Definitely on my list of favorites is the bearded iris. I first fell in love with one that used to grow in my grandmother’s garden, an heirloom variety called Iris pallida. Bearded iris are part of a huge iris family, with over 200 species and countless hybrids that date back to ancient Egyptian times. The plant is named after the Greek goddess Iris, the messenger of love who used a rainbow for travel. Aptly named, as the iris can be found in every color (except true red) including variegated and bi-colors.
The bearded iris is a hardy, long-living perennial that requires a minimum of maintenance. The flowers have six petals; three upright petals (called standards) and three hanging petals (called falls). The term “bearded” comes from the short hairs located on the falls, making a perfect landing strip for bees to gather nectar.
Most bearded iris flower in the spring but some re-bloom in the summer and fall. As a plus, many of the re-blooming (remontant) iris are fragrant. They enjoy full-sun, (though many can tolerate some shade) and well-drained soil. After a while, they will need to be divided to ensure favorable blooms. This should be done in the summer. Cut the leaves down to four inches. Dig them up. And lastly, use a sharp knife to cut the rhizome, leaving a few leaves to each part and replant making sure that some of the rhizome is exposed.
The root or rhizome of the iris plant is used in perfumery and in spirits such as gin. Called “orris root,” the powder form is a great fixative, giving staying power to potpourri and perfumes.
The Iris is the fleur-de-lis symbol that for centuries has represented French royalty.
In the 8th century, men planted iris on the graves of their women to summon the Greek Goddess Iris to guide them into heaven.
The iris is the Tennessee state flower.