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Portland Nursery

SISYRINCHIUM: Blue-eyed Grass

So, why don't I have Sisyrinchium in my garden? I should. And so should you. There's nothing not to love about it. Virtually maintenance-and-problem-free, the most beautiful shades of blue or purple or yellow you'll ever see. Depending on the species they want seasonably wet or good-drainage dry; in other words, there is a Sisyrinchium suitable for nearly any garden setting.

Members of the Iris family, these dainty and diminutive plants are like jewels in the garden. Narrow, grassy leaves that stand in a clump to support the flowering stems that carry simple six-petal flowers of the most intense blue to purple to yellow. They form clumps, they self-seed. They, for the most part, need fairly abundant moisture for at least part of the year. That's about it. They will make you happy.

The only down side, is that they tend to sometimes be somewhat short-lived; you may have some and then one year they're gone. A good argument for saving seed or dividing clumps.

There are close to sixty native species of Sisyrinchium in this hemisphere. Here are ours:

Sisyrinchium bellum: Blue-eyed Grass

S. bellum

Deciduous. Can grow up to sixteen inches tall, though usually shorter, with miniature, iris-like leaves, and smallish, five-petal blue flowers that appear from mid spring to mid summer. It prefers full sun and moist to wet conditions, especially in spring. It typically goes summer dormant, and so can take the dry in the summer months as part of its normal cycle. Often confused with S. angustifolium, which is similar in appearance, but which is an east coast native.

Sisyrinchium californicum: Yellow-eyed Grass

S. californicum

This one does well in any wet, sunny spot in the garden. It typically grows on the margins of lakes, bogs and other wet places. This is the Sisyrinchium that requires the most moisture, the wettest place in the garden (one year at the nursery, under the sprinkler system, it self-seeded in the gravel at the base of the tables in the native section!). The flowers are a beautiful, bright, buttery yellow, and will self-seed somewhat aggressively in situations that are moist enough (would that be so bad?).

Sisyrinchium douglasii: Purple-eyed Grass, Grass Widow

S. douglasii

This Sisyrinchium is from a different region, and now apparently has a different taxonomy altogether! It can now more commonly found as Olysynium douglasii. I don't quite understand the change in taxonomy, but it is quite different from its bretheren. It is still a smallish clumping plant; its leaves are less blade-like, and it tends to grow in drier conditions. The flower is a deep, intense reddish-purple, with larger, rounded petals than the other Sisyrinchium. It also blooms earlier in the spring. Similar, but different.

S. douglasii

Okay, have I convinced you yet? EVERYONE should have Sisyrinchium in their garden.

No excuses.

You'll love it.


Peggy Acott


Sisyrinchium californicum
Yellow-eyed Grass


Family: Iridaceae

Genus: Sisyrinchium

Common Name: Blue-Eyed Grass, Yellow-Eyed Grass, Grass Widow

Origin: Western North America, British Columbia south through California, depending on species.

Characteristics: Short, grasslike, flattened leaves are arranged in a clump, parallel to the flowering stem. The flowers are mostly blue to purple, yellow in the case of S. californicum, all single flowers of six petals, rounded, sometimes with a pointed tip.

Culture: Grows in full sun to partial shade, moist to dry conditions, depending on species. There's a native Sisyrinchium, therefore, for every garden!

Maintenance: Virtually maintenance-free.

Pests & Diseases: Does not seem to be particularly troubled by pests or diseases.

Propagation: Some will self-seed more readily than others, or seeds can be collected from their capsules and planted soon thereafter, in late summer into fall, or stored in a cool, dry space for planting in early spring.

Clumps of plants can also be divided in the early spring or late summer, which is probably the most reliable method.