Iris Family – Iridaceae

Iris flowers look complex but have the same basic structure as the Crocus, which has 6 tepals (petals) arranged as an inner set of three and an outer set of three. All flowers in this family have only 3 anthers and one style which is usually 3-branched. They provide nectar for pollinators. 

The Crocus has the simplest flower in this family with 3 inner petals and 3 outer petals

In the centre of the inner petals are 3 yellow anthers and an orange style with 3 lobes

In the Iris the 3 outer petals have become dark blue ‘falls’ with yellow  ‘beard’ and white guide lines and the 3 inner petals have become light blue ‘standards’. The 3 styles have become  petal-like branches  which in this photo hide the  yellow pollen-generating anthers

The yellow anther can be seen when the style branch is lifted. The style flap is a device to prevent self pollination. The ‘beard’ acts as a nectar guide for insect pollinators.

The family is named after the Greek goddess Iris who carried messages from Olympus to Earth along a rainbow. The Iris genus was named by Linnaeus to reflect the multi-coloured petals of some of the species. The Iris family has 66 genera and over 2000 species in two main sub-families Crocoideae (Crocus, Crocosmia, Gladiolus and Freesia) and Iridoideae (Iris and Sisyrinchium). Grows from a bulb, rhizome (Iris) or corm(Crocus and Gladiolus).

Sweet Iris flower

 Sweet Iris Iris pallida

Sweet Iris flower

Algerian Iris Iris unguicularisis an example of a dwarf iris grown from bulbs

Early Crocus flower

Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus is a native wild flower that grows by water throughoutBritain.

Stinking Iris Iris foetidissima. A native wild flower that grows in woods and scrub from rhizomes, has bright orange seeds and smells unpleasant.

Crocosmia Lucifer flower

Crocosmia, also known as Montbretia, are widely cultivated as perennial garden plants. There are over 400 varieties. ‘Lucifer’, shown above is an Alan Bloom hybrid (Crocosmia x curtonus). Crocosmia is a genus or about 7 species of cormous (grown from corms) plants from grasslands in South Africa. 

Crocosmia Lucifer flower

Gladioli originate mainly in South Africa, which has approximately 250 of the 300 known species.

Freesia is a genus of 14 species of perennial flowering plants native to the eastern side of southern Africa.

Crocosmia Lucifer flower

Pale Yellow-eyed grass Sisyrinchium striatum is native to Argentina and Chile.

Early Crocus flower

Early Crocus Crocus tommasinianus flowers in February and March. It is native to Eastern Europe and is planted in many gardens and parks in Britain.