[The Greek name for the rainbow, applied to this genus on account of its varied colors.]
"The Flowers-de-Luce, and the round sparks of dew That hung upon their azure leaves did show Like twinkling stars, that sparkle in the evening dew."
According to. Plutarch, the word Iris is signified in the ancient Egyptian language, eye; the eye of heaven. This beautiful genus abounds in Europe, but is rare in America. Some are bulbous, but the greater part tuberous rooted, of easy culture, and propagated by seed or division of the root.
In French, L'iris de Suse, or de Constantinople, is one of the most beautiful of the genus; it is not a bulbous root, but tuberous, imported with bulbous roots from Holland, and planted at the same time, and manner, except that the soil should be of a more loamy character. It has the largest flowers of any of the species, and is the most magnificent of them all. The colors of the flowers are of various shades of the richest purplish-brown, beautifully mottled and spotted, so as to give it a very rich and unique appearance. It produces its flowers in June, on stems a foot high. It may be increased by parting the roots in autumn. This splendid flower is reputed to be tender; but I have planted it in October and November and even in December, with success, giving the same protection as to Tulips or Hyacinths; but, if the roots are suffered to remain in the ground after flowering, it is not so likely to flower again, and will probably perish. If left in the ground through the summer, it commences growing in autumn, forms its flower-buds before winter sets in, and dies. Observing this, I have taken up the roots the first of August, and kept them out of the ground till the time of planting in autumn, with perfect success. After drying, the roots should be kept in a cool place in dry moss or sand.
One of the most esteemed of the bulbous rooted Irises, is the Persian, on account of the beauty and fragrance of its flowers. It is also very early but not perfectly hardy. It is valued for flowering in the green-house, or sitting-room. A few of its flowers will scent a whole room; the colors are pale sky-blue, purple, yellow, and white.
The Spanish Iris, is a handsome border-flower, with bulbous roots, perfectly hardy, embracing the most delicate shades of light and dark-blue, brown, purple, yellow, and white, and variously colored, striped and spotted; the bulbs are small, tooth-like, sending forth rush-like foliage, flowering in June; stems about eighteen inches high. The bulbs of this and the English Iris should be planted in autumn, about two and one-half inches deep in any good garden soil. The bulbs need not be taken up oftener than once in three years.
The English Iris, is somewhat similar to the last, but more robust in growth; the bulbs are larger; the stem two feet high, producing its flowers in June; colors as various as in the Spanish, and as desirable for the border.
A very beautiful species, with brilliant, pale-blue, variegated flowers, on stems four feet high, with many flowers, standing above the foliage; the foliage is long and narrow, or more grass-like than the common tuberous sorts. The roots of it are of a more fibrous character than in most of the genus, and mat together so hard, that they are with difficulty separated. A clump of this, with its numerous rich flowers and graceful foliage, makes as much show as any other plant of the season; last of June.
The Yellow Iris of England, has handsome yellow flowers; in June; two to three feet in height.
This is a magnificent species, with long broad leaves and very large light-blue flowers, on stems three feet high.
This is a fine indigenous species, a showy ornament of our meadows in the early part of summer. It succeeds well in the garden.
This is another native species, but not very common. It has grass-like foliage, with flower-stems one foot high; its flowers are purple, veined with yellow, and not so large as any of the other species or varieties. A very pretty plant for the border.
This is the common Flower-de-Luce of the gardens, well known to all. Flowers large, dark purple, and light-blue, or three-colored; in May and June, two feet high.
Florentine Iris, has large white flowers; flowering at the same time with the last, of the same height and habit.
The series of Hybrid Iris is very extensive, at least one hundred varieties are cultivated by some florists, many of them however, have, so near a resemblance, that there are but very few cultivators that would be desirous of encumbering their grounds with all the sorts. They are of all colors and shades of blue, purple, yellow, and brown; some are beautifully spotted, variegated, striped, parti-colored, etc. A bed of the many varieties makes a fine show. The roots increase so fast, that it is necessary to make new beds of them every three or four years. Although the Iris is not considered as a Lily, the French have given it the name of one; it is the Fleur-de-Lys, which figures in the arms of France. The following conjectural origin of this name is given by the Abbe la Pluche, a French writer:-
"The upper part of the Lily, when fully expanded, and the two contiguous leaves beheld in profile, have," he observes "a faint likeness to the top of the Flower-de-Luce, which often appears on the crowns and sceptres in the monuments of the first and second race of kings, and which was most probahly a composition of these three leaves. Lewis the Second, engaged in the second crusade, distinguished himself, as was customary in those times, by a particular blazon, and took this figure for his coat of arms; and as the common people generally contracted the name of Lewis into Luce, it is natural to imagine that this flower was, by corruption, distinguished in process of time by the name of Flower-de-Luce." Shakespeare appears to consider this flower as a Lily only by courtesy:
- "Lilies of all kinds
The Flower-de-Luce being one."