This remarkable morsel leads off the parade of Junos, a section of the genus Iris that Rodionenko (the leading Russian authority on the family) believes deserves generic rank, so that in Russian floras you will find the above listed as Juno nicolae. Whatever their ultimate designation, this highly distinctive group of irises loves Colorado, and over the decades we've managed to gather a number of them and grow them pretty well. I blogged earlier about Iris vicaria, and a few more species are budding up to bloom, but these have been the highlights of my Juno year so far. I. nicolae was actually blooming in March at Centennial Garden, and the following spectacle was photographed there a week ago. It looks as happy there as it must be high in the alpine meadows of Central Asia whence it originated.
I have a bulb or two of this gem in my home garden, but they are not quite to blooming stage: the clumps at Centennial are growing in a groundcover of Zinnia grandiflora and get little irrigation. It's amazing how well they've done there. Obviously, plants with "z" in their name belong together (perhaps I should try it in a mat of Zauschneria?) That does give me an idea...I am quite sure this is another central Asian.
Somehow, Mike Kintgen managed to resurrect this poor plant which was smothered by perennials in the Rock Alpine Garden. I probably planted this two and a half decades ago: there were once five or six huge clumps of this iris on this hill that should have been divided and pampered, but instead I allowed various plants to cover them (a sure way to lose Junos). There is an almost black form of this iris collected no doubt in the same Turkish meadow that is thriving at Centennial, but my picture didn't do it justice. Maybe next year I can tantalize you with that.