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Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Airisu (Iris)

Not Iris in her pride and bravery Adorns her arch with such variety; Nor doth the Milk-white Way in frosty night Appear so fair and beautiful in sight, As do these fields and groves and sweetest bowers Bestrewed and decked with parti-coloured flowers. And round about the valley as ye pass, Ye may not see, for peeping flowers, the grass.

Abridged from "Not Iris in her Pride," by the English poet George Peele (1556-96)

Iris is the Greek goddess of the rainbow, so it is an appropriate name for a beautiful family of plants (Iridaceae). Whatever your tastes, there is an iris to suit: from the spotted reticulata miniatures, just a few inches high, to the tall hana-shobu varieties from Japan (Iris ensata), with petals as gorgeous as brocade. Iris flowers have a unique structure: the "standards" are the slender, upright petals; the "falls" are the lower petals marked with veins and a bright splash of color to guide insects toward the pollen; and the "pistil branches" form a loose tube with the "falls," and flare up attractively at the tip. Inside this tube hides the stigma with its pollen. By the way, can you tell a German iris from a Dutch one? It's easy: The German irises have fragrant, velvety petals and a feathery "beard" on the "falls," while the Dutch irises (pictured above) have more silky petals and belong to the "beardless" group. Although their wild ancestors originally came from Spain and Morocco, these hybrids were developed in Holland in the 1900s. They are easy to grow from bulbs and make excellent cut flowers.

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