We started collecting Hesperantha coccinea (formerly known as Schizostylis coccinea) cultivars in 2003, attracted by their vibrant autumn colours. As our collection grew, identification proved to be a problem: cultivars with different names often turned out to be indistinguishable, while cultivars with the same name were sometimes different. So began our quest to build a more valid collection. In 2009 our now growing collection was amalgamated with the former National Collection maintained by Bryan Russell, at Cliffe in Lee, North Devon and in October 2010 we were granted full collection status by Plant Heritage. We have around 90 accessions which we grow in large pots so that they can be taken into the greenhouse to display them to best effect.
Hesperantha coccinea belong to the Iridaceae. They are hardy rhizomatous perennials with sword shaped leaves and starry or cup shaped flowers. The flowers are borne on tall spikes; full plant height varies from 45 - 90cm. There are three prominent styles, hence their earlier name, Schizostylis - literally 'split styles'. Early flowering cultivars such as 'Wilfred H. Bryant' may be in bloom at the beginning of September, while 'Viscountess Byng' flowers in our garden into December.
In 2010 the Royal Horticultural Society decided to adopt the name 'Hesperantha coccinea' to replace the earlier name of Schizostylis coccinea: this is in line with the reduction of Schizostylis into the bulbous genus Hesperantha: the rhizomatous nature of the coccinea species is considered to be an adaption to their native streamside habit in South Africa and Zimbabwe.