Different kinds of irises

At Sunshine Iris Nursery we sell bearded iris but there is sometimes confusion about other types of irises grown.

Here is a diagram of different types of irises from the Iris Society of Australia. As is shown on the diagram, irises come as two different types – those that grow as bulbs and those that have a rhizome.

Bulbs are usually more rounded and have layers like an onion. They are usually dormant for part of the year and may lose their leaves. The most common bulb iris is the Dutch iris.

Rhizomes grow horizontally under the ground and reproduce by sending out new nodes after the plant has flowered. They can be beardless, bearded or crested.

Beardless irises attract bees by displaying a bright colour at the top of the falls, often called a signal. Varieties of beardless irises include Louisiana, Spuria, Siberian, Japanese, and Pacific Coast irises.

Bearded irises have a fuzzy caterpillar like shoot at the top of the falls which can come in many colours and entices bees into the flower. Bearded irises are sold as Tall – usually over 70 cm tall, flowering from early September to late November; Median – usually between 40 and 70 cm tall, flowering from mid September to late November or Dwarf – usually below 40cm tall, flowering from early September to mid October. Bearded irises can also be an Aril variety.

Crested irises are a much smaller group and they have a small raised area called a crest instead of a signal or beard.

The Iris’s characteristic linear form – three upright petals (standards) sitting atop three larger outer sepals (falls) makes it one of world’s most recognizable flowering plants. But with over 250 different species and countless cultivars, the taxonomy can leave one befuddled. Here’s a quick classification…

Types of iris

Irises can be classified into two broad groups – rhizome irises and bulbous irises. Rhizome irises are thickened horizontal stems that mostly grow underground, though they can be also be partially visible above the soil line at times. Rhizome irises have overlapping, sword-shaped leaves and three well known sub-divisions.

The Bearded Iris

Bearded irises are composed of four major parts – standards, falls, stigma flaps and the telltale beard. The bearded border iris, dwarf bearded iris and tall bearded iris are some of the most popular bearded iris varieties.

The Beardless Iris

The beardless iris comprises the standard standards, falls, and stigma flaps in addition to crests. The Dutch iris, Siberian iris and Japanese iris are some of the most beloved beardless iris varieties.

Crested Iris

Crested or Evansia irises comprise standards, falls, stigma flaps along with a yellow or orange crest. The flat flowers are marked by fringed petal edges and a clove pink aroma.

Bulbous irises grow underground from round or pear-shaped bulbs and are noticeably smaller than rhizome irises, usually both in plant and flower size. Two common types of bulbous iris are the Reticulata (early spring bloomers) and the Dutch bulbous(mid summer bloomers.) Bulbous irises need a period of dormancy after they finish blooming wherein the plants rest and replenish for the next season.

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Differentiating Iris Flowers: Learn About Flag Irises vs. Siberian Irises

There are many different types of iris, and differentiating iris flowers can be confusing. Some types are known by a variety of different names, and the iris world includes a number of hybrids too, which complicates things even further. Many people wonder how to tell the difference between flag iris and Siberian iris, two common types of iris plants. Read on to learn more about differentiating these flowers.

Flag Irises vs. Siberian Irises

So what is the difference between flag iris and Siberian iris?

Flag iris plants

When people talk about “flag iris,” they are generally referring to wild iris. Flag iris includes blue flag (I. versicolor), commonly found in boggy areas and swamps of the northeastern United States, and yellow flag (I. pseudacorus), which is native to Europe but now found in temperate climates around the world. Both are types of beardless iris.

Blue flag iris is ideal for wildflower gardens where the plant has access to plenty of moisture in spring. It makes a good pond or water garden plant, as it performs well in standing water. This plant, which reaches heights of 18 to 48 inches, displays long, narrow leaves, sometimes gracefully curved. The blooms are typically violet blue, but other colors also exist, including intense violet and white with bright pink veins.

Yellow flag iris is a tall iris with stems that reach heights of 4 to 7 feet and upright foliage of about 5 feet, depending on growing conditions. The ivory or pale to bright yellow blooms may be single or double, and some forms may display variegated foliage. Although yellow flag iris is a lovely bog plant, it should be planted carefully, as the plant tends to be invasive. The seeds, which float, spread readily in running water and the plant may clog waterways and choke out native plants in riparian areas. The plant has done considerable damage to wetlands in the Pacific Northwest and is considered a highly noxious weed.

Siberian iris plants

Siberian iris is a hardy, long-lived type of beardless iris consisting of clumps of narrow, sword-like leaves and slender stems that reach heights up to 4 feet. The graceful, grass-like leaves remain attractive long after the flowers have faded.

Siberian iris types available in most garden centers are hybrids of I. orientalis and I. siberica, native to Asia and Europe. Although the plants grow well in wildflower gardens and along pond edges, they aren’t bog plants and they don’t grow in water. This is one sure way of differentiating between these and flag iris plants.

Siberian iris blooms may be blue, lavender, yellow or white.

The Iris flowers are one of the most cultivated flowers in the world. Iris produces different flower colors which has come to symbolize different meanings.

The Iris flowers have 260 to 300 species that vary in forms, shapes, sizes and colors that include purple, lavender, white, yellow, orange, pink, blue and brown. The variety of colors produced among the flowers have led to a wealth of meanings. In general, iris symbolizes eloquence but purple iris symbolizes wisdom and compliments, yellow iris symbolizes passion, blue iris symbolizes faith and hope and white iris symbolizes purity.

The Bearded Iris and Siberian Iris are the most commonly grown types of irises. The world’s largest gardens dedicated to iris flowers is the Iris garden in Florence, Italy and Presby Memorial Iris Garden in New Jersey.

Agripinella (Iris ensata)

A real show-stopper, these flowers have ruffled, rose pink petals and white centers with bright yellow throats. They bloom in early- to mid-summer and have petals that can grow up to eight inches wide. They look great in groups and are easy to grow in almost every climate.

Alida (Dwarf Iris)

Growing only 4-6 inches high, these irises are colored medium blue and have white and butter yellow markings. They bloom in late winter to early spring, and they look best when planted in large groups and as borders.

Alpine Majesty (Iris ensata)

These flowers grow up to 40 inches in height and have double elegant petals in bright white with yellow throats. The winner of several international flower awards, the flower grows well as long as the soil has adequate moisture, and they look great when planted along streams or pools.

Apollo (Iris Hollandica)

With large, bold petals that are white and tinted light blue, the flower has yellow falls and buttercup splotches. Their leaves are gray and reed-like, and they make great cut flowers and borders.

Blue Magic (Iris Hollandica)

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These flowers are deep purple and have bright yellow blotches on its falls. Best when grown in full sun and in medium moisture, the Blue Magic grows up to 26 inches tall and is deer and rabbit resistant.

Blue Moon (Iris sibirica)

With clump-forming, bright violet blue petals, deep purple veins, and pale yellow bases, they can grow up to three feet tall and two feet wide. They are low-maintenance plants that stay fresh-looking all season long and grow best in full sun or partial shade.

Blue Spritz (Iris ensata)

This flower has lavender blooms with dark purple veins and yellow throats, and they bloom in early- to mid-summer. They grow up to almost three feet in height and look great in Japanese gardens or water gardens.

Blueberry Fair (Iris sibirica)

These flowers have heavily ruffled petals that are rich blue with a small white area towards the base. The blue-green foliage looks exceptional all season long, and they grow up to 32 inches tall and two feet wide.

Butter and Sugar (Iris sibirica)

With white petals and bright yellow falls, they bloom in late spring to early summer and have won several international flower awards. They look great near ponds and streams, and they do well in soil that is slightly acidic and even very dry.

Caesar’s Brother (Iris sibirica)

The winner of several international flower awards, this plant consists of deep purple, velvet-like petals that bloom from late spring to early summer. They can grow two feet wide and up to 42 inches high, and they are a low-maintenance plant that looks great in borders and flower beds.

Carol Johnson (Iris ensata)

The Carol Johnson has single, plum-purple petals atop pale blue falls and yellow throats. There are no serious diseases associated with this type of Iris, and they look best in large groups. They are also easy to grow and resistant to deer.

Casablanca (Iris Hollandica)

The Casablanca has pure white flowers and yellow-gold markings on its falls. Their sturdy stalks are surrounded by sword-like leaves, and they bloom for several weeks in late spring or early summer. Because they grow to more than two feet in height, they look great in vases and as borders.

Coho (Iris ensata)

One of the most attractive pink Irises, this flower consists of elegant, rounded, pure pink petals with a delicate golden color at the base. The winner of several international flower awards, the Coho blooms in early- to mid-summer and provides a great vertical interest in a garden. It is also very easy to grow.

Contrast in Style (Iris sibirica)

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Striking in appearance, these flowers have deep purple petals accented in white with bright yellow bases. Lighter lavender petals sit atop them, and they bloom in late spring or early summer. They prefer full sun or partial shade, and like other Irises, they should never be ingested because they can cause severe discomfort.

