IRIS FAMILY - Iridaceae: Larger Blue Flag; Blue Iris; Fleur-de-lis; Flower-de-luce

Iris versicolor

Flowers--Several, 2 to 3 in. long, violet-blue variegated with yellow, green, or white, and purple veined. Six divisions of the perianth: 3 outer ones spreading, recurved; 1 of them bearded, much longer and wider than the 3 erect inner divisions; all united into a short tube. Three stamens under 3 overhanging petal-like divisions of the style, notched at end; under each notch is a thin plate, smooth on one side, rough and moist (stigma) on side turned away from anther. Stem: 2 to 3 ft. high, stout, straight, almost circular, sometimes branching above. Leaves: Erect, sword-shaped, shorter than stem, somewhat hoary, from 1/2 to 1 in. wide, folded, and in a compact flat cluster at base; bracts usually longer than stem of flower. Fruit: Oblong capsule, not prominently 3-lobed, and with 2 rows of round, flat seeds closely packed in each cell. Rootstock: Creeping, horizontal, fleshy.

Preferred Habitat--Marshes, wet meadows.

Flowering Season--May-July.

Distribution--Newfoundland and Manitoba to Arkansas and Florida.

This gorgeous flower is thought by scientists to be all that it is for the bees' benefit, which, of course, is its own also. Abundant moisture, from which to manufacture nectar--a prime necessity with most irises--certainly is for our blue flag. The large, showy blossom cannot but attract the passing bee, whose favorite color (according to Sir John Lubbock) it waves. The bee alights on the convenient, spreading platform, and, guided by the dark veining and golden lines leading to the nectar, sips the delectable fluid shortly to be changed to honey. Now, as he raises his head and withdraws it from the nectary, he must rub it against the pollen-laden anther above, and some of the pollen necessarily falls on the visitor. As the sticky side of the plate (stigma), just under the petal-like division of the style, faces away from the anther, which is below it in any case, the flower is marvellously guarded against fertilization from its own pollen. The bee, flying off to another iris, must first brush past the projecting lip of the overarching style, and leave on the stigmatic outer surface of the plate some of the pollen brought from the first flower, before reaching the nectary. Thus cross-fertilization is effected; and Darwin has shown how necessary this is to insure the most vigorous and beautiful offspring. Without this wonderful adaptation of the flower to the requirements of its insect friends, and of the insect to the needs of the flower, both must perish; the former from hunger, the latter because unable to perpetuate its race. And yet man has greedily appropriated all the beauties of the floral kingdom as designed for his sole delight!

"The fleur-de-lys, which is the flower of chivalry," says Ruskin, "has a sword for its leaf and a lily for its heart." When that young and pious Crusader, Louis VII, adopted it for the emblem of his house, spelling was scarcely an exact science, and the fleur-de-Louis soon became corrupted into its present form. Doubtless the royal flower was the white iris, and as li is the Celtic for white, there is room for another theory as to the origin of the name. It is our far more regal looking, but truly democratic blossom, jostling its fellows in the marshes, that is indeed "born in the purple."

The name iris, meaning a deified rainbow, which was given this group of plants by the ancients, shows a fine appreciation of their superb coloring, their ethereal texture, and the evanescent beauty of the blossom.