Monday, July 9, 2012

Those Puzzling Iris Names

By Griff Crump

Some time ago  --  a few years, actually  --  the question arose on as to why the various species of iris are named as they are. A whole list of puzzlers had been submitted. 

I. tectorum

While most irisarians have heard that I.tectorum means “iris of roofs” or “roof iris”, stemming from the Japanese practice of growing them on their roofs (although I have seen that explanation disputed), the meanings of other names remained obscure. Being the compulsively helpful person that I am, I offered the following explanations for some of them, which I repeat here for those who are not veterans:

attica -- similar to tectorum, but grows beneath the roof

subbiflora -- same as attica, but two floors down

mandschurica -- a variety, candidans mandschurica, will sit quietly in your
garden for years, then suddenly burst into bloom

acutiloba -- smelling this one can give you a very bad case of iloba

barnumae -- a real circus of color

bismarkiana  --  though plantings may be dispersed, this one will
consolidate and take over your garden

gatesii --  to be planted at the entrance to your garden, of course

hookeriana  --  (ahem, well . . .)

wattii -- in sufficient quantity, this becomes known as voltii

minutoaurea  -- a little bull goes a long way

odaesanensis -- comes from Odessa, but ran into a spelling problem

bulleyana -- crowds out other flowers

innominata -- Linnaeus lost the tag; very common; most of us have some

nelsonii  -- British; has only one branch

crocea -- Kasparek reject, who, looking at it, said "That's a croc."

ludwigii -- first cousin to hartwegii

foetidissima -- a real stinker

bungei -- you can't get rid of this one; it just keeps coming back

farreri -- Italian, misspelled

lazica  --  has to be staked

aitchisonii -- named after the well-known railroad town  (Aitchison, Topeka
and the Sa-anta Fe)

hartwegii -- first cousin to ludwigii

galactica -- honoring the Battlestar of the same name

stenophylla -- a nice present for your secretary

stocksii -- you buy this one when bondsii is too pricey

zaprjagajewii -- named for its discoverer, a Cossack who fell into a clump
of it when his horse missed a steppe

No doubt others among us have explanations for some of the rest.  

You can see the names of all the species irises and many beautiful photos of them at the Species Iris Group of North America (SIGNA) website.

Editor's Note:  Griff invites you to add your own "definitions" for iris species names in the comments section.  Be sure to keep it clean and, above all, funny!


  1. I. histrio-- An iris that grows over the top. Most popular form i. h. var. shatnerensis

  2. I daliensis-- an iris no one will admit to disliking for fear of being labeled a philistine

  3. LOL!!! oh my goodness that was great reading... thanks!


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