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Stinking Iris

Iris foetidissima

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Iridaceae (Iris)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
90 centimetres tall
Gardens, hedgerows, rocky places, scrub, sea cliffs, woodland.

Purple, 6 petals
Dull greyish-purple flowers, occasionally yellow. Up to 7cm across. Pollinated by bees.
The seed pods burst open to reveal its large bright orange / red seeds. The fruit are very conspicuous in autumn and winter. The seeds ripen between October and February.
Broad, dark green, linear leaves. Up to 25mm wide. A perennial which is common in central and southern England. It's fairly uncommon everywhere else in the British Isles.
Reputedly called a Roast-beef Plant because of its unappealing smell of "high" medieval meat.
Other Names:
Adder's Meat, Blue Seggin, Gladden, Gladdin, Gladdon, Gladwin Iris, Gladwyn, Roast-beef Plant, Scarlet-berry Iris, Scarlet-seeded Iris, Stinking Gladwin, Stinking Gladwyn.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Iris foetidissima, also known as Gladwin iris or Stinking iris, is a species of flowering plant in the family Iridaceae. It is native to Europe and North Africa, and is commonly found in woodlands, hedgerows and on rocky outcrops. The plant has tall, upright stems with green-yellow flowers that bloom in late summer and autumn. The leaves are narrow and sword-shaped, and the plant has a strong unpleasant smell, particularly when leaves are crushed.

Iris foetidissima prefers well-drained soils and full sun to partial shade. The plant is hardy and tolerant of a wide range of soil types, and it can be used in gardens as an ornamental plant or in rock gardens. It can also be used in naturalizing schemes, and in wildflower meadows. The plant has a very long blooming period, and it's attractive to pollinators.


Stinking Iris, also known as Iris foetidissima, is a unique plant that belongs to the Iris family. It is native to Europe and Western Asia and is well-known for its distinctive smell, which gives the plant its name. Despite its unpleasant odor, Stinking Iris is a fascinating plant that is cherished by gardeners for its striking appearance and ability to thrive in a variety of conditions.

Physical Description

Stinking Iris is a perennial plant that grows up to 3 feet tall. It has long, narrow leaves that are a deep green color and can grow up to 2 feet in length. The flowers of the Stinking Iris are quite unique, with a deep maroon color and a velvety texture. They bloom in early summer and are followed by bright orange berries that persist into the fall.

One of the most interesting features of the Stinking Iris is the seed pods, which are shaped like a flattened oval and can be up to 3 inches long. When they ripen, the pods split open to reveal bright red seeds that are covered in a bright orange pulp. The seeds are often dispersed by birds, which are attracted to the colorful berries.

Cultural Significance

Stinking Iris has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly in the treatment of skin conditions and as a purgative. The plant contains a number of active compounds, including iridin and irigenin, which have been shown to have antibacterial and antifungal properties.

In addition to its medicinal properties, Stinking Iris has also been used for a variety of other purposes throughout history. The tough, fibrous leaves were once used to make cordage, while the bright orange berries were used as a dye.

Gardening Tips

Despite its name, Stinking Iris is a popular plant among gardeners. It is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, from full sun to partial shade. It prefers well-drained soil and can even thrive in poor, rocky soil.

One of the most striking features of the Stinking Iris is its ability to grow in large clumps, which can make a dramatic statement in any garden. It is also an excellent plant for attracting birds, as the bright orange berries are a favorite among many species.

In conclusion, Stinking Iris may not have the most pleasant odor, but it is a fascinating plant that has many unique features. From its striking appearance to its medicinal properties, Stinking Iris is a plant that deserves a place in any garden. So the next time you come across this plant, don't be put off by its smell – take a closer look and appreciate all that it has to offer.

More Information about Stinking Iris

Stinking Iris is also known for its ability to grow in shade, making it a popular choice for woodland gardens. It can also be planted in containers and is a good choice for adding interest to a shaded patio or balcony.

When planting Stinking Iris, it is important to ensure that the soil is well-drained. If the soil is too wet, the plant may develop root rot. To prevent this, amend the soil with compost or well-rotted manure to improve drainage.

Stinking Iris is a low-maintenance plant that requires little care once established. It is drought-tolerant and can go for extended periods without water, making it an ideal choice for xeriscaping. However, to ensure healthy growth and flowering, it is important to water the plant during dry periods.

In terms of pests and diseases, Stinking Iris is generally free from major issues. However, it may occasionally be affected by iris borer or slugs. To prevent these pests, keep the area around the plant clear of debris and apply a layer of mulch to deter slugs.

In addition to its use as an ornamental and medicinal plant, Stinking Iris is also an important source of food for a variety of wildlife. The bright orange berries are particularly attractive to birds, which feed on them throughout the fall and winter months. This makes Stinking Iris an important component of the ecosystem, providing valuable food and habitat for wildlife.

Stinking Iris is also a plant with a rich cultural history. In ancient Greece, it was believed to have medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including skin conditions and dysentery. In medieval Europe, it was believed to have magical properties and was used in rituals and spells.

Today, Stinking Iris is still valued for its unique properties and is used in a variety of products, including cosmetics and herbal remedies. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties make it particularly useful in the treatment of skin conditions and other ailments.

Another interesting feature of Stinking Iris is its use in landscaping as a ground cover. The plant's dense growth habit and ability to form large clumps make it an effective way to fill in bare spots in shady areas. It is also effective at suppressing weeds, making it a useful addition to a low-maintenance garden.

Stinking Iris can also be used in naturalizing areas of the landscape. Its ability to thrive in a variety of growing conditions, including poor soil and shade, make it an ideal candidate for planting in naturalized areas of the landscape. Its striking appearance and ability to attract wildlife make it an attractive choice for naturalizing projects.

One important thing to note is that Stinking Iris can be toxic if ingested, particularly the berries. It is important to keep this in mind when planting the plant in areas where children or pets may be present.

Overall, Stinking Iris is a unique and fascinating plant that has many benefits for gardeners, wildlife, and the ecosystem. Its versatility, adaptability, and low-maintenance requirements make it an ideal choice for a wide range of growing conditions. Whether used as an ornamental, medicinal plant, or for naturalizing, Stinking Iris is a plant that is sure to impress and inspire.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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