Iris Flower History – Where Did Iris Originate

By Mary H. Dyer | February 18, 2021
Image by inomasa
by Mary H. Dyer
February 18, 2021

Irises are spectacular flowers that bloom in late spring, after early spring bulbs like crocus, tulips, and daffodils. At least 200 different species have been identified around the world, but varieties and cultivars number in the thousands. Irises are versatile plants that range from miniatures topping out at 4 to 7 inches (10-18 cm.), or tall specimens reaching heights of 27 to 40 inches (69-100 cm.).

This tough plant, which grows from underground rhizomes, withstands difficult conditions and can survive in well-drained soil for many years, even when it’s been forgotten and ignored. Iris is found primarily in arid, semi-desert areas but also in meadows, on grassy slopes and along bogs or riverbanks. 

What is the history of iris flowers and where did iris originate? Read on to learn more about this hardy, showy plant in which many of us grow in our gardens.

History of Iris Flowers

Iris flower history dates back to Ancient Greece and relevant drawings are still visible in a number of ancient palaces.

According to Greek mythology, Iris was the messenger of the gods, a connection between heaven and mortal human beings here on earth. Iris was the goddess of the rainbow and beautiful flowers sprouted wherever Iris stepped. 

Purple or dark blue iris have been a symbol of royalty in European countries throughout history. The beautiful iris flower, or fleur-de-lis, is the national flower of France. A reminder of the French revolution, fleur-de-lis holds a place of importance in the culture of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Certain types of iris flowers have been used medicinally for maladies such as coughs, colds, allergies, rheumatism, and cosmetically for dandruff, dry skin, and sweet-smelling perfume – sweet iris is a good example. 

The history of iris flowers in North America is thought to begin with early European settlers who brought the bulbs to the new world. Iris flower origins have been traced to Virginia, where bulbs were probably planted in the 1600’s.

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  • julian
    Comment added February 21, 2021Reply

    "A reminder of the French revolution, fleur-de-lis holds a place of importance in the culture of New Orleans, Louisiana."

    That is flat out wrong. The revolution of 1792 overthrew the monarchy and tried to erase all that it represented. "Louisiana was named after Louis XIV, King of France from 1643 to 1715. When René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed the territory drained by the Mississippi River for France, he named it La Louisiane."

    In 1793, two kings later, Louis XVI, was executed by guillotine.

    There is no connection between the revolution and the fleur de lys.

  • Diane
    Comment added February 21, 2021Reply

    Why are some irises called Flags?

    • Sharon
      Comment added April 25, 2021Reply

      Thank you for this lovely article. I've always wondered why I have been especially drawn to the iris since I was a child. Now I know that Iris was the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology, a connection between heaven and earth.

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