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Irises: Types, Planting, and Symbolism

About irises in a nutshellHow to grow irises in your gardenThe meaning and symbolism of iris flowers

Inspiring artists all around the world, including the famed Vincent van Gogh, the iris flower goes back to Ancient Greece in its history. The iris takes its name from a Greek goddess who was the messenger between gods and the human world. Iris was also the goddess of the rainbow, and now these delicate flowers come in all colors of the rainbow, each having its unique meaning.
In this article, we are going to explore the history and symbolism of irises. You will also find here some tips on how to grow these flowers.
So may we start?

About irises in a nutshell

There are thousands of varieties of irises in the world which come down to about 250 different species. Their height can range from 3 to 40 inches,  not to mention the variety of shapes and colors. As an example we can take the black iris, which is extremely rare in the wild. But where do irises come from and which types are there? Let’s find out.

Origin of the iris flower

As already mentioned above, these flowers bear the name of the Greek goddess Iris. Indeed, we can trace irises to Ancient Greece, as even today they can be found on the walls of many old palaces. Iris was the one who helped the dead get to heaven. That is why the Greeks used to adorn the graves of their loved ones with iris flowers to accompany them on their last journey.
In Egypt, irises were also quite popular. When the pharaoh Thutmose III first saw these charming flowers in conquered Syria, he couldn't help but bring them home to Egypt and start growing them in his royal gardens.
To North America iris bulbs were brought by European settlers in the 16th century. They quickly spread from Virginia to other states, and already in 1913 the famous book The Genus Iris was published by W.R. Dykes. Its author was a friend of Michael Froster, who made a huge contribution into the breeding and description of iris flowers. Froster is still often referred to as “the father of iris breeding”.
Irises are widely used in different countries for the production of perfumes because of their remarkable fragrance. They can smell of raspberries, violets, carrots, and even wet cement after a thunderstorm! Its roots were also used for treating lung and liver diseases and alleviating cough.

Types of irises: rhizomatous vs. bulbous

Irises can be rhizomatous and bulbous. Bulbous irises usually bloom in late winter and spring. They have two main varieties: Dutch irises and Dwarf irises. Because of their smaller size, iris bulbs are perfect for growing in pots. Rhizomatous irises are perennial flowers. They are quite hardy because of their strong rhizome, or simply put – stem. Rhizomatous irises typically bloom all throughout summer.
There are three main subcategories of rhizomatous irises:
Bearded irises
Those who have a green thumb most often choose this type of irises. It is very easy to grow them – bearded irises just need enough sunlight and well-drained soil. They are called bearded because they have furry hairs at the falls.
Beardless irises
Beardless irises are typical for Asia. They are also easy to care for and they grow perfectly together with other flower varieties.
Crested irises
They prefer soil saturated with humus and shadow areas. Crested irises are small and they spread across the garden very fast.

How to grow irises in your garden

We have prepared for you several tips on how to properly grow irises. These flowers are not so difficult to plant and maintain, but knowing the basics is crucial for growing strong and colorful flowers.

When and how to plant irises

We believe that the best time to plant irises is in the late summer and early fall. This can give them an opportunity to prepare for the cold winter.
Put the stems horizontally in the ground, leaving the top above the ground. To encourage growth, plant a rhizome in an empty space 3 inches deep and 9 inches across. Then create ridges of soil around where you want to grow roots, which will provide stability for your newly installed plants. Fill up with dirt until only about 1 inch remains uncovered at either end, so that moisture can drain away from these areas instead of being absorbed by soil aggregation happening beneath our feet… This way they have plenty of room without feeling crowded but also get all necessary nutrients.

Taking care of your flowers

Irises demand quite a large amount of water, but too much of it can cause the stems to rot. In spring, it is advisable to use fertilizer for the flowers to rebloom. Don’t forget to remove any dead flowers and stake them if they grow too tall.
When the blooming season is over, it is better to cut the stems, leaving only the leaves. They can help the flowers absorb sunlight during next season. If where you live the winters are cold, we recommend covering the flowers with sand to protect the rhizomes.

The meaning and symbolism of iris flowers

We have already discussed the name of this flower and its connection to Greek mythology and rainbows. However, the iris has so many other symbolic meanings in different countries. Moreover, each color of its blooms can symbolize something, so you can convey certain sentiments when giving irises to your friend or loved one. Iris can even be a feminine name which has its own, unique connotations.

 What irises represent in different cultures

Christian world
In the Christian tradition, the iris is commonly considered to be the flower of the Virgin Mary. Along with lilies, it can often be seen in works of art depicting Mary. But unlike the lily, which embodies innocence, the iris symbolizes Mary’s grief over her son’s fate.
Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, irises were often depicted on the knights' coats of arms. They demonstrated the chivalric code of conduct and signified bravery and dignity.
The 5th of May in Japan is traditionally referred to as Children’s Day. On this day, people celebrate young boys and wish them strength. Irises play a part of their own during the celebrations. They are placed on the eaves to repel evil spirits.
In China, irises are the symbol of grace and beauty in solitude. The Chinese sometimes call these flowers butterflies, because their large colorful petals resemble the wings of a huge butterfly.

Iris symbolism by color

Bright and colorful irises make wonderful gifts. They are simply perfect for such occasions as birthdays, anniversaries, or Mother’s Day, as they are sure to put a smile on the recipient’s face.
Let’s look into what meanings irises have depending on their color:
Red: affection, care, bliss;
Orange: balance, encouragement, intellect;
Yellow: ingenuity, stability, brightness;
Blue: flexibility, resourcefulness, fantasies;
Purple: perceptivity, energy, neutrality.
So, if you’re thinking of sending irises as a gift to your dear one, consider what each color represents.

As you can see, irises are truly magnificent flowers. Their unusual metaphorical meanings and wide range of colors make them a wonderful gift for someone you care about. Who knows, maybe their beauty will inspire many other significant artists… One thing is certain: irises can charm anyone.

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