexico

Tiger Flower Care

Tiger flowers, despite their exotic appearance, are relatively easy to grow in sunny conditions in well-drained soil. Plant the bulbs about 4 to 5 inches apart and 2 to 3 inches deep in groups of three to seven bulbs for best impact. Because the foliage is sparse, tiger flowers are best planted where other plants will shield the base. Plant among low growing perennials that help support the delicate stems.

Keep the soil well-watered until they flower. Little additional care is needed, though they will appreciate a monthly feeding until midsummer. The foliage does not need to be trimmed back until late fall garden cleanup begins.

These plants are largely free of the pest and disease issues that affect other bulbs, though excessively wet soil in the winter sometimes causes bulb rot.

While each individual flower only lasts one day, like a daylily, the multiple stems produce additional blooms for several weeks.

A pink example of the tiger flower (Tigridia pavonia)
Jarmila Horalkova / Getty Images

Light

These plants are sun lovers, and you should position them so they get plenty of it—at least six hours each day. Although they can tolerate some shade in hot regions, they may not bloom as prolifically.

Soil

Tiger flowers require a particularly well-drained one. A sandy or loamy variety is perfect. They don't do well in standing water.

Water

While your tiger flowers are establishing, you'll want to keep the soil consistently moist. Once mature, they'll still appreciate regular watering, but they're relatively drought-tolerant plants and can cope with drier conditions.

Temperature and Humidity

If you want to enjoy your tiger flowers as returning perennials, they're best grown in warmer regions, zones 8 to 10. In colder regions, they must be planted as annuals, or dug up and stored each winter. They don't cope with freezing temperatures but can readily handle intense heat.

Cool climate gardeners can also grow tiger flowers in containers, which can be moved to a sheltered location over the winter.

Fertilizer

A diluted liquid fertilizer can be applied in the months before bloom time to encourage a resplendent display.

Types of Tiger Flower

There are several cultivars available, with best selection coming from online plant retailers. Some notable selections include:

  • 'Alba' is a white variety with centers specked with red and yellow. It is a 2-foot-tall plant.
  • 'Aurea' is a bright yellow cultivar with a red spotted center cup.
  • 'Lilacea' is a vibrant purple variety with darker red speckles in the center cup.

Tiger flowers are often sold in bulk mixtures of unnamed varieties that include a variety of colors. This is a very economical means to grow tiger flowers.

Pruning

Do not prune away the foliage of tiger flower until it dies and turns brown in fall— well after the flowers have faded. The continued growth of the foliage is necessary to replenish the bulbs.

Cutting the flowers back as they begin to fade, about 6 inches down the stalk, will stimulate the plant into additional blooms.

Propagating Tiger Flower

Even if you don't want more tiger flowers from your existing plants, it's a good idea to dig up and divide them every three years or so to keep the clump confined and robust.

  1. In the fall, use a fork or trowel to carefully dig up the bulbs. Break off the stems as you remove the bulbs from the ground.
  2. Break off the offset bulbs that are attached to the parent. Discard the parent bulbs if they are rotted or desiccated.
  3. Place the bulbs in a paper bag with a handful of sand, and store the bulbs over the winter in a cool, dry place. Plant them in the spring.

How to Grow Tiger Flower From Seed

You can also grow tiger flowers from seeds purchased from mail-order suppliers or collected from the dried seed pods that remain after the flowers have faded. Fill seed trays or small pots with commercial potting mix, then sow the seed about 1 inch apart on the surface. Moisten the potting mix by misting, then cover the containers with a plastic bag or another clear cover. Place the container in a warm location, at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit, where there is plenty of light but not direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist by periodic misting until the seeds sprout. After they sprout, remove the plastic and continue growing until the plants are at least 3 inches tall. Wait until outdoor soil temperatures have thoroughly warmed to plant the seedlings in the garden.

Tiger flowers grow unusually fast from seeds when compared to other bulb species, some of which take years to develop bulbous roots that support flowers. With tiger flower, your seeds may produce blooms in the first year.

Potting & Repotting Tiger Flower

Tiger flowers are sometimes grown in large containers spacious enough for allowing clusters. Use an ordinary commercial potting mix and a container with good drainage. Plant the bulbs about 5 inches apart, but leave at least 5 inches between the outer bulbs and the sides of the pot.

Potted tiger flowers will need more frequent watering and feeding, and it's likely they will need to be divided and repotted every year or two.

Overwintering

When planted within their accepted hardiness range, these plants require little in the way of winter protection. If you live in a colder zone, the bulbs can be dug up and stored for the winter, in much the same way as Gladiolus bulbs are handled. Cold-region gardeners growing potted tiger flowers should move the pots to a sheltered location, such as a garage or shed, to spend the freezing winter months.

As the foliage dies back and turns brown in late fall or early winter, cut off the stems and leaves at ground level. Watering should be withheld over the winter months.

How to Get Tiger Flower to Bloom

Failure to bloom is almost always traced to shortcomings in basic needs: not enough sun, not enough fertilizer, or not enough (or too much) water. Following basic care needs is normally enough to keep these plants blooming. A clump that is overgrown may not bloom as readily; it will benefit from digging up and splitting the bulbs for replanting.

FAQ
  • How can I use this plant in the landscape?

    Grown in groups, tiger flowers will add interest to flower borders, and they look fantastic grown in containers on sunny patios. Because the foliage is rather sparse, it's best to plant them in the middle of the border, behind lower growing foreground plants, and in front of the towering back-of-the-border specimens.

  • Is tiger flower edible?

    Native to Mexico, the cooked bulbs of these plants were a small but tasty food source that the Aztec people enjoyed. Raw bulbs can cause burning in the mouth, so they're usually roasted. The flavor is said to resemble both sweet potato and chestnut.

  • What is the difference between tiger flower and tiger lily?

    Tiger flower is sometimes confused with tiger lily, but the plants belong to entirely different families. Tiger lily is a true lily from the
    Liliaceae
    family, while tiger flower is closely related to iris. Both are summer bloomers, but tiger lily is hardy as far north as zone 3, while tiger flower is a warm-weather perennial. Both plants have flowers with distinctive speckled throats, but the blossoms on tiger flower are fairly wide open and last for only a day, while the blooms on tiger lily have a distinctive trumpet shape and remain open for up to a week. Most importantly, tiger lily, as a true lily, is toxic to people and pets, while tiger flower in entirely harmless and even edible in some circumstances.