Friday, February 13, 2009

Apple #370: Irises

This is going to be a quick one because I'm on my way out of town for the weekend.

A blue iris.
(Photograph by Joe Barr)

  • You know how each month has a birthstone? Each month also has a flower, and the flower of February is the iris.
  • If you're celebrating your 25th wedding anniversary, irises are the traditional flower to give.
  • It's also the state flower of Tennessee.
  • Tennesseeans say that the three upright petals of the flower represent faith, bravery, and wisdom. Well, I don't know if everybody from Tennessee goes around saying that. But somebody in Tennessee decided that, anyway.
  • In Japan, the iris is considered a symbol of heroism, so irises are often used in a spring festival they have for boys (kodomo no hi).
  • The iris is also the National Emblem of France. The shape of the flower is the inspiration behind the fleur de lis.

A white Siberian Iris
(Photo from the New York Botanical Garden)

  • In general, irises bloom in the springtime, from bulbs.
  • Like most spring flowers they can withstand rough temperatures, but the blossoms don't last very long. In the case of the iris, the blooms last about three days.
  • They like a lot of water. You know, like spring rains.

Purple irises, growing in Dan & Rita's garden

  • Though the bulbs can survive the cold and moody weather of early spring, once the plants are above the soil, they do better if you can keep them away from drafts and in the full sun.
  • The flowers bloom in all sorts of colors: purple, white, blue, pink, yellow, etc. The fact that there are so many colors is why the plant is named Iris, which is the Greek word for "rainbow."
There are all sorts of varieties (you've probably heard of the bearded iris). In fact, there are about 200 species of irises.
  • The bearded iris has what's called "falls." Those are the ripply petals that hang down from the main part of the blossom. On the falls are usually fuzzy hairs. That's the bearded part.

These are wild yellow irises growing in Ontario.
(Photo from Wild Flowers of Ontario)

  • There's a poem by Louise Gluck called "The Wild Iris," which just absolutely levels me.
The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

(photo by Jon Gibbs)

(That poem is in her book, Wild Iris)

Van Gogh liked irises, too.
(Photo from Fabulous Masterpieces)

The Flower Expert, Iris and Tennessee State Flower
Hot Fact, Iris Flower (cached)
Teleflora, The meaning & symbolism of iris
Flowers Direct, Iris: Flower Facts


  1. Alice has a friend named Iris. She'll love this.

  2. One of my favorite flowers; thanks for the lovely photos and post. Have a great weekend!

  3. Never knew there was a month for Irises.Good to know.
    Love your blog

  4. I'm glad you're all enjoying the irises! Hopefully we'll see them blooming in real life soon!


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