The iris flower is a popular gifting bloom highly valued for its unique structure and stunning colors. Perfect for brightening indoor and outdoor areas, the iris plant is incredibly versatile. Iris flowers also have an exciting story to tell, with unique meanings and symbolism attached to these sought-after blooms. Read on as we share everything there is to know about iris flower meaning, symbolism, history, origins, popular varieties, and more.
History and Origin of Iris Flowers
Iris spp. is the largest genus of flowering plants under the Iridaceae botanical family. One of the most popular perennials that grow from bulbs or rhizomes, irises are widely cultivated across the globe as ornamentals in home and commercial gardens.
But where does the iris flower initially come from? Several reports note that iris cultivation began around 1749 BC in Egypt when King Thutmose III conquered Syria. Syria was home to many irises, and King Thutmose III, an avid gardener, was fascinated by their beauty. He immortalized irises through sculptures at the Temple of Amon at Karnak and in the gardens of Egypt.
Use of Iris Flowers in Medicine and Aromachology
Irises were valued by the early Indian and Egyptian people for their medicinal uses and for the manufacturing of perfumes. The perfumes, in particular, were used as offerings to the gods.
By the 19th century, irises played a vital part in the history of Florence, Italy. Dried rhizomes of this plant were so popular that the iris flower became the city’s emblem. This tradition carried on for centuries.
Iris Flower History
The iris flower was included on royal banners as the fleur-de-lis, a well-known symbol of French royalty. King Clovis I, the first Frank King, adopted the iris flower as an emblem in the early 500s when he converted to Christianity. In 1147, King Louis VII also used the purple iris for his image. Fleurs-de-lis were destroyed by the revolutionaries as a symbol of the monarchy during the French Revolution.
Orris roots, the iris root of some species, were also used in medicine, perfumery, and alcohol production in regions across Europe.
The bearded iris flower (Iris germanica) is the official state flower of Tennessee. The fleur-de-lis is also New Orleans’ emblem.
Types of Iris Flowers
Irises showcase their stunning blooms from spring to early summer. With over 200 known species and countless cultivars, irises offer a broad spectrum of colors ranging from the most popular purple and blue to white, yellow, pink, red, orange, brown, and black.
Generally, irises can be classified into two groups: bulb irises and rhizome irises.
Bulb irises (or bulbous irises) are typically dormant after they have bloomed. They are also smaller than rhizome irises and produce smaller flowers. Two of the most popular bulb irises are Dutch irises and Reticulata irises.
Dutch Iris Flowers
Dutch iris is perhaps the most common bulb iris. Botanically known as Iris hollandica or Iris x hollandica, this category is, in fact, a group of hybrids of several irises, including Spanish iris. A favorite of many florists and flower enthusiasts, this beautiful flower is a familiar sight in traditional flower shops or in iris floral arrangements.
Reticulata Iris Flowers
Reticulata irises, or also known as reticulated irises, are early bloomers that flower in early spring along with snowdrops, glory-of-the-snow, and snow crocuses, and before tulips. Sometimes referred to as dwarf irises, these plants are recognized for their smaller profile and showy blooms.
Rhizome irises grow horizontally underground or partially underground and produce new shoots. They have overlapping, sword-like leaves.
Rhizome irises can further be divided into three main groups depending on their flower characteristics: bearded iris, beardless iris, and crested iris.
Bearded Iris Flowers
Bearded irises or Iris germanica are undeniably the most popular type of iris flowers. Apart from their easy-to-grow nature, this famed rhizome iris category offers floriferous blooms in a multitude of colors, such as red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, brown, white, black, and pink.
Bearded iris flowers have four major parts: the standards, falls, stigma flaps, and the distinct beard – which is lacking from the other types of iris flowers. The beard is, in fact, just soft hairs along the central part of the falls or lower petals.
The bearded rhizome irises can further be classified into different sub-categories depending on their stature: tall bearded, intermediate bearded, short bearded, miniature bearded, and border bearded.
Beardless Iris Flowers
Unlike bearded irises, beardless iris flowers lack beards. They don’t have soft hairs on their falls, but they do have the so-called “signals” instead. The signal displays a bright color at the top of the falls, which helps this type of iris flower attract bees.
Some of the most prominent beardless irises are the water-loving Japanese iris (Iris kaempferi) and the Siberian iris (Iris sibirica).
Crested Iris Flowers
Crested irises are perhaps the least common type of rhizome iris. Unlike the first two classifications of rhizome irises, they lack both beards and signals. Instead, they feature a raised tissue called ridge or cockscomb.
How To Pick The Perfect Iris Flower
Irises would not be one of the most widely recognized gifting flowers if not for their unique charm. Available not just in many forms and sizes, irises also present a plethora of captivating colors that would quickly remind you of the beauty of spring.
A single iris flower or a bouquet of colorful blooms is a sure way to brighten up anyone’s day. When picking iris flowers as a gift, there are a few things to consider: the occasion, the message you want to convey, the symbols and meanings behind the color, and your level of relationship with the giftee. Here’s a quick guide to meanings and symbols of iris flower colors.
