Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

This attractive plant is more typical of wetlands than true prairies, but it sometimes spreads into adjacent sunny areas that are moist. Cultivars of Iris X germanica (German Iris) have beards (numerous hairs) on their sepals, while the Blue Flag Iris is beardless. The Blue Flag Iris resembles another native species, Iris brevicaulis (Blue Marsh Iris), but this latter species has 6-angled capsules and flowering stalks that are slightly zigzag. Another native species, Iris versicolor (Northern Blue Flag), is very similar in appearance to the Blue Flag Iris, but it has a more northern distribution (the upper Great Lakes and NE USA, including northern Wisconsin). Another scientific name for the Blue Flag Iris is Iris shrevei; another common name for this species is the Southern Blue Flag.
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Description

This perennial plant is 2-3' tall. It produces clumps of basal leaves that are sword-shaped and up to 3' long; they are mostly erect, although some of the larger leaves may become arched. These leaves are bluish green to green and glabrous. Individual leaves are up to 1" across near their bases, tapering very gradually to pointed tips. Leaf margins are smooth (entire) and leaf venation is parallel. The flowering stalks are either unbranched or sparingly branched and up to 3' tall; they are green, terete, and glabrous. Each stalk produces one or more small alternate leaves that are erect and sword-like. From the axil of each alternate leaf, there develops 1-2 flowers on pedicels 1-5" in length. Both the flowering stalks and pedicels are terete and glabrous. Each pedicel is enfolded by a pair of sword-like spathes that become chaffy with age. The blue-violet flowers are up to 3½" across, consisting of 3 sepals, 3 petals, 3 stamens, 3 style-branches with stigmata, and a green ovary that is elongated and angular. The petaloid sepals are oblanceolate in shape and spread outward from the center of the flower; they are blue-violet with prominent patches of yellow and white with fine purple veins. The sepals are without tufted hairs. Extending directly above the sepals, are the shorter petaloid style-branches; they are blue-violet and oblong in shape with upturned tips, forming open tubular structures with the sepals. The ascending petals are blue-violet and oblanceolate in shape with darker purple veins. The blooming period is late spring to early summer, and lasts about a month for a colony of plants, although individual flowers are short-lived. There is a pleasant floral fragrance. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by oblongoid capsules that are 3-angled. These capsules are about 1½–2" long and ½" across; they contain rows of tightly stacked seeds. After the capsules split open, the seeds can float on water, spreading to new areas via water currents. The root system consists of fleshy rhizomes with coarse fibrous roots. Colonies of plants often develop from the rhizomes. Cultivation
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Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Description

General: Iris Family (Iridaceae). Virginia iris is a perennial plant. The slightly fragrant flowers (4 cm long, 7 cm across) consist of 3 horizontal sepals, or “falls,” and 3 erect petals. The petals and sepals can vary in color from dark-violet to pinkish-white. The sepals have a splash of yellow to yellow-orange at the crest. Each plant has 2 to 6 flowers that bloom from April to May upon a single, erect, 3-9 dm tall stalk. The stalk is sometimes branched and has a slight zigzag appearance. The plant has 2 to 4 erect or arching, bright green, lance-shaped leaves that are flattened into one plane at the base. Leaves are 1 – 3 cm wide and are sometimes longer than the flower stalk. The fleshy roots (1-2 cm in diameter) are rhizomes that spread underground. Pale brown, variably shaped seeds are born in three-part fruit capsules (3-6 cm long, 1-2 cm wide).

Distribution: Virginia iris is common along the coastal plain from Florida to Georgia. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

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Alternative names

Blue flag, southern blue flag, blue iris

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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

The native Blue Flag Iris is surprisingly common in most areas of Illinois, except for some southern and western counties where it is uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include wet to moist black soil prairies, prairie swales, soggy meadows along rivers, open bottomland woodlands, swamps, fens, seeps, edges of ponds and streams, ditches, and low-lying ground along railroads and roadsides. Declining remnant populations can be found in some low woodland areas where fire has been surpressed. Faunal Associations
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Adaptation

This plant grows in wet areas and sometimes in shallow water in both fresh and brackish tidal marshes. It can be found in low savannas, thin woods and open meadows as well as along the edges of swamps, rivers, and ditches.