Eye-Catcher (Dwarf Iris)

The Eye-Catcher Iris is white with rich blue markings and bright yellow crests, and it has grass-like, gray-green leaves. It grows up to six inches tall and is both deer-resistant and tolerant to drought.

Fond Kiss (Iris sibirica)

This flower’s extravagant look includes ivory white petals flushed with light pink and grey-green foliage. The winner of several international flower awards, the Fond Kiss is drought-tolerant and prefers soil with adequate moisture. It also grows up to three feet in height and presents a very elegant look.

Frilled Enchantment (Iris ensata)

With a height of up to 42 inches, this flower has won several international flower awards and has large, ruffled petals that are white and trimmed in a beautiful shade of mauve purple. It also has beautiful, sword-like foliage that is a real eye-catcher, as well as a beautiful vertical look for your garden.

George (Dwarf Iris)

This plant has petals that are deep violet purple with bright yellow centers. It has won several international flower awards and causes discomfort when ingested. It also looks beautiful under trees and in front of borders, and it looks even better when planted in groups of at least 20 bulbs.

Gordon (Dwarf Iris)

The Gordon has light blue petals, deep velvet falls, and a blotch of golden orange and white near the center. It can multiply into other shades and colors, and it needs well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade to look its best.

Granny Jean (Iris sibirica)

A clump-forming perennial, this plant has mauve pink flowers with dark veins and a light center. It can grow up to 32 inches tall and looks great in beds and borders, not to mention near ponds or streams.

Harmony (Dwarf Iris)

With well-shaped petals in deep royal blue and a gold crest trimmed in white, these Irises look great in rock gardens, under trees, and in front of borders. They are deer-resistant and can tolerate drought, and they grow 4-5 inches high.

Katharine Hodgkin (Dwarf Iris)

The winner of several international flower awards, these flowers have pale blue petals with deep blue veins and a creamy yellow blotch at the center. They bloom in late winter to early spring, and they look great in both containers and rock gardens.

Lavender Bounty (Iris sibirica)

A low-maintenance perennial, the Lavender Bounty consists of ruffled, lavender pink flowers and white markings, and it blooms from late spring to early summer. It can grow up to two feet wide and is resistant to deer.

Magic Opal (Iris ensata)

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With bright yellow throats and delicate mauve veins, this lilac pink flower grows up to three feet tall and does best in full sun or partial shade. As long as the moisture is adequate, it can grow almost anywhere, and it looks great alongside pools or streams.

Over in Gloryland (Iris sibirica)

These are dramatic in appearance because of their dark purple, ruffled petals that reach up to five inches in width. The petals have a light, white-yellow center and blue-green leaves that are fairly rigid. They grow up to three feet in height and look striking in any garden.

Perry’s Blue (Iris sibirica)

With sky blue petals that contain dark veins and white markings, this plant reaches up to three feet high and does best in full sun or partial shade. They are low-maintenance and look great near ponds and streams, not to mention in beds and borders.

Pink Frost (Iris ensata)

With ruffled lavender pink petals, white blotches, and a yellow throat, this type of Iris blooms in early- to mid-summer and does great in Japanese gardens and water gardens. It is easy to grow and can reach up to 30 inches high. It looks great in large groups because it creates a bouquet effect.

Pixie (Dwarf Iris)

The Pixie has dark blue-violet petals that grow almost three inches wide, and they have falls that contain white and gold markings. They are tolerant of drought, deer-resistant, and look great when planted with at least 20 other bulbs. They look perfect under trees, at the front of borders, and in containers.

Pleasant Earlybird (Iris ensata)

This flower has single pastel lavender blooms with a white halo and yellow throats. It has won several international flower awards and looks great alongside pools or streams. They even grow great in wet and acidic soil.

Professor Blaauw (Iris Hollandica)

These beautiful deep blue-purple flowers have bright yellow throats and grow up to four inches wide. They have won several international flower awards, and if you plant at least 20 bulbs together, they look extraordinary. They also look great in borders and beds.

Queen’s Tiara (Iris ensata)

The Queen’s Tiara consist of wide white petals that can grow as large as six inches across, with purple veins and yellow throats. It grows up to three feet high and its exquisite blooms show up in early- to mid-summer. Easy to grow, they also provide a beautiful vertical look for your garden.

Returning Tide (Iris ensata)

With large, five-inch-wide lavender petals, the flowers have a whitish tint and yellow throats. It has won honorable mention in at least one international flower competition, and it is deer-resistant, easy to grow, and perfect for water gardens or Japanese gardens.

