The word Iris means rainbow. Iris is the flower of the Greek goddess Iris who is the messenger of Love. In the language of flowers Iris symbolizes eloquence.

Irises are wonderful garden plants. The word Iris means rainbow. Irises come in many colors such as blue and purple, white and yellow, pink and orange, brown and red, and even black.

The genus Iris has about 200 species and is native to the North Temperate regions of the world. The habitat of irises also varies a lot. Some irises grow in deserts, some in swamps, some in the cold far north, and many in temperate climates. Bearded Iris and Siberian Iris are two of the most common types of irises grown.


Since Iris is the Greek goddess for the Messenger of Love, her sacred flower is considered the symbol of communication and messages. Therefore the flower iris in the language of flowers symbolizes eloquence. Based on their color, irises convey varied messages. A purple iris is symbolic of wisdom and compliments. A blue iris symbolizes faith and hope. A yellow iris symbolizes passion while white iris symbolizes purity. A gift of iris can be used to convey many emotions.

  • Irises come in many forms, shapes, colors and sizes and the sword-like foliage is attractive when the plant is not in bloom.
  • The Iris was named after the Greek goddess who is considered to be the messenger of love and uses the rainbow to travel. Iris was probably named after the goddess because of the numerous colors it is available in.
  • Irises are among the best-known and loved among garden plants. Irises are hardy herbaceous perennials.
  • The genus Iris is a large genus of bulbous and rhizomatous perennials.
  • The Iris was named after the goddess of the rainbow because of its many colors.
  • A flower on the Sphinx is considered to be an Iris, and another appears on a bas-relief of the time of the 18th Egyptian dynasty.
  • Pliny also knew the Iris and praised its medicinal virtues.
  • The Iris was also a favorite flower of the Moslems who took it to Spain after their conquest in the 8th century.
The Iris flower's characteristic feature is having three petals often called the "standards" and three outer petal-like sepals called the "falls".

Irises are classified into two major groups, Rhizome Irises and Bulbous Irises. Within those groups are countless species, varieties, cultivars and hybrids, according to the American Iris Society.

Rhizome Irises are thickened stems that grow horizontally, either underground or partially underground. After planting, iris rhizomes produce sword like leaves that overlap, forming flat fans of green foliage. Three popular irises in this group are Bearded, Beardless and Crested Irises.

  • The bearded iris has four distinct parts: the Standards, Falls, Stigma flaps, and Beard
  • The beardless variety has: Standards, Falls and Stigma flaps, but usually have crests
  • The crested Irises or Evansia Iris has: Standards, Falls and Stigma flaps and in addition to a ridge on the falls of the blossom, they have ridges like crests instead of beards

Crested irises are often considered in the same manner as the beardless iris. These plants spread freely by underground stems and produce flat flowers in the shades of blue, violet and white. Often the flowers and leaves are found on bamboo like stems which can vary in height from 5-200 centimeters in height.

Varieties of Bearded Iris Varieties of Beardless Iris
Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris Siberian Iris
Dwarf Bearded Iris Japanese Iris
Intermediate Bearded Iris Louisiana Iris
Border Bearded Iris Dutch Iris
Miniature Tall Bearded Iris Yellow Flag Iris
Tall Bearded Iris Blue Flag Iris

Bulbous irises grow from bulbs that require a period of dormancy after they have bloomed. The bulbous irises are typically smaller than rhizome irises and usually produce smaller blossoms.

Before planting Iris, improve the soil conditions by using a slow release fertilizer. To increase the organic matter content, use compost, peat moss or well-rotted manure. Fertilizer and organic matter should be worked thoroughly into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil.

  • Wooded areas with good drainage and partial shade are ideal spots for the crested iris.
  • Irises are grown from both seed and root separation.
  • The roots or rhizomes, are easily separated and replanted.
  • The rhizome looks like a long, thin potato with roots underneath.
  • When transplanting, separate the rhizome. Make sure to have some root and a leaf or two in each section.
  • Plant the rhizomes near the surface with the roots below.
  • Divide the clumps and plant single rhizomes, spacing them 8 to 18 inches apart according to the effect desired.
  • Spade a planting hole about 10 inches deep and work 1 tablespoonful of fertilizer into the soil in the bottom of the hole.
  • If the soil is heavy, some drainage material such as gravel or broken pottery should be placed in the hole.
  • Fill the hole with loose soil and place the root section so that it will not be covered more than 1 inch deep.
  • Most Beardless Irises can also be propagated from seeds.
The Dykes Medal is awarded annually to the finest iris of any class. Tall bearded irises have won the Dykes Medal more often than any other class.
  • Apply a thin layer of compost around the base of plants each spring, leaving the rhizome exposed.
  • As flowers fade, cut back the flower stalks to the base of the plant.
  • To encourage a second bloom on re-blooming varieties, promptly remove faded flowers and maintain consistent watering throughout the summer.
  • In autumn, trim away dead foliage and prune back healthy leaves to a height of 4 to 5 inches.
  • Once the soil has frozen, apply a layer of mulch to help prevent roots from heaving out of the soil during alternate freezing and thawing.
  • If heaving occurs, don't try to force plants back into the soil. Instead, cover rhizomes and exposed roots with soil.
  • Divide bearded irises every 4 to 5 years, preferably in late summer. Each division should have one or two leaf fans. Older rhizomes that have few white feeding roots should be discarded.

Want to learn more about growing Irises and other flowers? View books on Gardening

  • The juice of the fresh roots of Iris, bruised with wine, has been employed as a strong purge of great efficiency in dropsy.
  • Iris roots are used to treat skin diseases. The juice of Irises are also sometimes used as a cosmetic for the removal of freckles on the skin.
  • The fresh root of the Iris germanica is a powerful cathartic, and for this reason its juice has been employed in dropsy. It is chiefly used in the dry state, being said to be good for complaints of the lungs, for coughs and hoarseness, but is now more valued for the pleasantness of its violet-like perfume than for any other use.
  • Iris flowers are used as a liver purge.
  • Purple Iris Flowers bloom for two to three weeks in the late spring to early summer.
  • The Purple Iris is the state flower of Tennessee.
  • The Purple Iris can be grown in your home, in containers.
  • The majority of Iris flowers are in Purple.