Iris is a genus of between 200-300 species of flowering plants with showy flowers which takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, referring to the wide variety of flower colors found among the many species. As well as being the scientific name, Iris is also very widely used as a common name and refers to all Iris species as well as some closely related genera. It is the state flower of Tennessee.
The genus is widely distributed throughout the north temperate zone. Their habitats are considerably varied, ranging from cold regions into the grassy slopes, meadowlands, stream banks of Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa, Asia and across North America.
They are perennial herbs, growing from creeping rhizomes (rhizomatous irises), or, in drier climates, from bulbs (bulbous irises). They have long, erect, flowering stems, which may be simple or branched, solid or hollow, and flattened or have a circular cross-section. The rhizomatous species usually have 3-10 basal, sword-shaped leaves growing in dense clumps. The bulbous species have cylindrical basal leaves.
The inflorescences are fan-shaped and contain one or more symmetrical, six-lobed flowers. These grow on a pedicel or lack a footstalk. The three sepals, which are spreading or droop downwards, are referred to as falls. They expand from their narrow base into a broader limb (= expanded portion), often adorned with veining, lines or dots. The three, sometimes reduced, petals stand upright, partly behind the sepal bases. They are called standards. Some smaller iris species have all six lobes pointing straight outwards. The sepals and the petals differ from each other. They are united at their base into a floral tube that lies above the ovary. The styles divide towards the apex into petaloid branches (see pollination, below).
The iris flower is of special interest as an example of the relation between flowering plants and pollinating insects. The shape of the flower and the position of the pollen-receiving and stigmatic surfaces on the outer petals form a landing-stage for a flying insect, which in probing the perianth for nectar, will first come in contact of perianth, three with the stigmatic stamens in one whorl surface which is borne and an ovary formed of three carpels. The shelf-like transverse projection on the inner whorl under side of the stamens, which is beneath the over-arching style arm below the stigma, so that the insect comes in contact with its pollen-covered surface only after passing the stigma, while in backing out of the flower it will come in contact only with the non-receptive lower face of the stigma. Thus, an insect bearing pollen from one flower, will in entering a second, deposit the pollen on the stigma, while in backing out of a flower, the pollen which it bears will not be rubbed off on the stigma of the same flower!
Rhizomes of the bearded iris are the source of orris root and are used in perfume, and medicine, though more common in ancient times than today. Today Iris essential oil (absolute) from flowers are sometimes used in Aromatherapy as sedative medicines. Iris pseudoacorus is also used in water purification. The dried rhizomes are also given whole to babies to help in teething. Magellan Gin uses iris root and flower, for flavor and color.
Iris rhizomes contain terpenes, organic acids, glycosides, and iridin, and the leaves contain ascorbic acid.
Iris rhizomes are harvested, dried, and aged for up to 5 years. In this time, the fats and oils inside the roots undergo degradation and oxidation, which produces many fragrant compounds that are valuable in perfumery. The scent is said to be similar to violets. The aged rhizomes are steam distilled which produces a thick oily compound, known in the perfume industry as iris butter.
The fleur-de-lis, a stylized iris, descends from the white iris which is native to Florence, Italy and which grew even in its city walls. This white iris, displayed against a red background, became the symbol of Florence until the Medici family, to signal a change in political power, reversed the colors making the white one red and setting in motion a centuries-long breeding program to hybridize a red iris. Catherine de Medici carried this symbol of Florence to Paris when she married the king of France where this most famous of irises acquired its moniker, fleur-de-lis. Contemporary uses can be seen in the Quebec flag and the logo of the New Orleans Saints professional football team, and on the flag of Saint Louis, Missouri. The iris has been associated with France as Louis VII adopted it as a symbol in the 12th Century. Furthermore, it is also the almost universal symbol of Scouting. In addition, it is one of the symbols adopted by the sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
The iris is the symbol of Brussels, since historically, the important Saint Gaugericus Island was carpeted in them. The iris is now the sole feature on the flag of the Brussels-Capital Region.
ris albertii is a species of iris found in Russia and Central Asia. It grows in the wild on grassy steppes at an elevation of 1700 to 2000 meters, in sunny or semi-shaded locations. It is a member of the subgenus iris, meaning that it is a bearded iris, and grows from a rhizome.
It grows to a stem height of 40 to 50 centimeters. The leaves are bluish-green in color, and sword-shaped, 40 to 50 centimeters in length, and 2.5 to 3 centimeters in width.
The inflorescence, produced in May, is fan-shaped and contains two or three flowers. The plant often reflowers in the fall. The blooms produced are lavender to purple-violet, and veined with brownish-red, with whitish or pale blue beards. The blooms last for two to three weeks. Iris albertii is propagated either by division of the rhizome or by seed.
