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Iris Family

( Originally Published 1922 )



Larger BIue 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, re-curved; 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 over-arching 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 off-spring. 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 beau-ties 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.

Blackberry Lily

Belamcanda chinensis (Pardanthus chinensis)

Flowers—Deep orange color, speckled irregularly with crimson and purple within (Pardos = leopard; anthos = flower); borne in terminal, forked clusters. Perianth of 6 oblong, petallike, spreading divisions; 6 stamens with linear anthers; style thickest above, with 3 branches. Stem: 11 to 4 ft. tall, leafy. Leaves: Like the iris; erect, folded blades, 8 to 10 in. long. Fruit: Resembling a blackberry; an erect mass of round, black, fleshy seeds, at first concealed in a fig-shaped capsule, whose 3 valves curve backward, and finally drop off.

Preferred Habitat—Roadsides and hills.

Flowering Season—June—July.

Distribution—Connecticut to Georgia, westward to Indiana and Missouri.

How many beautiful foreign flowers, commonly grown in our gardens here, might soon become naturalized Americans were we only generous enough to lift a few plants, scatter a few seeds over our fences into the fields and roadsides—to raise the bars of their prison, as it were, and let them free! Many have run away, to be sure. Once across the wide Atlantic, or wider Pacific, their passage paid (not sneaking in among the ballast like the more fortunate weeds), some are doomed to stay in prim, rigidly cultivated flower beds forever; others, only until a chance to bolt for freedom presents itself, and away they go. Lucky are they if every flower they produce is not picked before a single seed can be set.

This Blackberry Lily of gorgeous hue originally came from China. Escaping from gardens here and ' there, it was first reported as a wild flower at East Rock, Connecticut; other groups of vagabonds were met marching along the roadsides on Long Island; near Suffern, New York; then farther southward and westward, until it has already attained a very respectable range. Every plant has some good device for sending its offspring away from home to found new colonies, if man would but let it alone. Better still, give the eager travellers a lift!

Pointed Blue-eyed Grass; Eye-bright; Blue Star Sisyrinchium angustifolium.

Flowers—From blue to purple, with a yellow centre; a Western variety, white; usually several buds at. the end of the stem, between 2 erect unequal bracts; about 1/2 in. across; perianth of 6 spreading divisions, each pointed with a bristle from a notch; stamens 3, *the filaments united to above the middle; pistil 1, its tip 3-cleft. Stem: 3 to 14 in. tall, pale hoary green, flat, rigid, 2-edged. Leaves: Grass-like, pale, rigid, mostly from base. Fruit: 3-celled capsule, nearly globose.

Preferred Habitat—Moist fields and meadows.

Flowering Season—May—August.

Distribution—Newfoundland to British Columbia, from eastern slope of Rocky Mountains to Atlantic, south to Virginia and Kansas.

Only for a day, and that must be a bright one, will this "little sister of the stately blue flag" open its eyes, to close them in indignation on being picked; nor will any coaxing but the sunshine's induce it to open them again in water, immediately after. The dainty flower, growing in dense tufts, makes up in numbers what it lacks in size and lasting power, flecking our meadows with purplish ultramarine blue on a sunny June morning. Later in the day, apparently there are no blossoms there, for all are tightly closed, never to bloom again. New buds will unfold to tinge the field on the morrow.

Usually three buds nod from between a pair of bracts, the lower one of which may be twice the length of the upper one; but only one flower opens at a time. Slight variations in this plant have been considered sufficient to differentiate several species formerly included by Gray and other American botanists under the name of S. Bermudiana.



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