Status: Notifiable organism, Unwanted Organism
Cape tulip is a perennial herb in the iris family (Iridaceae), produces shoots annually in winter, and dies back to an underground corm in early summer. It is native to South Africa.
Plants grow to 90cm tall, consisting of a single strap-like leaf and a branched flower stalk. Flowers are 6-petalled, usually salmon pink with a band of deeper colour near the base of the petals, with or without a yellow centre, but rarely all yellow or deeper red. Flowers are usually 5cm across.
Its seeds are produced in narrow, green capsules, up to 5cm long. Up to 25 million corms have been found per hectare of infested land. Corms may remain dormant in the soil for at least eight years, which makes control of Cape tulip extremely difficult.
All parts of the Cape tulip are poisonous (even when dead and dried). Symptoms of poisoning include gastroenteritis, thirst, paralysis, blindness and heart and kidney failure.
The plant has the potential to establish dense colonies over wide areas of pasture. Cape tulip could have a serious economic impact on New Zealand agriculture if it were to become widely established.
Where is it found?
Cape tulip has mostly been found in gardens and all present sites can be traced to deliberate plantings that have escaped into surrounding pasture. Cape tulip is present on, Portland Island (near Mahia Peninsula) and Hamilton Island (near French Pass in Marlborough).
Despite the sale and distribution of Cape tulip having been prohibited in New Zealand since 1950, occasional plants are still found around New Zealand, even private gardens.
What to do
Propagation, spread, and sale of Cape tulip is prohibited under the Biosecurity Act 1993.
All sightings must be reported to Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 80 99 66.
MPI contracts a monitoring and control programme aimed at eliminating Cape tulip from New Zealand.
Please also see the cape tulip fact sheet (577 KB).
Page last updated: 3 October 2013