Iris albicans, also known as the Cemetery Iris, White Cemetery Iris, or the White Flag Iris, is a species of iris which was planted on graves in Muslim regions and grows in many countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. It was later introduced to Spain, and then other European countries. It is a natural hybrid.
It may reach 60 centimeters in height.The leaves are grey-green, and broadly sword-shaped. The inflorescence is fan-shaped and contains two or three flowers. The flowers are grey or silvery in bud, and are white or off-white and 8cm wide in bloom. It is a sterile hybrid, and spreads by rhizomal growth and division, as it cannot produce seeds.
Iris orjenii is a species of iris found in Montenegro and Hercegovina on Mt. Orjen. It grows in the wild on grassy slopes at 1500 to 1700 meters, in sunny or semi-shaded locations within Bosnian Pine communities. It is a member of the subgenus iris, meaning that it is a bearded iris, and grows from a rhizome.
It grows to a stem height of 30 to 50 centimeters. The leaves are bluish-green in color, and sword-shaped, 40 to 50 centimeters in length, and 2.5 to 3 centimeters in width.
The inflorescence, produced in June, is fan-shaped and contains two or three flowers.
Iris pallida Dalmatian iris, Sweet iris; native to the Illyrian coast (former Yugoslavia) but widely naturalised elsewhere. Iris pallida is cultivated for extraction of essential oils from its rhizome orris root. Prefers rocky places in the mediterranean and submediterranean zone and reaches sometimes montane regions at its southern range in Montenegro. Four varieties (regularly described as separate species) are recognised with one possible new alpine species having white flowers. The variety with deep purplish flowers from Northern Italy and the Slovenian alps is called Iris cengialti. It is a member of the subgenus iris, meaning that it is a bearded iris, and grows from a rhizome.
It grows to a stem height of 50 to 80 centimeters. The leaves are bluish-green in color, and sword-shaped, 40 to 50 centimeters in length, and 2.5 to 3 centimeters in width.
The inflorescence, produced in May/June, is fan-shaped and contains two or three flowers.
Iris bracteata is a species of iris which is found only in the Klamath Mountains of Del Norte County, California and Curry County, Oregon. Its common name is Siskiyou iris. Its flowers grow singly or paired on a stem, and are usually cream-colored or yellowish with purple or brown veining.
Iris chrysographes - Black Iris is a plant species that belongs to the genus Iris. It is native to S China and Myanmar (Burma), growing in meadows, stramsides, hillsides and forest margins. The species was originally collected by Ernest Wilson in Sichuan in 1908.
Iris chrysophylla - The Yellowleaf iris is a wildflower which ranges from midwestern and southern Oregon west of the Cascades and south to the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains in northern California. The Yellowleaf iris grows up to 5,500 feet elevation, most commonly in open, coniferous forests.
Iris douglasiana - The Douglas Iris is a common and attractive wildflower of the coastal regions of Northern and Central California and southern Oregon. The names Iris beecheyana and I. watsoniana have also been used for this plant, but Iris douglasiana has precedence.
The Douglas Iris grows mainly at lower elevations, below 100 metres, though it is occasionally found at heights of up to 1000 metres. It is most common in grasslands near the coast; it is regarded as a noxious weed in pastures, because it forms clumps that inhibit other vegetation, and its leaves are bitter and unpalatable to cattle.
This is a typical beardless Iris of subgenus Limniris, series Californicae, growing from a rhizome that is typically under a centimetre in diameter. Its leaves are about 2 cm wide. It flowers from April to June. Flowers are usually a purplish-blue, though occasionally white or yellow flowers are found. Two or three flowers are found on each stem, which is of variable height, ranging from 15-80 cm tall.
Iris foetidissima (Stinking Iris, Gladdon, Gladwin Iris, Roast-beef Plant, Stinking Gladwin), is a species of Iris found in open woodland, hedgebanks and sea-cliffs. Its natural range is Western Europe, including Britain, from France south and east to N. Africa, Italy and Greece. It is one of two Iris species native to Britain, the other being the Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus). The flowers are purplish, and the seeds produced are bright red. It is known as "stinking" because some people find the smell of its leaves unpleasant when crushed or bruised, an odour that has been described as "beefy".
Iris giganticaerulea (Giant Blue Iris or Giant Blue Flag) is a species of iris native to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi in the United States.
The plant has 4-6 basal leaves which are 100-130 cm long and 2-3 cm wide. The flowers are typically blue to purple-blue and appear in spring. Lavender and white colour forms are also observed in the wild.
It was declared as the official state wildflower of Louisiana in 1990.
