Species Iris Group of North America

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Iris versicolor

Botanical Name: Iris versicolor (added by D. Kramb, 08-NOV-03)

Botanical Synonyms:



Beardless, Apogon, Laevigatae (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

Common Names:

Blue flag, Northern blue flag (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

Chromosome Count:

2n=108 (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

General Description:

As the botanical name implies, this species varies greatly in flower color. It generally grows from 18" to 30" tall, and prefers moist conditions. (D. Kramb, 09-MAY-04)

The leaves are olive to grayish green without any distinguishable midrib. Some may have stiff leaves while others may be arching. The stalks can vary from 10" to 58" in height with 2 to 5 branches. Each branch may have 2 to 5 flowers. Flowers may vary in color in shades of purple, violet, blue, lilac, wine red, pink, and white. Depending on site, location, and number of flowers, the flower time can vary from 3 to 20 days. Flowering time of plants in the far north is from 3 to 7 days. Size of flowers is from 2 to 4 inches. Standards are upright, narrow or rounded, flat or horizontal, and in most cases half the size of the falls. Falls are pendant or flat with or without a yellow signal, but always veined with white zonal area surrounding the signal. Stylearms are the same length as the standards or longer with nice contrasting colors, mostly bordered by white. Seed pods are cylindrical, three edged, with three carpels carrying two rows of D-shaped dark brown seeds. Seed pods contain from 40 to 120 seeds per pod. Seeds tend to grow bigger in southern climates. They require 6 weeks of cold treatment, but in natural settings will germinate in spring time when temperatures reach approx 68-72 degrees F. Seedlings will bloom the second year. (D. Kramb, 31-AUG-04)

Distinguishing Features:

While white and pink flowering plants may grow in flooded ground, most others do not like to be flooded more than a few days. (D. Kramb, 31-AUG-04)

Preferred Habitat:

Requires moisture, similar to Louisiana irises. (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

Swamps, meadows, and wet shores. (D. Kramb, 09-MAY-04)

Grows in moist meadows, ditches, marshes, near lakes, creeks and rivers. Can be found growing along side of Iris setosa, I. virginica var. shrevei, I. virginica var. virginica, and I. x robsuta. (D. Kramb, 31-AUG-04)


At least Zones 3-8, probably 2-10. (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

Native Range:

Northeastern USA, and north into Canada (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

This species occupies the largest territory of any North American iris. It grows from northern Newfoundland, westward to Wale River, Hudson Bay, Quebec, to Saskatchewan, southward to South Carolina, and west to Arkansas. (D. Kramb, 31-AUG-04)

Status in the Wild:

Unknown, probably common (D. Kramb, 31-AUG-04)

Commercial Availability:

Readily available from nurseries specializing in pond plants. (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

Sources Cited:

"Iris" book by Fritz Kohlein. (D. Kramb, 08-MAY-04)

"The Gardener's Iris Book" by William Shear. (D. Kramb, 09-MAY-04)

Information added on 31-AUG-04 is taken from the SIGNA bulletin issue#60, Spring 1998, page 3116. Article written by Tony Huber from Laval, Canada. (D. Kramb, 31-AUG-04)

Additional Comments:

Hybridizes readily with other members of the Laevigatae series. Crosses with Iris virginica are known as Iris x robusta. Crosses with Iris laevigata are known as versilaevs. (D. Kramb, 09-MAY-04)

Believed now to be a hybrid that arose naturally when glaciers advanced southward pushing Iris setosa into contact with Iris virginica. The resultant Iris versicolor retained a full set of chromosomes from each parent, giving it the highest chromosome number of any iris. (D. Kramb, 09-MAY-04)

Where to buy it:

Elk Mountain Nursery

Ensata Gardens

Gardens North

Hildenbrandt's Iris Garden

SIGNA member!

Impressive Irises

Iris City Gardens

SIGNA member!

Iris Haven

Joe Pye Weed's Garden

SIGNA member!

Joy Creek Nursery

Nicholls Gardens

Pine Ridge Gardens

Plant Delights Nursery

Prairie Moon Nursery

Shooting Star Nursery

Siberian Iris Gardens

SIGNA member!

Sunlight Gardens

© 1999-2020, SIGNA. Material from this database may be freely used for non-profit purposes, provided that you give proper credit to the original photographer or contributor. For-profit organizations should contact the photographer or contributor directly to request permission. SIGNA may or may not have contact information for those individuals. Number of Species: 433, Number of Photos: 2121

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