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Florentine Iris

( Originally Published 1933 )


Iridaceae Perennial

This exquisite iris is a hardy plant native to central and southern Europe, and in our own South it is almost a weed. It flowers about the third week in May and rises eighteen inches or more high. In spite of the fact that it is not new or in the least expensive its pearly iridescent color and delicate iris-like fragrance make it one of the most desirable irises.

Rhizome. The root is a rhizome, shiny white and smooth outside, and inside creamy white, and of a smooth, solid, chalky-looking consistency when fresh. For the odor to develop the root has to be dried.

Stem. The stems are round with a bloom on them and gray-green.

Leaf. The leaves are fifteen to eighteen inches high, light green, in sheaves at the base. They are fairly wide and terminate in a point, sometimes curving a little.

Flower. About five flowers are borne on a stem. They are the palest of blues marked with chartreuse green on either side of the deep golden beard. A rosy glow is over the three caps to the stamens, which have a blue line down their center. The standards are ice blue.


Iris is the name of the Greek Goddess of the Rainbow, who, with Hermes, was the messenger of the Gods. The iris was the emblem of the kings of France, was conventionalized in the royal coat of arms, and was called fleur-de-lis. The rulers often wore pale blue velvet trains embroidered with white or golden fleur-de-lis. In the seventeenth century, calamus roots and orris roots were used to make washing balls. Prince's catalogue of 1790 lists twelve varieties of iris and Bartram listed the Iris florentina in 1814.


Babies use beads of orris root to teethe on; Leghorn and Paris export twenty million of these beads a year. Orris thrown on open fires gives a pleasant smell, and counteracts the smell of liquor, garlic, and tobacco from the breath.

Perfume. Poucher says that the orris comes from Iris pallida, Iris florentina, and Iris germanica, but that the best roots come from the Iris pallida in Tuscany. Powdered orris root is used in violet powder because of its delicate violet scent, and also in dental preparations. It is the basis of sachet powders and much employed in violet soap. It enters into Frangipani, the most lasting perfume made, according to Piesse, and into a tooth powder. Orris oil is distilled from the rhizomes, and is used as a blend in perfumes, and a base for violet compositions.


It does not require a rich soil, but needs a warm, sunny situation.

It is propagated from divisions of the root.

Harvest. The root is collected in the summer and then peeled and dried in the sun.

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