Irises are the stunning flowers that inspired the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of France. Native Americans used the rhizomes of wild Blue Flag iris for internal and external ailments. It was listed in The Pharmacopeia of the United States from 1820-1895. Many irises grow well in Chicago gardens.
The family IRIDACEAE contains about 300 species of rhizomatous, bulbous or fleshy-rooted perennials. Irises grow in a wide variety of environments throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but the wild Blue Flag iris prefers swampy habitats. Irises have sword-shaped leaves and huge, showy flowers of 1-8 inches wide. The rhizomatous varieties grow to three feet and spread underground indefinitely by means of shoots growing from the roots.
Rhizomatous irises are categorized as bearded, beardless or aril. Breaded irises have white or colored hairs at the center section of each fall (hanging) petal. They are classified for garden use or exhibition depending on when they bloom and the plant’s height. Aril irises have seeds with a white projection on each seed. Bulbous irises have storage organs like tulips. Fleshy-rooted irises have roots like other herbaceous plants.
Plant irises in your garden in October. Make sure the soil is well-drained and reasonably fertile. The soil may be neutral or slightly acidic or slightly alkaline. Choose a partially sunny or sunny location. The rhizomes or bulbs will rot if they are covered with organic mulch. Choose a light coating of non-organic mulch.
If you grow irises in your garden, the plants should be unearthed, and the rhizomes divided every 2-5 years. Check your records in your Chicago Garden Notebook. Divide them by cutting off root shoots from the main plant. Make sure the shoots have tiny roots attached. Replant the plants and shoots.
Live long and well—garden.
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