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Fragrant Freesias

In the Midwest, freesias are almost impossible to grow without a greenhouse.

Freesia in the rain (John-Morgan/Wikimedia Commons).

Freesias have an unforgettable scent, and we would all love to grow them, but if a greenhouse is not available, it’s hard for those gardeners who experience cold winters to grow plants that are native to South Africa.

The fressias we buy in stores are probably imported from South America, or perhaps some come from California. I’m an admirer of freesias but certainly not an expert.

Freesias, believe it or not, actually belong to the iris family, Iridaceae, but are the tender relatives of the family, and they grow in winter and flower in early spring. The underground corm that supports the plant’s development withers away underground, and a new corm forms while the plant is growing. Then, the plant flowers and a month or so later the top of the plant—everything above soil level—dies down, and dormancy sets in for three to four months of hot, dry weather. When winter and rains return, the new corm sends up shoots that grow into a new plant. Freesias need temperatures 45-60 degrees F and three months of bright light for the plants to bloom.

Since they are so demanding, I think those of us here in the Midwest should forget our fantasies about growing them.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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