This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Stem round, slender, few-flowered; leaves linear, long; flowers beardless; ovary triangular, the side doubly grooved. Rhizoma fleshy. stem smooth one to two lines in diameter, one foot to two feet high, branching at top and to six flowers. Bracts at the base of the branches withering. Leaves few, alternate, grass-like, six to ten inches long, amplexicaul. Sepals narrow, yellow, edged with purple.
Petals linear-lanceolate. (Wood's Class-Book of Botany. See also Gray's Manx Botany of the Northern United States, and Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States.)
THE Iris is well known to all lovers of flowers. It occurs abundantly in a wild condition, and is a favorite in gardens; it has frequently been treated in poetry, painting, and sculpture, and plays an important part in history. In mythology it is said to have come from heaven. Iris was a mess employed by Juno, and she is generally represented as sitting behind her mistress, her wings glittering like pearl, and radiant with all the colors of the rainbow. Her name, indeed, which literally means "eye of heaven," is the Greek word for rainbow. The historical importance of the Iris is due to the fact that it became the national flower of France. As such it has acquired a world-wide reputation under the name of "Flower de luce" or "Fleur de lis," which is nothing but a corruption of "Fleur de Louis." But it had a political significance long before it was officially adopted by the kings of France. It was used a- an emblem by the Byzantine emperors, although in what relation does not now appear, and the early Frankish kings of France also employed it. There is a legend, quoted by prior, that a shield filled with these flowers was brought to King Clovis while engaged in battle, and King Louis VII adopted the flower, in June, 1137, as the national emblem of France, possibly to perpetuate the memory of some such event. The type of the French "Fleur de lis" is supposed to be the white Florentine Iris, which produces the orris-root of commerce.
There seems to be little doubt that the original "Flower of Louis" was an Iris. English writers, however, misled by the corrupted form of "Felur de lis," have imagined the flower to be a lily, and this idea is still current in the English literature of our own day. Even Webster's Dictionary has adopted this idea, for there we read:" Fleur-de-lis, French, flower of the lily, corrupted in English to flower-de-luce. The royal insignia of France, whether originally representing a lily or the head of a javelin, is disputed." Under "Flower-de-luce," however, where no allusion is made to the royal insignia of France, the same dictionary says that the word is identical with Iris, and quotes Spenser as an authority. But this quotation can hardly be called apt, if, as the dictionary intimates, the three terms, "Flower-de-luce," "Flower of the Lily," and "Iris," are to be looked upon as identical. Spenser, if we may judge from the following lines, was evidently quite well aware of the difference between the "Fleur-de-lis" and the lily: "Strow me the grounde with Daffadown-D'illies, And Cowslips and Kingcups, and loved Lillies;
The pretty Paunce,
And the Chenisaunce Shall match with the fayre Floure Delice."
On the other hand it must be admitted that Shakespeare, who frequently refers to the Flower de luce, evidently regards it as a true lily. Thus he makes Perdita say in the "Winter's Tale":
"Bold oxlips and The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds, The flower de luce being one! Oh, these I lack To make you garlands of; and, my sweet friend, To strew him o'er and o'er."
Some commentators think that Shakespeare merely classed the Iris with the lilies, but a contemporary of the poet refers to the "Flower de luce" in a manner which makes it unmistakable that the white lily was meant, describing it as having "six leaves whiter than snow, and in the middle the pretty little golden hammers."
Like so many others of the earliest known of our native flowers, our present species came to the botanists of Europe from Virginia, and was therefore named Iris Virginica by Linnaeus. Pursh also found the plant during his wanderings, and, sup' ing it to be different from that described by Linnaeus, named it Irisprismatica, in allusion to the prismatic shape of the ovary (Fig. 4). The Linnaean name, however, prevails, as I. Virginica and I. prismatica are now believed to be identical, although Mr. Baker, author of a monograph on Iridaceae, and the most recent authority on these plants, maintains that the I. Virginica of Linnaeus has nothing to do with our plant, being, in his opinion, only a variety of I. versicolor, and that, therefore, our Boston Iris should be called by Pursh's name, I. prismatica. But however this may be, it certainly cannot be denied that the generally accepted botanical name of our plant gives no idea of its graphical range, as the species is northern rather than southern. Dr. Chapman embraces it in his "Flora of the Southern United States," and locates it in "swamps, North Carolina, Tennessee, and northward." Prof. Wood says it is found from "Massachusetts to New Jersey." It is also found in Maine, and extends west to Lake Michigan. It might be looked for in the northern parts of Ohio and Indiana, but it is not in any collector's lists from these states that we know of. The popular name of the plant is the "Boston Iris," and this is much more appropriate, in reference to its geographical centre, than "Vir-p-inian Iris," which name it also sometimes receives.
The place of growth of the Boston Iris is generally in swamps. In New Jersey and Delaware it is often found blooming in very dry placgs, but the nature of these places makes it evident that water stands in them in winter. All the authors who mention it, speak of it as growing in wet or muddy places, with the exception of Mr. Ruger, who, in a note to the "Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club," in the volume for 1875, says that it grows on rocks at New Durham, in the State of New York, in company with Silene inflata. But whatever may be the circumstances under which it is forced to exist in a state of nature, there is no doubt that it prefers dry, rich garden ground to the swampy places in which it is originally found. Our Boston Iris is, indeed, one of the prettiest of cultivated plants. It blooms in June, and the flowers follow one another in close succession, keeping up the display for several weeks. The flowers produce seed in great abundance, and seedlings could no doubt be easily raised, but the plants can be propagated more readily by dividing the rhizomas or creeping stems. In English gardens our species was under cultivation before the year 1758.
The fertilization of the plant is a very interesting process to the student. From the arrangement of the stamens and pistils, it might be supposed that its pollen cannot reach the stigma without external aid. But the writer of this, for the purpose of keeping off the insects, placed fine gauze bags over some flowers which were about to expand, and yet these flowers produced perfect seed as well as those which had not been protected. We can infer from this that there is something still to be learned in regard to the fertilization of our species.
The flower stem has a much more branching character than the size of our page would permit us to show, but the peculiarly wavy or twisted growth of the branchlets, which, together with the delicate, narrow leaves, is very characteristic of this species, is well shown on the plate.
Our drawing is from a Massachusetts specimen, kindly furnished by Mr. Jackson Dawson.
1. Rhizoma, with a primary and secondary terminal growth, from the latter of which the flower-stem will grow the next year.
2. Branchlet, showing flower in bloom with an unopened bud.
3. 15ranchlet, showing that the first flower is faded before the second is ready to expand.
4. Cross section of the ovary.