All About Iris – History, Meaning, Facts, Care & More

Iris flowers make great fresh-cut flowers for anniversaries and sending words of encouragement. Irises also attract butterflies and hummingbirds making it well-loved among gardeners. Learn more about irises in this article.


History of Iris Flowers

As many different types of flowers, there is also a Greek myth associated with Iris flowers. Iris was the name of a Greek goddess who was a messenger of Zeus and Hera who carried the messages on the arc of the rainbow. It is said that she led souls of dead female mortals to the Elysian Fields. As the legend would have it, Greeks started planting purple iris flowers over the graves of women in order to summon the Greek goddess to guide their departed loved ones in their journey to the Elysian Fields.

The Iris flower is also well-loved by royals throughout history. In Egypt, drawings of the iris flower were also found in Egyptian palaces as decorations on the pharaoh’s scepter representing victory and power. It is said that Egyptian kings were attracted to the beauty of the flower.

In French history, King Louis VII adored the purple iris which was later given the name Fleur-de-lis. The flower was strongly associated with the French monarchy being placed in coins, shields, and coats of arms. It is believed that the petals of the iris represented the nobility, clergy, and peasants—the three social orders. This association with the monarchy was so engraved so much so that during the French revolution, purple irises were destroyed by the revolutions to signify their resentment against the monarchy.

In Italy, the cultivation of Iris flowers began in the 19th century when three different people were noted to have cultivated thousands upon thousands of iris flowers every day. After three years, the Italians started using dried iris flowers to make perfumes. A large portion of the irises’ rhizomes was also exported for the perfume industry. Orris roots of certain species of irises are also used to make perfume sachets and potpourris. Today, Iris flowers are plenty in Europe as well as in North America, Asia, northern Africa, and the Middle East.


Characteristics of Iris Flowers

The iris flower is characterized by its colorful inner petals called ‘standards’ and smaller outer sepals called ‘falls’.  The petals always stand upright while the outer lobe or sepals often curve downwards or spread outwards, but may sometimes also stand upright depending on the variety.

There are some 300 species in the genus Iris. The most familiar irises are the tall (at least 28 inches) bearded irises (Iris germanica)

Certain varieties of irises also have patterns or ruffles. Cultivated iris flowers are classified as bearded, aril, and beardless. The bearded iris flowers are characterized by having hairs that run down the center. Aril iris flower is characterized for their aril or white cup around their seeds. There are also hybrids of arils and bearded irises known as Aribreds.

Most iris flowers are easy to grow especially yellow flag irises which spread out quickly. Some of the most popular varieties include bearded irises like the immortality variety—available in pure white color. I Do iris flowers are also white. Purple iris varieties include the Earl of Essex and Feed Back. Jennifer Rebecca varieties have a mauve pink color and are suitable for a warmer climate.


Colors and Meanings of Iris Flowers

Iris makes a great name for a baby girl too but did you know where the name of the iris flower came from? The Greek meaning of Iris is rainbow owing from its more than 200 varieties in a wide array of colors.

Iris flowers also symbolize wisdom, trust, hope, and valor. It has also inspired artists like Van Gogh to create their masterpieces.

The different colors of iris flowers also carry with them a unique meaning. Some of the most popular colors include white iris flowers which symbolize purity, blue iris flowers which mean faith and hope—the perfect color to encourage someone, yellow iris flowers which are symbolic of passion making it perfect for your significant other, and purple iris flowers which represent royalty and wisdom—a suitable flower for your parent or mentor.


Facts about Iris Flowers

  • It is the state flower of Tennessee.
  • It is the flower for a 25th wedding anniversary or silver wedding anniversary.
  • It is the birth flower for those born in the month of February.
  • Orris roots of certain iris species were once used in cosmetics until it was found to have allergy-causing properties.
  • Iris flowers come in many different colors except for bright red. Yellow irises are used to symbolize passion.
  • Yellow flag iris seeds were once roasted and made into a type of beverage. The flowers were also once used to make yellow dye while its rhizomes were made into black dye.
  • When ingested, iris flowers may cause diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Iris flowers are also toxic to pets.
  • Iridin is the toxin found in iris flowers.


Planting and Caring for Iris Flowers

Iris flowers bloom in early summer and re-bloom before the summer ends. Irises can be planted using its bulb or rhizome depending on the type of species. Iris flowers need fertile soil with a neutral to slightly acidic level.

Irises thrive in full sun which it needs to bloom. Be careful not to surround irises with taller plants that will provide shade for it. Irises are best kept in a flower bed of their own. Plant the rhizome in around 4 inches deep soil in singles or in groups of three. Be sure that the leaves face out and the rhizomes are at least 1 to 2 ft apart. Also, keep in mind to spread the roots on both sides before filling the hole with soil. Leave part of the rhizome and foliage partially exposed. Buried too deep, the rhizomes won’t grow well.

Once set firmly in place, water the plant thoroughly and top-dress it with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers and organic mulch which can lead to rhizome rot. Fertilize it again 6 to 8 weeks before the start of summer when its blooms appear.

Also, keep in mind that once the irises have finished blooming, do not trim its leaves as they encourage re-growth. You may cut off the brown tips. Iris foliage hit with heavy frost should be destroyed as these are susceptible to borer eggs. Further, note that irises can get overcrowded over time which may cause irises to stop blooming. As such, it is best to divide and replant the healthy rhizomes—often done every 2 to 5 years.

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