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Iris Flower Facts and Meaning

Updated on August 7, 2010

Etymology, History and Profile

Iris is a genus of more than 200 species of flowering plants with showy flowers that has been around for centuries. The word iris means “rainbow”, it was named after the Greek Goddess who is considered the messenger love and uses the rainbow to travel. It was perhaps because of its numerous color that the flower was then named after the goddess of rainbow. Iris is a hardy herbaceous perennial and they are widely distributed throughout the north temperate zone and is found in habitats ranging from deserts to swamps.

Irises are one of the easiest perennials to grow. The flowers come in many colors such as white and yellow, blue and purple, brown and red, orange and pink, and even black. The majority of the iris flowers are in purple. Some irises grow in swamps, some of then grow in deserts, some in the cold far north and also in temperate climates. Siberian iris and bearded iris are the most common types of iris grown in the US.

Types of Irises

Different Kinds of Irises

There are 2 major groups of iris, rhizome and bulbous irises. Bulbous iris are normally smaller than rhizome irises. Bulbous iris grows from the bulb that require a dormant period every year in order to produce leaves and flower. The most common bulb irises are Dutch Iris.

Rhizome iris grows from rhizome (thick pieces of root) in the ground producing the sword-like leaves. Most iris in this group are evergreen, some of them go dormant, usually in late summer/winter. Rhizome irises are separated into three main groups, they are Beardless, Bearded and Crested. The differences refer to the way these plants attract bees.

Species of iris include:

  • Yellow flag iris (iris pseudacorus)
  • German iris (iris germanica)
  • Florentine iris (iris florentina)
  • Flag iris (iris pallida)
  • American blue flag iris (iris versicolor)


The iris flower has a long association with ancient Greek and Egypt mythology and used as a symbol by various cultures. The flower is found in drawings on the walls of Egyptian palaces and temples. Based on their color, iris conveys varied messages. Blue iris is symbolic of faith and hope, purple iris symbolizes wisdom and compliments, white iris means purity while yellow iris symbolizes passion. A gift of iris is used to convey many emotions that makes the flowers an excellent choice for an array of gift giving occasions such as corporate, get well, sympathy, birthday and thinking of you are just some of the occasions for which they might be the prefect choice. It was also the Moslems favorite flower, who took it to Spain in the 8th century after their conquest. Purple irises were planted over the women’s graves to summon the goddess to guide the dead in ther journey.


Irises are cultivated all over the world, they are found naturally in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and northern Africa. Iris is today becomes the state flower of Tennessee, the city emblem of New Orleans is the Fleur-de-lis. Beside being a popular ornamental garden flower and in flower bouquets, it has also been used medicinally and in perfumery.

Flag iris (also called as orris root) has been used medicinally to treat catarrh, coughs and diarrhea in babies. But it is however consuming large quantities of fresh orris root is not recommended as it causes nausea and sickness and is extremely toxic. Essential oil is also extractable from iris florentina and iris pallida but it is not recommended for medicinal aromatherapy use since it is frequently adulterated, in addition to causing skin irritation.


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