An iris in full bloom near Science D at Cal Poly Humboldt.
Photo by Nina Hufman | An iris in full bloom near Science D at Cal Poly Humboldt.

Beautiful bearded irises

Featured flowers: highlighting Cal Poly Humboldt’s fabulous flora
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by Nina Hufman

These deep purple petals belong to the bearded iris. In Greek, “iris” means rainbow. The flowers were named after the messenger goddess who traveled using rainbows. Indeed, irises come in a variety of color variants including yellow, orange, peach, pink, black, white, blue, and purple. The deep purple variant pictured here is called Raven’s Girl. The scientific name of the bearded iris is Iris germanica.

Irises have two types of petals. Three petals curve downwards from the center of the flower and are called falls. Three petals stand upright from the flower’s center and are called standards. The two types of petals can be different colors or the same color on an individual flower. Irises have wide, flat, blade-shaped leaves and tall, bare stems.

Irises can be identified based on whether they grow from bulbs or rhizomes. PlantInstructions.com says that rhizomes are horizontal stems that grow underground, branching out from the parent plant, just below the surface of the soil. Rhizomes can be dug up and used to propagate new plants. A bulb is also a modified stem, but it does not grow directly from the parent plant. Most irises grow from rhizomes.

According to GardenFundamentals.com, Irises that grow from rhizomes can be further categorized based on whether they are bearded, crested, or beardless. A beard is a fuzzy patch of hairlike extensions on each fall near the center of the petal, and a crest is a raised section of tissue located in the same place as the beard. If a flower has neither a beard nor a crest, then it is considered beardless.

Most of the larger iris species, including the bearded iris, are native to the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Asia. According to the U.S. Forest Service, there are 28 species of iris that are native to the United States. It is illegal to pick or disturb irises on national forest land.

Irises bloom multiple times a year. Their beautiful flowers can be seen on our campus throughout the summer.

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