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Plants of the Iris Family

By John Lindell ; Updated September 21, 2017

The Iris family of plants possesses diverse and brilliant colors, betraying the fact that they acquired their name from the Greek goddess Iris, who was associated with rainbows. The typical iris has narrow leaves that grow from the base of the plant and flowers that bloom at the top of erect stalks. Iris plants can grow from bulbs, spreading rootstock called rhizomes or from large subterranean stems. Many members of this family are wildflowers, while even more are cultivated hybrids.

German Iris

The German iris, Iris germanica, produces flowers that are typical of the iris family, with a series of inner and outer petals. German irises are fragrant and come in colors such as purple, white, blue and yellow. On a single stalk there may exist six individual flowers, with the stalk as tall as 3 feet. German irises have leaves shaped like a sword, a characteristic of most iris plants. A multitude of cultivars of this plant exists, giving you some tough choices as to which you prefer for your garden. The original range of the plant more than likely was the southern portion of Europe, with the plant now a common sight throughout temperate climates.

Grow this plant in nearly any kind of soil, but resist the temptation to mulch, as the rhizomes the plant develops from needs warmth to flourish. Pick a place with full morning sun and some afternoon shade for best results with a German iris, and keep the plant watered as it develops. Notice that the underground roots will take over an area, producing a clump of iris plants. Snap off pieces of the roots and plant them shallow to create more irises. Beds of irises will provide you with splendid color, or you can use German irises to border your garden.

Yellow Flag

Yellow flag has green-gray leaves that are long and narrow, growing from the bottom of the stem. The yellow flowers, which blossom out in the early part of spring, have brown and purple veins running through them. The flowers bloom on stalks as high as 4 feet. Yellow flag is native to Asia, Europe and North America’s temperate zones.

This iris plant prefers moist conditions and you will normally find them growing near water. This means that you need to keep the soil they are in damp, or opt to plant them next to, or in, the shallows of any water you have on your property. Keep them in full sun when in a watery place, but in some shade when on drier ground. Keep this plant under control in wetland scenarios, as it has the ability to spread far if you allow it. Choose from cultivars such as Alba, which has flowers that are creamy white, or the 8-foot-high Gigantea hybrid.

Blue-Eyed Grass

Blue-eyed grass is not part of the grass family and is indeed an iris, growing wild across much of North America. Blue-eyed grass has a wide geographic range that extends from southern parts of Canada, including Quebec and Ontario, as far south as Florida. It grows from the East Coast westward into Kansas, Texas, Iowa and parts of Minnesota. The plant gets its name from its grass-like leaves, its small height and its small flowers that bloom from May through July.

Several species of blue-eyed grass exist, with some as tall as 20 inches but most under a foot high. Put blue-eyed grass in your woodland garden or in your wildflower garden, in the spots that have moist soil and full sun. Use this dainty flower to line walkways. The flowers come in a variety of colors depending on the species, and have a star pattern to their petals.


About the Author


John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.