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Cape tulip is a perennial herb in the iris family. It produces shoots in winter, and dies back to an underground corm in early summer. Plants grow to 90cm tall, with a single strap-like leaf and a branched, zig-zagged 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. The seeds are produced in narrow, green capsules, up to 5cm long.
Cape tulip grows best in open environments, such as grasslands and pasture.
Cape tulip has the potential to establish dense colonies over wide areas of pasture, and could have a serious economic impact on agriculture if it were to become widely established.
Cape tulip reproduces by both corms and seeds (3000 to 6000 per plant). Corms may be abundant and occur to a depth of 30cm. They can remain dormant in the soil, in a viable state, for at least eight years. The mature stems, which are brittle when dry, snap off and are blown by the wind, shedding seed from the capsules.