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Purple Iris

Iris versicolor

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Iridaceae (Iris)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
80 centimetres tall
Bogs, ditches, marshes, meadows, ponds, scrub, swamps, water, waterside, wetland.

Purple, 6 petals
Bluish-purple flowers, about 7cm wide. Petals have a white-veined basal patch. The flowers are more purple than the similar looking Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima) Pollinated by insects.
A 3-parted, bluntly angled capsule. Large seeds.
The leaves are long, linear and erect. The leaves are folded in the midrib. Perennial.
Other Names:
Blue Flag, Blue Flag Iris, Boston Iris, Harlequin Blue Flag, Larger Blue Flag, Liver Lily, North American Blue Flag, Northern Blue Flag, Particoloured Iris, Poison Flag, Snake Lily, Wild Iris.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Iris versicolor, also known as Blue Flag Iris or Northern Blue Flag, is a species of flowering plant in the family Iridaceae. It is native to North America and is commonly found in wetland habitats such as marshes, bogs, and the edges of ponds and streams. The plant has tall, upright stems with large, showy, blue-violet flowers that bloom in the spring and early summer. The leaves are sword-shaped and can be up to 2 feet long. Iris versicolor prefers wet soils and full sun to partial shade. The plant is also tolerant of a wide range of soil types and is often used for erosion control and in wetland restoration projects. It can also be used in gardens as an ornamental plant, but it can become invasive in some areas. The root rhizomes, leaves and seeds of Iris versicolor have been traditionally used by native Americans for medicinal purposes such as treatment of skin conditions, respiratory conditions and digestive issues.


Iris versicolor, commonly known as the Purple Iris, is a stunning flowering plant native to North America. Its striking appearance, combined with its cultural and historical significance, makes it a beloved and popular addition to gardens and landscapes worldwide.

Description and Characteristics

The Purple Iris is a herbaceous perennial plant that grows up to three feet tall. Its distinctive flowers are typically blue or purple, though they can also appear white or pink. They bloom in the late spring to early summer and have six petals, three outer sepals, and three inner petals. The plant's leaves are long, narrow, and sword-shaped, with a bluish-green tint.

Cultural and Historical Significance

Iris versicolor has been used for a variety of purposes throughout history. Native American tribes used the plant's roots to make a poultice for treating wounds and sore muscles, while early European settlers used it to make a tea that was believed to have medicinal properties.

In addition to its medicinal uses, the Purple Iris has also played an important role in art and literature. The plant's striking appearance has inspired countless artists and writers, including Vincent van Gogh, who famously painted a series of Iris paintings, and Emily Dickinson, who wrote a poem titled "The Blue Iris."

Growing and Care

The Purple Iris is relatively easy to grow and care for, making it a popular choice for gardeners of all skill levels. The plant prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soil, and should be watered regularly during the growing season. It is also important to provide adequate spacing between plants, as they can quickly overcrowd one another.

Propagation is typically done through division, with new plants being separated from the parent plant in the fall or early spring. The Purple Iris is also prone to a variety of pests and diseases, including iris borers and fungal infections, so it is important to monitor the plant closely for any signs of trouble.

In conclusion, the Purple Iris is a beautiful and culturally significant plant that has captured the imaginations of people for centuries. Whether grown in a garden or enjoyed in its natural habitat, this stunning flowering plant is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who encounter it.

More Information about the Purple Iris

In addition to its beauty and cultural significance, the Purple Iris also plays an important ecological role. As a native plant, it provides important habitat and food sources for a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The plant's long, narrow leaves also provide shelter and nesting sites for small animals and insects.

Due to its popularity as a garden plant, the Purple Iris has also been the subject of breeding efforts to create new and unique cultivars. These cultivars often feature different colors and patterns, including white, yellow, and variegated varieties.

One important thing to note about the Purple Iris is that it can be toxic to pets and livestock if ingested. The plant contains a compound called iridin, which can cause gastrointestinal issues and other health problems if consumed in large quantities. If you have pets or livestock, it is important to keep them away from any Purple Iris plants growing in your yard.

Another interesting aspect of the Purple Iris is its symbolism in different cultures. In ancient Greece, the Iris flower was associated with the goddess Iris, who was believed to use rainbows as a bridge between the earth and the heavens. The flower was often planted on the graves of women as a tribute to the goddess.

In Christianity, the Purple Iris has been associated with the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity. Its three petals were seen as a symbol of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while its blue or purple color was associated with Mary's robes.

In the language of flowers, the Purple Iris is often associated with wisdom, faith, and valor. It is sometimes given as a gift to express admiration or to symbolize hope and courage during difficult times.

The Purple Iris is also an important plant in the world of horticulture and gardening. It is a popular choice for gardeners due to its showy flowers and easy-to-grow nature. It is often used in perennial borders, as a mass planting, or as a focal point in a garden bed.

There are also many different cultivars of the Purple Iris available, each with its unique characteristics. Some popular cultivars include 'Dark Aura' with deep purple flowers, 'Hello Darkness' with almost black flowers, and 'Candace' with pale lavender flowers and yellow markings.

One unique characteristic of the Purple Iris is its ability to grow in wet or boggy areas, making it a popular choice for water gardens or pond edges. It is also commonly used in rain gardens, which are designed to capture and filter stormwater runoff.

Another interesting fact about the Purple Iris is that it has been used in the production of perfumes and fragrances. The plant's roots contain a fragrant oil that is used in the perfume industry to add a sweet, floral scent to fragrances.

In addition to its use in perfumes, the Purple Iris has also been used in herbal medicine. The plant's roots were traditionally used by Native American tribes to treat a variety of ailments, including colds, fever, and digestive issues. Today, extracts from the plant are still used in natural and alternative medicine for their anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.

The Purple Iris is also a popular subject in art and photography. Its striking flowers and unique appearance have been the inspiration for countless works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and photographs. One particularly famous example is the painting "Purple Irises" by Vincent van Gogh, which features a vibrant bouquet of Purple Iris flowers against a blue and green background.

Overall, the Purple Iris is a fascinating and versatile plant with a rich history and cultural significance. Whether admired for its beauty, studied for its medicinal properties, or used in the production of fragrances, this stunning flowering plant continues to captivate and inspire people around the world.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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