Rather than use the full name of anything, people tend to shorten or abbreviate. We all know what IRS, USPS, NFL and RSVP stand for, but we rarely take the time to say the full name. The names of the states in which we live are shortened to 2 letters, and we call each other Bob instead of Robert, Ed instead of Edward and Alex instead of Alexandrina. So, it’s not surprising that we have simpler names for animals,  insects and especially flowers. Would you rather call that pretty bird a Cyanocitta cristata, or a Blue Jay? Sometimes we have visitors in our yard that could be Didelphis virginiana, but we just call them possums.

Writing this blog about gardens, I have come across many common names for flowers. Some of them describe the plant, but others make no sense to me at all. It’s obvious that the Osteospermum could also be called Blue Eyed Daisy, or why Dianthus are commonly called Pinks.  But, why is Aquilegia called Columbine, and how did we get Hollyhocks from Alcea? That seems like an issue for another day.  The reason I bring it up is that the flower I am focusing on only has one name, Iris, which is the scientific name and also the common name.

There are 200-300 species in the genus Iris, part of the Iridaceae family. They are named after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, presumably because of the wide variety of colors that appear in the flowers. Other than true red, Iris can be found in just about any shade of blue, purple, yellow, rose, brown, pink and even black. Iris are quite popular in much of the world, growing in deserts and swamps, frigid and temperate areas. They are perennials, growing from either rhizomes or bulbs. Most Iris prefer full sun, but there are varieties that will grow in part shade. In addition to the choice of colors, Iris plants can be found in a huge range of sizes, from 4 inches to 5 feet, and bloom times, from February to June.

The Iris flower is distinctive, with 3 upright petals and 3 sepals, which droop down. Sepals may have a pattern of veining, lines or dots, and they usually look different in color, or size, from the petals. There are some species that have petals and sepals that are similar, with all of them pointing outward.

I won’t go into all the tedious details, but Iris, the genus, is divided into 6 sub-genera. 2 of them grow from rhizomes, and the other 4 are those that are bulbs. The main difference between the two types appears to be in the arrangement of the leaves, and the size of the plants and flowers. Apparently, the bulb Iris tend to be smaller than the rhizome types. The rhizome group includes bearded Iris and Siberian Iris, which are two of the most popular types. Bearded Iris are easy to grow, can be divided every few years and have large impressive blooms starting in late spring. Siberian Iris have a limited range of colors, but are relatively pest free and more tolerant of wet conditions than the bearded types.

For several years, I had a clump of Siberian Iris given to me by a friend. Running low on space, I dug them out and passed them along to another friend. Later, I found out that Siberian Iris do not like to be transplanted. Despite my efforts, it still survives.  Now, I have no Iris, but seeing all these beautiful flowers might make me reconsider.

As I was finishing this, I found a source that says that Iris are called by the common name Flags or Junos. I’ve never heard of either of these, have you?


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2 Responses to “Iris”

  1. Kem Says:

    I’ve never heard them called that! I also didn’t know that I was not supposed to transplant my Siberian Irises…hmmm, guess I won’t tell them. In Maryland, we have an Iris borer that is rough on bearded irises. It hit mine, and I finally gave up on them.

  2. tammie Says:

    my grandmother and all the girls in her family called Iris “flags”. Thought that might be a southern name for them

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