The Iris Surprise

Yellow iris close“In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove;  In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”       Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I started this entry to update you on the “Surprise Iris” from the Pleasant Valley Iris Farm, the one which lost its label when they relocated their rhizomes to avoid the fires in California last summer, the one they sent me free to replace one I ordered. (Surprise iris just below)

Surprize irisEven so, as I usually do when I start a post, I begin by doing research. I have to admit it, I’m an info and data junkie, any topic, any time!  I am also a Master Gardener, and the iris lore I discovered began to seduce me.  Another surprise, Irises not only are lovely and smell great, they come with an unexpected and fascinating history:

In Ancient Greek times, the Greek Goddess Iris was a messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow. She served as the link between heaven and earth and was also believed to guide women on their journey to the Elysian Fields. Grammie's irisHonoring that, Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead on their journey. Even today, many Greeks place Iris on the graves of women.

Water irisCarvings of iris are found on palace walls in Egypt where the flower stood as a symbol for power and majesty. The early Egyptians saw the leaves as symbolic of a their royal sceptre and an iris bloom was carved on the brow of the Sphinx.

Herbal medicinal tea


In early times, iris root (Orris root) was dried and used to make perfume, The root was kept for several years to intensify the fragrance which I read smelled like…violets (Violets?) Orris root was also suspended in beer barrels as a preservative and additionally used as an herbal medicine.

Butterfly wings



The Chinese name for the iris means “butterfly wings” and irises are often grown in Mary Gardens (sacred gardens with a Mary statue), because their leaves are seen as representations of swords and the sorrows which pierced Mary’s heart.

(Water irises to left – the top one looks like a butterfly to me!)

As I posted before Iris was one of my mother’s favorite flowers and thus became one of mine.  This was the reason I ordered Irises for my garden. Though I knew I wanted some Purple as they were Mom’s favorites, I struggled to pick just a few because they really did come in a rainbow of colors and hues.  They are remarkably easy to grow, perennial, reproduce quickly so you can give some to others, yet they aren’t invasive. They need sun to produce lots of blooms, but are otherwise tolerant of different soil types and water conditions (arid or water varieties).   (Fleur-de-lis iris below)

Fleur-de=lis irisOne thing that has long fascinated me is the “language of flowers.” In earlier times,  meanings were attached to gifts of herbs and flowers. Irises have had an association with faith, hope, wisdom and cherished friendship as well as intelligence, competence and independence. I don’t know if my mother knew these meanings (no internet back when she was planting them) but, wow, they fit who she was.

So, gifts of iris flowers meant:

*  Your friendship means much to me
*  I recognize your valor
*  I promise my love
*  I recognize your loss, I offer my sympathy
*  I admire you
*  Keep up your courage
*  I offer my compliments
Giving someone an iris today can mean:  Express who you are, embrace change.

Iris meaning can have slight variation by color:
Blue: Faith, hope
Purple: Wisdom, compliments
Yellow: Passion
White: Purity
Blue and Purple: Royalty

fleur-de-lisA last bit of Iris history comes from France.

Irises are the floral inspiration of the Fleur-de-lis which was long on the coat of arms of French kings.  This dates to Clovis, King of France in 496 who promised his Christian wife to adopt the symbol and Christianity if he won a forthcoming battle. He did and this was probably a much better selection than his original blazon symbol: Three Toads!  Ultimately, little wonder given this choice, that line of Kings ended…(the revenge of unfulfilled warts?)

The fleur-de-lis was restored by Henry the VII of France in 1147, again in hopes of winning a battle, and remained a symbol of the French monarchy for over 600 years. Thus, those seeking freedom hated it, so much so that when the French Revolutionaries took power, they set about systematically obliterating every tapestry, carving, stone lintel or banner that existed with an iris fleur-de-lis on it.

Surprise 2Surprise!  Iris are also the state flower of Tennessee, and the symbol of New Orleans (think French Connection!)

So, the surprise iris ….creamy white upper petals or standards, a bit of gold at the haft (where standards  meet the falls or lower petals.) On this iris the falls are ruffled and have just a touch of white and yellow on the edges. My mom would love this one. (to right)

So I admit it…I am now officially hooked! I want the whole rainbow!  Burgundy, red, pink, yellow, orange, peach, mixed variations and purple …lots of purple. After all, I’m going to need them to find my way to the Elysian Fields, which I imagine are a great heavenly garden…filled with irises, of course.


About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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10 Responses to The Iris Surprise

  1. Bernadette says:

    I had no idea that Iris had so many plentiful meanings. I can’t wait to share your blog with my friend Iris whose birthday occurred this week. When I was a little girl we used to call these flowers “flags”. I wonder if it is because it was the french coat of arms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • joanneeddy says:

      Thanks, Bernadette. They were on all the French flags then, so that makes a lot of sense. Actually, the Plantagent Kings in England also used them in their coat of arms which was divided in quarters with the English lion because they had land in England and France. Please wish Iris a late birthday for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bzirkone says:

    I also love irises. In front of my porch I have a huge patch of them that thrive and survive my careless, inattentive gardening habits. Originally the tubers came from my grandads yard in a town some 400 miles away, transplanted at least three times in the last 30 years. I’ve thinned them several times over the years and now have different patches of them around my front and back yards. Every year I am reminded how much I love them when they bloom en masse and the air around my house is thick with delicious, soft fragrance. They’re all a shade a purple — some paler but most of them darker hues. There is something very sensual about them and to me they are very feminine — something I am not, necessarily, but they bring me back to a time when I knew that youthful sense very well. One year while thinning them out I was distracted for several days– by a passionate disagreement with my too practical husband, who, no doubt, shot down yet another one of my brilliant ideas on how to landscape the yard or juggle the bills so we could buy something new, or how to (not) discipline an unruly kid. A bunch of the tubers lay in the yard for several days while we wrestled with whatever silly notion I’d had. Finally they began to dry up and die. In a fit of dramatic resignation I tossed the dying flowers over the fence and into a strip of weeds surrounding a massive field of feed corn. The next Spring I was startled one morning when I saw them flourishing, crowding out the weeds as if they’d not even noticed my hateful disregard for them the previous Fall. It made me sad that I’d been so careless with these loyal, forgiving flowers and at the same time, the sweet old Iris appeared as happy as they’d ever been, delighted to adorn an otherwise ugly strip of nettles and poison ivy and stick-tights. The contrast of the delicate blooms surrounded by the ugly weeds reminded me often that year to hold on to my dreams and silly ideas and to pay more attention to the important things. Also, I should just give in sometimes. Looking back, I’m fairly certain my husband was right about whatever it was, but for sure, my idea was more fun.
    **sorry to hijack the comments here…your story reminded me how much I love my Irises.

    Liked by 1 person

    • joanneeddy says:

      That’s what irises do to me as well…in an earlier post on Spring I wrote about them. I think smells are really powerfully attached to memories. Thanks for sharing this one of yours! Jo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So beautiful and such interesting info. I had no idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. spearfruit says:

    Jo, I really like Iris, they are easy to grow and lovely flowers. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading this and learned something new in the process! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. M. L. Kappa says:

    Fascinating post, Joan. I love doing research, too, and finding unusual tidbits

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your irises are way ahead of ours which just have buds. I’ll take photos when they bloom if the woodchuck doesn’t get to them first.

    Liked by 1 person

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