Iris, is the general term for genus Iris of Iridaceae. Of the totally about 300 species of Iris found around the world in the north temperate zone, there are over 60 species found in China, mainly in southwest, northwest and northeast of China.
The scientific name of genus Iris comes from the Greek language, means rainbow. It is also the name for goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology. Why so named? Because the Greek thought the flowers of Iris genus have a wide variety of colors, and glitter like rainbows under sun light. But how this flower is named in China? It is named Yuanwei, literally means tail of kite, which is a kind of raptor. The ancient Chinese thought the sword-like leaves of Iris shape like the tail of kite. So they named it Yuanwei or Tail of Kite.
Flowers of Genus Iris consist of 6 petals in two round layers. The three petals on outer round of layers are generally bigger in size and have strips of different patterns in various colors. Some Iris species have a protruding part shaped like a mini rooster crest or fringed beard. Usually the inner 3 petals are smaller. The three-petals-shape botanical constitution at the center are the pistils, while between inner-side pistils and outer perianth, stamen grows.
Plants of genus Iris are all very beautiful, and they are widely found in north temperate zone. Naturally they enjoy great popularity among people there and have been cultivated as ornamental plants for long time.
Now in this early spring, various flowers are blooming in parks of Chengdu. We can easily find a kind of herbaceous plant with blooming white and bluish flowers from grounds under trees. Those are Iris japonica, a kind of most commonly seen Iris. From its scientific name, we can know its type locality is Japan, thus it sometimes is also called Japanese iris. Iris has a wide distribution range in China, commonly visible from Jiangsu to Sichuan, from southern Shaanxi to Guangdong and Yunnan. Now it has been commonly cultivated as urban ground cover plants.
Iris japonica is often confused with another common Iris — Iris confusa, both of which have similar flowers, fruits and leaves. The difference is that the stem of Iris confusa is much longer, up to 1 meter, and many of its leaves concentrate at the top of the stem, like a fan while, the leaves of the Iris japonica are basal grown.
In Chinese courtyards, another kind of Iris is more popular. It is called Iris tectorum. Compared with Iris japonica, Iris tectorum has a later flowering period, flowering from early April with bigger flower in blue and purple, so in some places it is also called blue butterfly in Chinese.
Besides the common Iris species mentioned above, there are some very beautiful species found in wild. They are only visible in high mountains or grasslands, it you want to enjoy their beauty, you have to leave the city and get into the wilderness. Now follow the author, he is going to show you the amazing beauty of wild iris in the mountains of the southwest of China.
Iris chrysographes, a kind of Iris growing on high mountains in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Tibet with flowering period from June to July. The outer perianth of its flower has golden veins on it, so it is called Golden Vein Iris, translated from its Chinese name. These two photos were taken in the alpine meadow of Mt. Balang at an altitude of 3,400 meters. The whole slope is dominated by blooming Iris chrysographes, which forms a spectacular carpet of purple flowers.
Iris goniocarpa, this cute iris is small in size, and has a flower color somewhere between bluish purple and pinkish white. They are found on meadows and forest edges with an elevation range between 2500 and 4000 meters in six provinces of China namely Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet.
Iris proantha, found on mountain slopes, meadows, forest edges and scarce forest in provinces including in Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hubei, Hunan and Sichuan.
Iris leptophylla, found in Gansu and Sichuan. This photo was taken on the alpine meadow of Jiuding mountain in Maoxian county. Flowering duration : June to July.
Iris lactea var. Chinensis, seen in many parts of China, and can be spotted in deserted lands, roadsides and hillside grasslands. It grow especially well in the saline pastures due to overgrazing. Because of its ability to grow in spite of saline land with well-developed root system, they can be used for conserving water and soil, and improving saline soil. Their leaves can be used as feed for cattle, sheep, camels, or for paper-making and weaving industry.
Iris songarica can be found in Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Sichuan province. Their habitats are apricus alpine meadows, slopes and stony hillside. Pattern specimens were collected from Junggar basin, Xinjiang.
Iris loczyi can be found in sunny alpine grassland at elevation of over 2000 meters in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Sichuan and Tibet .
Iris potaninii, grows on stony or dry hillside at elevation of over 3000m in Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet. Because there are a large number of residual fibers of old leaf sheath around the base of the plant, which are hair-like and roll outwards. Another variant of this Iris potaninii has blue flowers.