Gardeners have been charmed for centuries by the iris flowers striking uniqueness and beauty, with their iconic shape and color variations. The iris flower appears in many aspects of people’s lives, from creating perfumes to medicinal purposes. Irises have also been the symbol of monarchs and royal families throughout history. But what do you know about these exquisite blooms? With Iris Day just round the corner (annually observed on May, 8) it’s the perfect time to learn more about this elegant flower’s history. Here are 12 interesting facts about iris you may not know:
- The iris’ rich history dates back to Ancient Greek times. Its name comes from the Greek word for a rainbow (because of its many colors), which is also the name for the Greek goddess Iris. She was a messenger for the Olympian gods, acted as the link between heaven and earth, and led the souls of dead women to the Elysian Fields. In token of that faith, the Greeks planted purple iris on the women’s graves.
- Additionally, the iris has represented monarchs throughout history, but the most famous royal use of the iris as an emblem of power came from the famous Bourbon Kings of France (including Louis XIV). The well-known three-sectioned symbol “Fleur de Lys” is an ancient representation of the iris flower. It was used as the symbol for French royalty for centuries and was removed from the French flag only after the French Revolution in the 18th century. But even today it is still used in the decorative arts. For example, it now adorns the flag of the French-founded Province of Quebec in Canada.
- It is believed that iris was the origin of the scepter with its three leaves representing faith, wisdom, and courage. There is a flower on the sphinx in Egypt believed to be an iris.
- The Iris is the second most popular flower in great art after roses. Irises appear in paintings by such great artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Durer, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin, Claude Monet. And perhaps most notably van Gogh whose famous painting “Irises” has recently been sold for over $50 million.
- Irises have a medicinal history. In the ancient India and Egypt iris’s root was used to treat skin infections, syphilis, edema, and stomach problems. Even today, it is widely used for cleansing the liver and treating skin diseases.
- Manufacturing perfume was another popular use of the iris flower in the ancient world. Perfumes made from the flowers were used as offerings to the gods and their roots were burnt to create scents to please the gods. In 19th century, the practice of using dried iris roots was a major industry in Florence, Italy. The iris even became the emblem of the city. In Germany, iris roots were hung in barrels of beer to keep it fresh. And in France they used the same trick for wine. Today iris essential oil is used in aromatherapy as sedative medicine.
- Plus, irises come in various forms, shapes, sizes (from 27-41 inches tall with flowers measuring 4-7 inches across), and colors. You can find iris blooms in pink, blue lilac, purple, yellow, orange, almost black, and white. There are between 250 – 300 species of iris known most of which originate from Europe and Asia.
- The purple Iris is the state flower of Tennessee, and the Fleur de Lys is the emblem for the city of New Orleans.
- Irises are perennial plants and can survive for more than 2 years in the wild.
- Iris garden in Florence, Italy and Presby Memorial Iris Garden in New Jersey are the two largest gardens in the world dedicated to the cultivation of Irises.
- The iris flower symbolizes eloquence. The symbolic meaning of the iris is faith, wisdom, peace of mind, friendship and hope. Purple iris is symbolic of wisdom. Yellow iris symbolizes passion. Blue iris stands for hope and faith, while a white iris means purity. Irises may also express admiration and courage.
- Finally, the iris is the February birth flower and will make an elegant and meaningful birthday gift for those born in February. It is also suitable for the 25th wedding anniversary. Giving your significant other a bouquet of irises as a 25th wedding anniversary gift can be a wonderful way to say Happy Anniversary and help you to convey the right sentiment.
Still debating if you should celebrate Iris Day this year? Get yourself a beautiful bouquet of Iris flowers to brighten up the day (or we should say the week, since irises will stay fresh in a vase for about 7 days). Or buy one for your special someone as a symbol of your admiration and friendship. Want to learn more about spring flowers? Check out 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Peony Flowers.