Tricolor Harlequin Flower

Sparaxis pillansii L.Bolus

Synonyms - Sparaxis tricolor, Ixia tricolor.

Family: - Iridaceae


Sparaxis is from the Greek sparasso meaning I tear and refers to the torn tips of the spathe "leaf" under the flower.

Tricolor is from the previous Latin name Sparaxis tricolor and means 3 colours.

Harlequins were Italian pantomime comics that dressed in multicoloured costumes and refers to the multicoloured flowers.

Other Names:

Harlequin Flower


Velvet Flower


Tricolor Harlequin Flower is a small tufted herbs with a fan of leaves arising annually from a corm. Flower spikes to 500 mm high with several 6-petalled, purple pink flowers with a dark maroon to purple band and a yellow centre. It has 3 yellow to brown anthers and a 3-branched style. A few cormels are produced in the lower leaf axils after flowering.

Native to South Africa and were introduced as garden plants and are now weeds of roadsides, particularly near old settlements. They flower in spring and hybridise easily.




First leaves:


5-10 emerging from the base of the plant. Waxy and non wetting.

Stipules - None

Petiole - None

Blade - 50-250 mm long by 5-15 mm wide. Parallel sided to sword shaped tapering gradually to a pointed tip. Mid veins are prominent. Edges smooth, base clasping. Green on both sides. Hairless.

Stem leaves - 1-2.


Flower stem - 100-400 mm tall by 2-4 mm diameter, single or rarely branched. Firm, wiry, smooth and hairless.

Flower head:

2-7 flowers on a zig-zag stem in a spike. Bracts under the flower 23-28 mm long, membranous with brown streaks and usually shallowly torn. Outer floral bract, 20-25 mm long and usually has 3 short cusps. Inner floral bract smaller and usually with 2 short cusps.


20-30 mm long by 10-20 mm diameter, funnel shaped, with a yellow or yellow-black centre and 6 'petals' that are usually purple pink with a dark maroon to purple-black blotch in the centre of each lobe but may be deep red, orange, pink or white.

Ovary - Inferior. Many ovules.

Style - Thread like, erect, 3 branched. Shorter than the anthers. Branches wedge shaped, 1-5 mm long, yellow and swollen near the tip.

Perianth - Tube yellow, funnel shaped, 8-14 mm long and shorter than the petals.

"Petals" (Lobes) - 6, 20-30 mm long by 10-12 mm wide, sword shaped. Usually purple pink with a dark maroon to purple-black blotch in the centre of each lobe with a yellow heart shaped marking below but may be deep red, orange, pink or white. Sometimes the whole flower or some petals may be purple.

Stamens - Symmetrically arranged around the style.

Filaments - Free.

Anthers - 3, yellow or brown, 7 mm long, attached at the base, curved and slightly twisted near the top.


Capsule, 10 mm long.

Seeds and reproductive propagules:

Seeds globular, 2 mm diameter, smooth. Probably not produced in WA.

White, globular underground corm, 10-30 mm diameter

Corm covered with a grey brown, soft, fibrous, closely woven covering (tunic).

1 or 2 cormels produced at some of the lower leaf nodes after flowering.


Corm with short, fine, fibrous roots.

Key Characters:

1 sessile flower in each spathe.

Perianth lobes with a dark blotch immediately above the yellow throat.

Perianth more or less regular, segments longer than the tube

3 stamens with anthers regularly spaced around the style.

2 Floral bracts, ovate, slightly lacerate or entire.

Cormels 1 or 2 in the lowermost leaf axils.

Adapted from J. Black, T.A. James, E.A. Brown, G. Perry.


Life cycle:

Corms sprout in autumn and produce leaves over winter. The flowering stem is produced in spring and it flowers soon after. A few cormels are formed in the lower leaf axils after flowering. The top growth dies off with the onset of summer and the plant survives on its corm.



Seeds, corms and cormlets.

Flowering times:

September to October in WA.

August to October in NSW.

September to November in SE Australia.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:

Underground corm and numerous bulbils in leaf axils.



Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spread by slashing, mowing, wind, water, dumped garden refuse, earthmoving, road making and graders and intentional planting.

Sold at nurseries and mail order stores.

Origin and History:

South Africa.

Introduced as garden plants.



New Zealand.


Heathland, heathy woodland, lowland grassland, grass woodland, dry sclerophyll forest, dry sclerophyll woodland, riparian areas and ephemeral wetlands.

Prefers full sun.


Tolerates temperatures to -50C.


Sand, clay and many others.

Prefers moist soils but will tolerate dry soils.

Plant Associations:





Weeds of roadsides, particularly near old settlements, bushland, drainage lines, seasonal wetlands.

Poor palatability and rarely eaten by stock.





Management and Control:

Regular mowing provides control if it is done regularly before flowering. Mowing after flowering will spread cormlets and increase the spread of the infestation.

Light grazing often makes the infestation worse.

Always use a wetting agent when spraying as the foliage is water repellent.

Roadsides can be overall sprayed with 10 kg/ha 2,2-DPA plus 0.25% wetting agent with minimal damage to most established native plants.


Not usually a weed of crops and pastures.

Eradication strategies:

These plants are very difficult to control by hand weeding because they produce cormels in the leaf axils and corms. Loosen the soil before removal to prevent the corm breaking off. Conduct weeding before flowering and cormel formation.

Spray during August or September before the end of flowering with 100 mL glyphosate(450g/L) plus 25 mL Pulse® Penetrant in 10 litres of water

OR 0.1 g metsulfuron(600g/kg) plus 25 mL Pulse Penetrant® in 10 litres of water

OR 1000 g 2,2-DPA plus 25 mL Pulse® Penetrant in 10 litres of water . The area will require spraying again next season to control the tiny seedlings and plants emerging from cormels. Good control can usually be achieved in 2-3 years.

Painting leaves or wiping with a sponge glove dipped in a mixture of 1 part glyphosate(450g/L) in 2 parts water can be used in sensitive areas.

Replant native shrub species if necessary.

Avoid road works that carry new corms or cormels into the area.

Start control at the top of the catchment to stop seed and cormels transported in water reinfesting treated areas.

Herbicide resistance:

None reported.

Biological Control:

Related plants:

Sparaxis bulbifera = Sparaxis grandiflora has white flowers and 3 white anthers whereas Sparaxis pillansii has purple-pink flowers with a dark maroon to purple band and a yellow centre and 3 yellow to brown anthers.

Plants of similar appearance:







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Wheeler, Judy, Marchant, Neville and Lewington, Margaret. (2002). Flora of the South West: Bunbury - Augusta - Denmark. (Western Australian Herbarium, Bentley, Western Australia). P328. Diagram.


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