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Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Rhizomes many-branched, forming dense clumps, 2–4 cm diam., usually covered with remnants of old leaves; roots fleshy. Stems rather weak, often falling over after flowering, solid, usually 1-branched, 5–10 dm. Leaves: basal erect or often flexible, blade gray-green to bright green, buff to purplish basally, with several prominent ribs in mature leaves, linear-ensiform, 6–8 dm × 2.5–3 cm, apex acute. Inflorescence units 2–3-flowered, branch units 1–2-flowered; spathes compact, often with brown striations, ridged, unequal, outer 3–8 cm, inner 8–14 cm, firm, herbaceous. Flowers: perianth lavender to violet, rarely white; floral tube constricted above ovary, 1–2 cm; sepals spreading and arched, pale blue to purple with darker blue or purple lines, obovate to oval, 4–8.4 × 1.6–4 cm, base abruptly attenuate, claw green in median, bordered by yellow ground with blue or purple lines, yellow extending onto base of limb as finely pubescent signal patch; petals oblong-lanceolate to oblong-spatulate, 3–7 × 1–3 cm, claw greenish yellow with blue or purplish lines, apex often emarginate; ovary trigonal, 1.3–3.8 cm; style inwardly auriculate at convergences, 3–4.5 cm, crests reflexed, 0.7–2 cm; stigmas unlobed, with prominent triangular tongues, margins entire; pedicel 2.5–8 cm. Capsules ovoid, ellipsoid, or long-cylindric, trigonal or polygonal in cross section, 3–6 × 1–2 cm. Seeds in 2 rows per locule, pale brown, usually D-shaped, 5–8 mm, pitted, corky. 2n = 70, 72.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Iris caroliniana S. Watson; I. georgiana Britton; I. shrevei Small; I. virginica var. shrevei (Small) E. S. Anderson
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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

The native Blue Flag Iris is surprisingly common in most areas of Illinois, except for some southern and western counties where it is uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include wet to moist black soil prairies, prairie swales, soggy meadows along rivers, open bottomland woodlands, swamps, fens, seeps, edges of ponds and streams, ditches, and low-lying ground along railroads and roadsides. Declining remnant populations can be found in some low woodland areas where fire has been surpressed. Faunal Associations
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Habitat & Distribution

Flowering May--Jun. Wetlands, margins of lakes and streams; Ont., Que.; Ala., Ark., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kans., Ky., La., Md., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Nebr., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Va., W.Va., Wis.
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Dispersal

Establishment

Virginia iris is a sturdy plant that is easy to grow and, once established, needs very little care. They make lovely additions to the garden and are ideal for the borders of a garden pond. This is because the plants prefer moist to wet soils that are high in organic matter. The plants will grow best in mild climates where they can be grown in partial shade to full sun. The plants can be grown from seed, but are easiest to propagate through division. Seeds may be planted in the autumn, without pretreatment. To propagate by division, divide the plants either after flowering or when the new leaves just begin to appear in the spring. Cut the roots so that each piece contains a portion the feeding roots, the rhizome, and a leaf fan. Place the rhizomes very near to the surface of the soil when planting. Allow 45 to 60 cm between plants. The plants grow best if divided every three to five years to thin out the colonies that form.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Iris virginica

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Status

Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).

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Threats

Pests and potential problems

Snails are known to eat the leaves.

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Management

Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)

These plant materials are readily available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG

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Uses

Ethnobotanic: The Cherokee and other tribes in the southeastern United States are known to have used Virginia iris for its medicinal properties. The root was pounded into a paste that was used as a salve for skin. An infusion made from the root was used to treat ailments of the liver, and a decoction of root was used to treat “yellowish urine.” Virginia iris may have been one of the iris species used by the Seminole to treat “shock following alligator-bite.”

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Risks

Warning

Warning: The roots of Virginia iris are toxic when taken internally, without sufficient preparation.
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Notes

Comments

Plants of Iris virginica from the southeastern and south-central states having stems 2–3-branched and seldom falling to the ground after flowering, and with capsules long-cylindric have been recognized as var. shrevei.
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