Iris Flower Meaning, Symbolism, and Colors
The flower name “iris” originates from a Greek word that translates to “rainbow,” which is only fitting considering the many iris flower colors available. It also refers to the Ancient Greek goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the Olympian gods, Iris.
Irises are also the February birth flower.
In the language of flowers, the iris flower generally symbolizes eloquence, hope, wisdom, communication, and faith. But, the individual colors of this flower also convey a different meaning.
Blue Iris Meaning and Symbolism
Not many flowers are accessible in their true blue colors, but irises are one of the few that naturally and profusely produce blue hues. Because of this trait, blue iris flowers are the most used color in iris bouquets.
Blue irises are a known symbol of faith and hope. In some countries, particularly in Europe, they signify royalty. Thinking about surprising your wife with an iris flower arrangement? Then, make sure to include blue irises to make her feel like a queen.
In ancient Egypt, blue iris flowers signify power. In Japan, they denote heroism as the blue color refers to blue blood.
Recommended occasions to gift blue iris flowers:
Purple Iris Meaning and Symbolism
Another famed iris flower color is purple. A purple or violet iris often signifies wisdom and compliment, but because of the close resemblance of purple to blue, it also symbolizes royalty.
A bouquet of purple iris suits almost any celebration, but it is commonly gifted for birthday celebrations. As they are the February birth flower, this month is especially fitting. Send purple flowers to someone celebrating a birthday and make their birthday even more special.
Purple iris flowers are considered the 25th wedding anniversary flower. So if you (or you know someone) are celebrating 25 years of a beautiful marriage, these alluring blooms are the perfect flower for that special event.
Recommended occasions to gift purple iris flowers:
- First date
- 25th wedding anniversary
- Mother’s Day
Yellow Iris Meaning and Symbolism
While other yellow flowers, like carnations, have a negative meaning, yellow irises positively symbolize passion. These flowers are your safest bet if you want to send flowers as a gift to your colleagues, co-workers, or employer as an appreciation of your work and workplace.
Yellow iris flowers also symbolize pride and hope, which make them the go-to flower for someone celebrating achievements or for graduations.
The bright yellow hues will surely lift up anyone’s mood, which makes yellow irises the perfect flower to send your friends and families your wishes for a fast recovery.
Recommended occasions to gift yellow iris flowers:
- Job promotions
- Just because
- Get well soon wishes
White Iris Meaning and Symbolism
White iris flowers are ideal for bridal bouquets not only because they are elegant-looking but also because these blooms signify purity or a pure heart, just like most white flower meanings.
A bouquet of elegant white irises also suits a sympathy message or get well wishes. Send white irises to someone who just lost a loved one or to wish friends and families a speedy recovery.
Recommended occasions to gift white iris flowers:
- Get well soon wishes
Tips to Consider When Buying Irises
Here are several things to look for when buying iris flowers:
- Look for iris flowers that are in their ‘pencil tip’ stage or when a line of color outlines the sheathing leaves.
- Avoid irises with brown petal tips and unopened, soft blooms.
- Since floral qualities vary depending on variety, ask for the variety of iris flowers you’re getting. Pick one that suits your location best.
- Avoid blooms with yellow foliage. This can be a sign of poor handling, improper storage, or an unhealthy plant.
What Flowers Go Well With Irises?
Irises are famed cut flowers perfect in floral arrangements like bouquets, centerpieces, and even corsages. They are great to send alone, but they look equally as gorgeous with other cut flowers. Some of the most common cut flowers often mixed with irises in floral bouquets are tulips and stargazer lilies.
One example is blue irises mixed with red tulips or a red rose for a contrast of colors. Or, combine blue iris flowers with yellow stargazer lily flowers for a picturesque arrangement. Other blooms, like traditional white daisies and mini carnations, can complete the look.
For an elegant arrangement, combine irises with white roses and lilies with magnolia leaves. Or integrate purple irises into a bouquet of purple carnations and statice stems for a romantic arrangement.
How to Care for Iris Cut Flowers
Iris flowers instantly add an exotic vibe and unique look to a bouquet or any floral arrangement, making them a florist favorite. Their distinctive shapes make them one-of-a-kind and the perfect form flowers in floral designs. Iris are also great linear flowers to accentuate a floral arrangement.
When ordering iris flower delivery, the flowers will typically last 5 to 7 days if taken care of properly. Here are some useful iris flower care tips to maximize the attractiveness of these blooms:
- Place the wrapped flowers in water to hydrate them while you prepare a vase.
- Place irises in a clean vase with clean water.
- You can add a packet of flower food to extend the irises’ bloom life.
- Recut the stems at a slanting position to your desired length to improve water uptake.
- Remove any foliage submerged underwater as it will only rot and promote bacteria build-up in the water.
- Irises are thirsty flowers, so check the water frequently and add more water as needed.
- Change the water regularly. When changing the water, make sure to also rinse the stems. You can also recut the stems underwater for water uptake.
Petal Republic’s flower and plant guides:
Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a particular occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s expert flower guides to Roses, Bouvardia, Ranunculus, Lilies, Borage, Clovers, Freesia, Anemone, Begonia, Tulips, Orchids, Carnations, Coreopsis, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, and Peonies.
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Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.