Ruffled Velvet (Iris sibirica)

A broad, deep purple flower with purple falls and white-yellow bases, these flowers grow up to 30 inches tall and are striking because of their contrasting colors. They prefer adequate moisture and are resistant to deer.

Shirley Pope (Iris sibirica)

These flowers have dark, velvety, deep purple petals and white-purple-yellow bases. They have won several international flower awards, grow up to 32 inches high, and look great in borders and flower beds.

Silver Edge (Iris sibirica)

The Silver Edge has petals in sky blue with thin, silvery edges. Their centers are yellow and white, and they grow up to 30 inches high and 24 inches wide. They have won several international flower awards, and they bloom in late spring to early summer.

Sky Mirror (Iris sibirica)

With pale, sky blue petals with navy blue near the base, these flowers grow to almost three feet in height and have blade-shaped, fairly rigid leaves. Because it stays fresh-looking all season long, this flower is one of the most popular types of Irises.

Sky Wings (Iris sibirica)

This Iris has petals of sky blue with a delicate yellow center, and is stunning when planted in large groups. It has grass-like foliage and upright leaves that get up to three feet tall, and it does best in full sun or partial shade. It is also low-maintenance and great near ponds or streams.

Strawberry Fair (Iris sibirica)

These flowers have petals that are heavily ruffled and consist of colors such as lavender pink with magenta pink falls and white-blue edges. They grow up to 30 inches tall and up to two feet in width, and their striking looks have garnered several international flower awards.

Super Ego (Iris sibirica)

The winner of several international flower awards, these plants have pale blue flowers that are flushed in lighter blue, and they have sturdy narrow stalks. They can grow up to 30 inches tall and are tolerant to drought, not to mention deer-resistant. They look beautiful in beds and borders, and do best in medium to wet soils.

Variegata (Iris ensata)

The winner of several international flower awards, this flower has very small, purple petals with a reddish tint and a small yellow throat. Its silver-white foliage is extraordinary, and it blooms in mid- to late-summer. It also does best in full sun or partial shade, and it is a plant that is easy to grow.

White Swirl (Iris sibirica)

These clump-forming perennials have large white petals with delicate golden flushes at the base. They have won several international flower awards and do best in full sun or partial shade. They have beautiful blade-shaped leaves that catch anyone’s attention, not to mention they look spectacular when planted in large groups.

Transplanting Iris Flowers

Iris flowers are so beautiful that you don’t want to just let them go if you move or change garden locations. Luckily, you don’t have to. You can easily store iris bulbs for transplanting with a few simple steps.

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Types of Irises

Irises, also known as fleur-de-lis, come in an astounding number of different varieties, varying in size, colour and appearance. The Iris genus contains over 300 species, from large bearded irises to dwarf irises.

Rhizome Irises

Rhizomes irises grow from thick roots in the ground, producing sword-like leaves. Most of the irises from this group are evergreen. Rhizome irises can be separated into 3 main types: bearded, beardless and crested.

Bearded Irises

Bearded irises get their name from the way the outer petals curl into ruffled “beards.” These bearded irises can be subdivided into dwarf (less than 15 inches tall), intermediate (16-27 inches tall) and tall (28-28 inches tall) forms. A common bearded iris found in gardens is the bearded German iris (pictured, at right).

Bearded irises are popular with gardeners, as they are hardy, the easiest type of iris to grow and are low-maintenance. They are also drought and cold tolerant. They thrive in well-drained soil and a sunny location. Flowers come in a variety of colours including, blue, red, white, yellow and bi-colour. Most bearded irises flower in the spring. Many varieties will bloom a second time during the fall.

Beardless irises

Beardless irises have smooth petals and the leaves are thinner, almost grass-like. They produce flowers in a variety of colours including, white, yellow, pink, purple and blue. These irises native to Asia are popular cut flowers.
Beardless irises tend to bloom after the bearded irises-in mid summer. Beardless irises can be planted at the end of summer to early fall, depending on your climate. For the best performance, they need a sunny location and moist, acidic soil, preferably with added hummus or compost. The most commonly grown beardless varieties are the Siberian, Louisiana and the Japanese iris (pictured, at right).

Crested Irises

The Crested Iris is a shade-loving dwarf variety, growing to be about 6-8 inches tall. Besides its petite size, the dwarf crested iris can be identified by its characteristic yellow or white cocks-comb-like crest in the centre of their outer petals (the falls). Crested irises come in shades of blue and purple.
Gardeners love to grow these irises; they are easy to grow and are low maintenance. Blooming prolifically in the early spring, they would be ideal as groundcovers or for use in rock gardens. They do well in woodland climates, especially under trees, with moist, well-drained soil. A commonly grown species is the Iris Cristata.

