Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wild iris: just about my favorite thing in the world.

One of the darker Iris missouriensis in South Park
Since I doubt that you are counting, I might as well tell you that this is my 300 post on this Blog: although I am not preternaturally fatidic [in case my buddy Bob is reading: I like to make him look up a word or two], I thought I should blog about something special. Irises (and especially the only native Iris of Colorado) are as special as it gets in my book. So here ya go!

There are many flowery spectacles on Planet Earth that I adore, but not many delight me more than a vast field of wild iris. There is something about that blue color, and the variation one can find in them. It's another snowy, blustery day (finally! winter decided to arrive at the end of February) and I am catching up on many tasks, but I stumbled on these and realized that they bring the bounty and beauty of Colorado back better than anything else I can think of. Can't wait till late May and June when the iris fields in our mountains are blooming again!

A paler clone
Of course, one of the great pleasures of trodding* through a field like this is picking out your favorite color form. Is it the bright purple blue one there, or this silvery stripy one?

Mid blue: I like it too!
Do you opt for the classic pattern, or seek out the palest one?

A wonderful blend of shapes and tints
 From a distance a field like this can almost look like a pool of water. But up close, it's the variability that intrigues. I love the varying shades of blue--don't you?

I especially like it when you find two contrasting tints together, like this darker blue in among the nearly white....I could wax on and on about the fields of irises in the West: from the time I was a small child I have looked forward to driving through the mountain parks and plateaux throughout the montane and subalpine West where Iris missouriensis grows in such vast quantities at times. I can't begin to count the times I've wandered, seeking out the special one...which of course I always neglect to collect. You can imagine my chagrin when I found out some Government office listed this iris as a "Noxious Weed" even though it was native just because it's unpalatable to cattle...which may explain why there seems to be so much of it around still (while more palatable natives have disappeared).

This was one of the most consistently dark blue ones: I wish I had dug a piece of it now (ranchers are not too crazy about irises--they usually say "take them all!"--which, of course, I never would)...In fact, although I have grown hundreds and hundreds of iris species and cultivars over the years, I usually don't do much with I. missouriensis--probably because it's so abundant nearby and I enjoy it in the wild so much!
 And of course, one must find and worship the nearly albino (even though it's the blues we really love)...

Of course, visiting an iris field alone isn't much fun. Here back in 2010 I was lucky to have Wiert Nieuman who'd just retired as curator of Utrecht Botanic Garden in Netherlands along with me on that day. A better companion, a lovelier day I can't imagine. Life can be very sweet indeed in June, in South Park (the place, not the TV program, btw), on this fragile and precious planet we are so busy turning into an overheated shopping center and housing development.

*I realize that treading and plodding are almost synonymous (not really): I invented that portmanteau word to see if that same buddy Bob looked it up or not (pouncing, as it were, upon my neologism not realizing I'd planted it for him...) [insert cackling emoticon with evil sneer].


  1. I find it so improper that a plant named 'missouriensis' just won't grow in the state of the SAME NAME. Really frustrating. Now if it were I. coloradensis, I'd feel better Thanks for the beautiful pix, but it feels like you are rubbing it in. Best Jim W.

  2. I would love NOTHING MORE than to trod through fields of Iris coloradensis in your baileywick: You are welcome indeed to come do the same in mine any year!And anyone who grows Lycoris and the other goodies you do so well can't talk about rubbing things in, Jim!

  3. All I can say is WOW. We have wild iris in my neighborhood, but they never grow into such big colonies. I'm not an expert on the varieties of iris, but I have planted them in a number of moisture and sunlight situations and they always prove to be pretty tough.

  4. Only plant I've ever dug up from the wild was one of these growing just to the west, right in the middle of the Boreas Pass road. It had been smashed flat by an SUV a few minutes earlier; I felt sorry for it, and figured its lifespan was limited. It still lives in the garden here, as do plants I raised from seed collected there. Not quite as spectacular in the garden as in the fens, though.

  5. Panayoti...I love it when you do these visual essays sprackled (is that a neologism?) liberally and lovingly with your feelings and synchronizing them so beautifully with the pics. Great on both accounts.

  6. You are too kind, Grahame! I sprackle my note with gratitude (apparently it IS a word, alas: Scottish regional and probably historical for "to climb") but I detect a sparkling, crackling and more delightful connotation in your usage! Let's popularize it!

  7. I will always love Iris...and I agree, the natural variation of colors in that broad patch is astounding!

  8. The tall, beautiful iris, named after the Greek goddess who rode rainbows, comes in many magical colors.

    Every gardener wants this perennial. Despite its divine origins, it is hardy, reliable, and easy to grow. Irises also attract butterflies and hummingbirds and make lovely cut flowers.

    There are some 300 species in the genus Iris. The most familiar irises are the tall (at least 28 inches) bearded irises (Iris germanica).

    The distinctive flowers have three large outer petals called "falls" and three inner upright petals called "standards." The falls may have beards or crests. Bearded iris are so-called because they have soft hairs along the center of the falls. In crested iris, the hairs form a comb or ridge.

    They prefer fertile, neutral to slightly acidic soil. If your soil is very acidic, sweeten it with a bit of lime, and forbear summer watering, which can lead to rot. Bearded irises must not be shaded by other plants; many do best in a special bed on their own.


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive