Tag Archives: iris

Bearded Iris: ‘Spartan’

26 May

In Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow; the flower’s name pays homage to the many colors of irises that exist. In the language of flowers, an iris is viewed as the bearer of good tidings–a reflection of the goddess Iris’ other role as messenger to the gods. I was swayed to include irises in the garden solely because of their beautiful display–but if they also bring good luck, even better.

This year, I added a maroon-colored bearded Iris: ‘Spartan.’ Its name is a nod to ancient Greek history, though their enemies would probably not have equated Spartan warriors with good tidings. I at least hope the name means the three plants I now have in my garden will be hardy.

They are the first bearded irises I have had the pleasure to observe at close range, and though they are now at the end of their brief blooming season, I kept an eager eye on them from the moment they were first in bud:

Bud and emerging bloom.

Three upward-facing petals (standards); three downward-facing petals (falls), with the beards resting atop the falls.

Close-up of a beard, which helps to guides pollinators (bees) into the flower. With the standard removed and this section of the plant opened up a bit (right), it is easier to see how the beard–and the color pattern–point the way to the nectar at the inner base of the flower. The stamen (male reproductive organ) with its pollen-covered anther is visible at the back, just in front of another petal-like structure that is called the style arm. The style arm is a highly modified pistil (female reproductive organ). Normally it’s a tight squeeze for a bee to get to the nectar; as it heads downward, it will brush up against the anther and get dusted with pollen. When the bee visits another iris, the pollen on its back rubs off and attaches to the sticky stigmatic lip (the arched line toward the top of the style arm, below the upper crest), allowing pollination to begin.

Iris Seeds

28 Sep

Last weekend, I was ambling down a woody path at Brookside Gardens when I glanced to my left, and then glanced again. What I saw was a small patch of irises, blooms long gone, but with seed pods at the end of the stalks. And one of the pods had split open, revealing bright orange seeds.

Those of you who grow lots of irises may be very familiar with iris seeds, but I had never seen them before. After going home and doing a little research, I now know why: I only have two Japanese irises in my garden; one rarely flowers and the other produces just a couple blooms each year. So it isn’t surprising I haven’t seen any seed pods–my irises aren’t making it easy for bees to pollinate them, and there can’t be any seed pods without successful pollination.

There also can’t be any if each spent iris bloom is carefully removed, which is fairly common practice. Why would a gardener do this? To allow the plant to conserve all its energy for next year rather than spending some of it creating seed pods, which could lead to fewer future blooms on the parent plant. But those seeds could eventually lead to other blooms, and for me, part of the fun in gardening is encountering the occasional nice surprise.

So, assuming a miracle occurs and I do spot an iris seed pod in my garden one year, I would have two options (after letting the pod turn brown and split, harvesting the mature seeds, and drying them out):

  1. plant the seeds in the ground later in the fall (so they can chill throughout winter and so the rain and melting snow can help remove the seeds’ germination inhibitor), or
  2. soak the seeds in daily changes of water for up to two weeks (to get rid of the inhibitor), store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator (with damp peat moss or potting mix to keep them moist), start them in pots in early spring, and then plant the seedlings. This moist/cold process is known as stratification.

All things considered, I’ll go straight for Option 1. Either way, it may be a year or two before the irises bloom since it takes a while for them to form mature rhizomes. The resulting irises may not look like the parent plant at all, and they may not be quite as fine specimens as other irises–or they might. I like a good mystery.