Freesia alba - The Freesia Alba

Freesias are a pretty variety of irises (from the Iridaceae family), popular for their beautiful, delicate flowers and irresistible scent.

They are feminine and elegant, and are often used to add a beautiful scent to creams, candles, and other commercial products. Native to South Africa, Freesia alba is an herbaceous perennial growing from a corm. The species and hybrids are well known and popular on other continents.

Did you know? The diversity and abundance of South African plants is impressive, and is one of the reasons that South Africa is such a popular tourist destination.

Pretty freesias produce between two and eight little flowers (with a diameter of between one and 2.5 centimetres each) on a horizontal spike.

The flowers are funnel-shaped, and can be pink, white or yellow (although some hybrids are red and blue-violet too). The white and pink varieties often have a little yellow splash of colour in their centres. The tapered leaves face upwards and reach approximately the same height as the stem, which is between 12 and 40 centimetres.

Freesia is a geophyte (a plant that produces underground buds). In Freesias, the underground part is a corm, conical in shape, about 10 mm wide at the base, and covered with tunics of finely netted fibres.

Flowering time

Freesias are spring bloomers. They grow well during autumn and winter, and then revert to a dormant state during the hot summer months. Pair them with plants that bloom in summer, so that they complement one another and do not vie for "attention".

Use in the garden

The beautiful scent of freesias has been used extensively for soaps, creams, candles, and so on. They also add a heady sensory element when on display in the garden. They serve as the host food plants for the larvae of the large yellow underwing moth, as well as some other Lepidoptera species. Because bees pollinate freesias, having these plants in your garden will attract these insects and make for a healthy ecosystem.

Natural distribution

Freesias grow freely on the eastern side of southern Africa, preferring stony soils and sands. They can be found on the edges of forests or as the scrubby vegetation on sand dunes, usually in dappled to light shade, also in damp places near water. Freesia alba is found growing wild mainly along the coast, from Hermanus all the way up to Plettenberg Bay in the Garden Route.

Growing Freesia alba in your garden

Available as corms country wide from local garden centres, Freesias are easily grown in the garden, but do particularly well in pots, and they reproduce quite freely, even when left on their own. This means that, within a few years, your pot should be full of lovely freesias. Freesias need to be protected from very cold conditions, as well as slugs, snails and aphids. Opt for an acidic, sandy soil and do not over-water them.


Bees are instrumental in pollinating freesias. These lovely plants can also be grown by seed. These should be planted in autumn, and will germinate four to five weeks later. They will only begin to flower in their second or third season.

To keep your freesias in top condition, lift and divide the clumps every three years or so.

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