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Bulbous irises

Like the name implies, these irises grow from bulbs, just like tulips! Bulbous irises are smaller than rhizome irises. Bulbous irises are native to Turkey and bloom in early spring. Popular varieties include: the Dutch (pictured, at left), English and Spanish irises. Bulbous irises are often used by florists as cut flowers.
They are distinguish by their small richly-coloured, puple-blue and yellow flowers. Interestingly, these irises lose their leaves after flowering. Compared to the other irises, the bulbous iris can be difficult to grow. They are planted in the fall and stay in dormancy over the summer. They prefer climates with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Only a few species are adapted to grow in North America.

In Your Garden

Most irises perform well in good garden soil. Some, such as blue flag and Japanese iris, need consistent moisture. Rich, neutral, or slightly alkaline soil is recommended for tall bearded irises.

Irises benefit from fertilizing twice during the growing season. For existing plants, the first application of all-purpose fertilizer is about six to eight weeks prior to flowering, which for much of Illinois is between mid-March and mid-April. The second application is after transplanting or, for any existing clumps not being dug, in mid-summer.

Like many other perennials, irises benefit from dividing every three to five years. Otherwise, clumps become crowded and flowering diminishes. Clumps of Siberian iris may produce a “doughnut hole”—the inside of the clump is bare soil and the leaves form a circle around it.

All rhizomatous iris species, such as the common bearded, beardless Siberian and Japanese iris, can be divided when they’re finished blooming up to late August. The rhizome is modified stem tissue that grows best at or just below the soil surface. Before dividing, cut the leaves to one-third of the plant’s height. Use pruning shears, a saw or an old bread knife to cut away individual new rhizomes from the mother rhizome, which should be discarded.

Dig up the plant and replant young rhizomes that grow off older stems, leaving the foliage intact. Healthy rhizomes should be 5 to 7 inches long, with at least one good fan of leaves and two or more buds. Dig a hole 5 inches deep and place the rhizome on a small mound of soil with the roots pointing down. Cover with soil, allowing the rhizome to be slightly exposed so it does not rot.

When the plants have finished blooming, iris foliage—with its slender, spiky leaves—adds great texture to the garden. Siberian irises form graceful fountains of grass-like foliage that remain green and healthy until autumn.

Irises are susceptible to some pests, such as iris borer, and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) should not be planted as it is an invasive. Learn more about perennial gardening. Discover where to see the Garden’s many Iris cultivars.

Companion Plants

Irises bring a glorious punch of color and vertical accents to the spring garden. They make great partners with peonies, perennial geraniums, columbines, forget-me-nots and poppies. Moisture-loving Japanese irises pair well with ferns and astilbe. Crested iris is an excellent plant for early spring bloom in a shaded area of the rock garden, perennial border, or woodland garden. The foliage forms a nice ground cover for woodland areas. The big, beefy blooms of bearded irises rise above poppies and ornamental onions and provide contrasting foliage to Baptisia cultivars.

The Iris Flower, its Meanings and Symbolism

Symbolism of the Iris Flower

The ancient Greeks soon began the practice of planting purple iris flowers on the graves of women, believing they would entice the Goddess Iris to lead their loved ones in their journey to heaven.

These stately flowers, as evidenced by their depiction in Egyptian palaces, also enamored Egyptian Kings. The Egyptians were likely influenced by Greek mythology and used the iris to symbolize their connections to heaven.

By the middle ages, France took up the gauntlet and began to use iris flowers to symbolize royalty and power. In fact, it is the iris that inspired the fleur-de-lis, the National symbol for France.

In the United States, the iris is the birth flower for February, the flower for the 25th wedding anniversary and the state flower for Tennessee.

The Iris Flower Facts

Iris is both the common and scientific name for these impressive flowers. There are 325 species and 50,000 registered varieties of irises. These flowers are typically divided into two groups, bearded iris and beardless irises, which include Japanese and Siberian irises. They range from towering flowers of five feet or more to tiny dwarfs less than eight inches tall.

The bearded iris looks like it has a tiny beard, as the “falls” (the lower petals that droop down) are fuzzy. Beardless irises lack the fuzzy appearance. Irises reproduce via swollen roots. While the bearded iris produces a plump tuber, called a rhizome that looks like an oblong potato, others produce small bulbs.

Wild irises, typically blue or purple, grow throughout the United States and are often referred to as blue flag. These irises resemble the Siberian Iris. Florist irises are typically blue or purple and are used as accents in floral bouquets.

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