Iris

COMMON NAME:  iris
GENUS:  Iris
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
There are over 200 known species of iris. Some of the most popular garden irises include {in order of succession of bloom}:  I. reticulata, Dutch, dwarf bearded, Siberian, Spuria, Louisiana, Japanese.
FAMILY:  Iridaceae
BLOOMS:  spring-summer
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  The bearded irises are composed of standards {petals that stand upright} and falls {petals that hang downward}. The beards are in the center of the falls. Bearded irises are tall and stately, bloom in May and June, and can be found in nearly any color except clear red. The leaves are flat, pointed, and sword-shaped.
The beardless iris differs from the bearded in that the petals are all more horizontal, rather than up-and-down. It, of course, lacks a beard, has smaller blossoms and has leaves that are narrow and almost reedlike. There are much less color and size variation among the beardless irises.
CULTIVATION:  Bearded irises can withstand long dry periods in the dormant state but need abundant moisture when in bloom. Rhizomes should be lifted and divided every three to four years. Cultivate the soil around the clumps and lightly fertilize them in early spring. Fall chores include cutting back the plant to within 4 to 5 inches of the rhizome and removing dead or shriveled leaves. Watch irises closely throughout the year for pest infestation and treat accordingly. Though they are adaptable as to the type of soil, fertility is of utmost importance, as is full sun.
Beardless, Japanese, Siberian, and Spurian irises all need full sun. Louisiana iris {a hybrid developed from several species native to the southeastern United States} thrives in sun or partial shade. Other requirements are similar to those of the bearded iris. Generally, this group is more adaptable and easier to grow than the bearded types.

Iris is the sacred flower of the goddess of the rainbow, Iris, who would take messages of love from the “eye of heaven” to earth, using the rainbow as a bridge. Iris means “eye of heaven” and is the name given to the goddess, this flower, and the center of your own eye, meaning each of us carries a bit of heaven with us. Because of its connection with the goddess Iris, this plant is considered the symbol of communication and message. Greek men would often plant iris on the graves of their beloved woman as a tribute to the goddess Iris, whose duty it was to take the souls of a woman to the Elysian fields.
The iris has been an important emblem for French people since the year A.D. 496 when Clovis l was fighting an important battle and found himself trapped on one side by the opposing army and the other side by a broad river. Clovis’s queen was a devout Christian and had been begging him for years, without success, to convert to Christianity. When Clovis found himself trapped, he prayed to the Christian god and promised if he got out of this predicament that he would convert and urge his followers to do the same. As he finished the prayer, according to the legend, Clovis looked out across the river and saw a yellow flag iris growing midway across. He realized that the river must be shallow if the iris could grow there. He took it as a sign from God and marched his army across the shallow river to victory. Keeping his promise, Clovis l and 3,000 of his followers converted to Christianity on Christmas Day of that year.
The three large petals of iris represent faith, wisdom, and valor.
Charles lV {1294-1328} is thought to be the first ruler to include the iris on the French banner. It continued to appear from time to time on the French banner and is the basis for the French fleur-de-lis.
The oldest story about the iris is from 1479 B.C. when an Egyptian king, Thutmose lll, returned home after conquering Syria. To commemorate his conquests he had pictures of irises and other flowers from his conquered lands drawn on the walls of a temple.
Throughout the ages, iris has been used extensively as medicine and in cosmetics. The Romans, Egyptians, and Moors all grew it for its medicinal value and used it to treat such varied ailments as ague, epilepsy, chill and fever, headaches, loose teeth, and the bite of an adder. The iris root was so esteemed for its medicinal properties that the plant was grown in herb gardens throughout the Middle Ages. The roots, mixed with honey or wine, were supposed to be good for colds and coughs and “torments of the belly.” It was also considered good for the bite of a venomous beast and for sunburn.
Not everyone could successfully harvest the iris root, however; Pliny suggested that only those in a state of chastity could gather the roots.
In Germany the iris {or orrisroot, as it was called} was suspended in a barrel of beer to keep it from getting stale. The French used it to enhance the bouquet of wines. In Russia, iris root was used to flavor a soft drink made from honey and ginger. The ancient Greeks used iris in the manufacturing of perfume. It was used as a fixative because it strengthened other odors.
In Elizabethan England, strings of orrisroot were put into the laundry to sweetly scent the clothes.
Today the single greatest use of iris {other than for its beauty in the garden} is in the manufacturing of cosmetics. In Mexico, I. florentina is grown extensively for this purpose and many tons of the root are shipped to France annually.
Many species if iris produce a wonderful dye. Blossoms of the yellow flag iris {I. pseudacorus} make a good yellow dye, and the roots of this species make a good brown and black dye. The petals of purple iris, mixed with alum, make a beautiful blue-violet dye. To obtain the most potent color for dyes, the flowers should be gathered during a dry spell.
As a result of a wonderful legal loophole, irises can occasionally be found growing on roofs in Japan. This dates back to a time in Japan when the people were not allowed to grow any flower in their gardens that were not approved by the emperor. Irises were not on the approval list, so instead of growing them in their gardens, Japanese gardeners grew them on the roofs.

 Iris is the state flower of Tennessee.
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