Iris hartwegii is a species of iris endemic to California, where it can be found on low-elevation mountain slopes in the central counties. It has the common names rainbow iris, Sierra iris, and Hartweg's iris. It bears one to three flowers on a slender stem, and the flowers may be shades of purple or yellow to almost white. There are three to five subspecies.
Iris innominata is a species of iris native to southern Oregon, and California along the north coast and Klamath Ranges in Del Norte County, California.
The leaves are dense and evergreen, up to 20 cm. The flower is typically deep golden yellow with darker veins. The flower stems are about 12 cm and usually bear 1-2 flowers in spring.
Iris macrosiphon (Bowltube Iris) is a flowering plant in the iris family, endemic to California in the Cascade Range Foothills, north and central Sierra Nevada Foothills, Inner North Coast Ranges, and San Francisco Bay Area, where it occurs in sunny grasslands, meadows, and open woodlands.
The leaves are very slender, 2.5-5 mm wide, and blue-green in color. The flower is variable, golden yellow to cream or pale lavender to deep blue-purple, generally with darker veins. The flower stems are usually short (less than 25 cm) when in the sun and bear 2 flowers. It blooms in spring.
Iris missouriensis is a species of iris found in western North America. Its distribution is varied; it grows at high elevations in mountains and alpine meadows and all the way down to sea level in coastal hills. Its common names include western blue flag and Rocky Mountain iris. The flower may be any shade of purple or blue-purple, often a light shade with darker veining.
Iris munzii is a species of iris which is endemic to the Sierra Nevada foothills of Tulare County, California, mostly in the vicinity of the Tule River. It is quite rare in the wild. Its common names include Tulare lavender iris and Munz's iris. Its flowers grow in inflorescences of three to four per stem, and are usually lighter shades of purple and blue with darker veining.
Iris pseudacorus is a species of Iris, native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa. Common names include yellow iris and yellow flag. Its specific epithet, meaning "false acorus," refers to the similarity of its leaves to those of Acorus calamus, as they have a prominently veined mid-rib and sword-like shape. It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 1-1.5 m (or a rare 2 m) tall, with erect leaves up to 90 cm long and 3 cm broad. The flowers are bright yellow, 7-10 cm across, with the typical iris form. The fruit is a dry capsule 4-7 cm long, containing numerous pale brown seeds.
Iris purdyi is a species of iris known by the common name Purdy's iris. It is found in the redwood forests of California and into southern Oregon. The leaves are green and usually tinted along the edges with pink. There is a spathe which is green with red edges. The flowers are light yellow and lavender, often veined with darker coloring.
Iris sibirica, the Siberian Iris, is a flowering plant in the genus Iris, native to eastern and central Europe and northern Asia. It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 50-120 cm tall. The leaves are glaucous green, narrow and fairly rigid, blade-shaped, 40-80 cm long and 2-4 cm broad. The flowers are typical of an iris, borne in late spring or early summer on unbranched or sparsely-branched stems held above the leaves, each flower 4-7 cm diameter, mid- to purple-blue, often with a paler whitish or yellowish centre. Iris sibirica is widely grown in gardens in temperate regions around the world. It is the parent plant of many hybrids, used because of its attractive foliage and ability to flourish in a wide range of climates; the hybrids vary widely in flower colour.
Iris spuria is a species of the genus Iris, part of a subgenus series known as Limniris. The slender and elogated leaves surround a purple flower. It is a beardless form, sometimes known as the blue iris. The species is widely cultivated and hybridized for use in the garden. It is found in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was first described in 1753 by Linnaeus, who described it in the Species Plantarum as being German.
Iris tenax is a species of Iris native to southwestern Washington and northwestern Oregon. It is also known as the Oregon Iris. It occurs along roadsides and in grasslands and forest openings at low to middle elevations.
Iris versicolor, also commonly known as the Harlequin Blueflag, the Larger Blue Flag, and other varitations of those names, is a species of Iris native to North America where it is common in sedge meadows, marshes, and along streambanks and shores.
Iris confusa, also known as the Bamboo iris, is a species of iris found in Western China. The flowers of the species may range from white to a soft lavender in color, with orange-yellow crests and purple dots. The plant's broad, shiny leaves are attached to bamboo-like stems.
Iris lacustris - The Dwarf Lake Iris is a tiny iris species endemic to the northern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. In 1998, it was designated the state wildflower of Michigan, where the vast majority of populations exist. The dwarf lake iris is also found on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin and the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island in Ontario, as well as on smaller islands in both lakes. Iris lacustris is designated a threatened species by federal, state and provincial laws throughout its range.
Blue Australian Iris
Author - Louise Docker. Under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License
Iris versicolor - Harlequin Blueflag
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