Monday, December 15, 2014

Tall Bearded Iris Color Terms

By Renee Fraser

For those of us still new to the world of irises, there is much vocabulary to master. The parts of the iris flower, the different species of irises, the parts of the plant itself, and of course, the specialized terms categorizing irises into color types. Here is a quick reference, with photographic examples, of some of the major color terms you will encounter while reading about your favorite flower.

The falls and the standards of a self are the same color. These irises really stand out in a garden setting and are wonderful companions to other plants.
'Adriatic Waves' with Allium.  Photo c. Brad Collins
'Beverly Sills' with Paludosum Daisies
'Fine Wine'

Plicatas have stippled, dotted or stitched edges on a white or yellow ground.  I love the white ones with the pretty picotee edging the best.  

The Plicataman himself, hybridizer Keith Keppel, contacted us to remind us that the definition of a plicata as having a white or yellow ground needs to amended, "as hybridizers have worked hard and we now have lots of plicatas with pink or apricot ground, and we're working to intensify the depth of color so you can really say 'orange, and mean it!"

For more on plicatas, click here.
'Paprika Fonos' 
'Rare Treat'
'Spice Lord' Photo c. Margie Valenzuela

Amoenas have colored falls and white standards.  The most famous is probably, and justifiably, 'Wabash', pictured below.  To see another post on amoenas, click here.
'Wabash' Photo c. Mike Unser
'Venetian Queen'
'Dreaming of Rio' Photo c. Betty Jacobs

An iris with red falls and yellow standards.  My very favorite photo of this color, below, shows the cultivar 'Supreme Sultan' with its earliest progenitor, the original iris variegata. Can you believe what modern hybridizing has accomplished?
'Supreme Sultan' compared to the original species variegata!  Photo c. Chuck Chapman
'Decadence' at Schreiner's Iris Gardens. Photo c. Betty Jacobs
'Rogue Trader' Photo c. Betty Jacobs

A blue or purple-blue bitone iris with lighter standards.  Click here for more photos of neglectas.
'World Premier' Photo c.TBGDN @All Things Plants
'Northwest Progress' with Julia Child rose

An iris with no purple anthocyanin pigment.  These irises often seem to glow.  The colors remind me of that wonderful "polychrome" daylily color.
'Glacier Blush' Photo c. Blue J Iris

'Snow Lion' Photo c. Jan Lauritzen
'If Not For You' Photo c. Stout Gardens at Dancingtree

Another glowing iris type, the luminata, is an iris with a white or yellow base washed over with color so that it appears to glow from within.  More luminatas can be found here.
'Pretty Pansy'
'Wise Woman' Photo c. Brad Collins

This is an iris which has standards and falls of the same color,  but the standards are a lighter shade than the falls.
'Bayberry Candle' 
'Smoky Shadows' Photo c. Rick Tasco
A bitone, REVERSED!
'Missouri Mist'

An iris of two colors.
'Adoree' Photo c. Betty Jacobs
'Smoke and Thunder' Photo c. Brad Collins
'Sweet Musette'

These flowers have splotches, blotches, and streaks in random patterns.  For more broken color irises, click here.

'Maria Tormena'
'Batik' Photo c. Andi Rivarola

A darker ring of color around the falls of the flower is referred to as the Emma Cook Pattern, which is named after this famous ground-breaking cultivar.
'Conjuration' Photo c. Dan Holt
'Alsea' Photo c. Brad Collins
'Rare Coin' Photo c. Brad Collins

Many new and exciting color combinations and patterns are emerging in the world of iris hybridizing, so many that it's hard to figure out if they fit into an existing category or if new ones should be created.  I am partial to amoenas. Which is your favorite?


  1. thanks! I learned a lot, and added a few irises to my wish list!

  2. Could I have permission to create a poster for our Belton Iris Society show and possibly as a poster for AIS using your "Tall Bearded Iris Terms" information and pictures? I will create a Works Cited reference so everyone will know that you are the author and where to find the original information.

  3. Is there a fee to join the American Iris Society

    1. Yes there is a fee. Go to
      for more information.

    2. It's only $15 per year if you request an e-membership. No trees will be killed sending you printed bulletins, but you can access them online, and access everything else on the AIS web site, as well.

  4. I joined AIS last year, but I've never been able to sign in, and any emails I send gets me an instant return message that the email I signed in with has been marked as spam. This happens only with AIS! I wish I could get through to solve this problem, because I' sure it's something simple. :) You are welcome to delete this message once it gets sent on. My sign on email is lavamesa at yahoo.

    1. They are, unfortunately, not good at automatically sending e-members their access codes. But they'll give it to you if you ask the membership secretary for it.