Mediterranean Iris

Live and learn… I had always thought of Iris as a delicate and overbred plant for experienced gardeners. But when I came here I found out that Iris are one of the most robust, hardy, drought and heat resistant flowers there are. They grow wild everywhere around here, from small Iris lutescens in the Garrigue to tall Iris barbata, grown in gardens but also naturalized in the countryside.

They all bloom in spring, tolerate chalky soil, but need good drainage. All rhizomatous iris should not be buried but planted so that their rhizome is barely covered with soil. Bulbous iris on the other hand are buried about 10cm deep just like most other bulbous flowers.

I actually am not quite sure what type of Irises I have in my garden but here are a few varieties that are interesting:

Iris Varieties for a Mediterranean Garden

Rhizomatous iris

Iris lutescens

Iris lutescens or “yellow iris” blooms not only yellow, but also white or purple in February and March. It is a low-growing (max 15cm) native Mediterranean flower and grows wild on dry, gravelly slopes and in the garrigues. It grows and spreads slowly and is very drought-tolerant.

Iris unguicularis

Iris unguicularis or Algerian Iris is found wild in Eastern Mediterranean and North African regions, where it grows in woods, garrigues and on rocky slopes. It blooms between December and March, is of medium height (30cm), and tolerates not only drought but also root competition from deciduous trees and shrubs.

Iris pumila

The dwarf iris is found wild everywhere from from Lower Austria to Transcaucasia and grows in the plain on stony, sunny and sandy slopes and at altitudes of up to 650 m. It grows about 25 cm high and comes in various colors of white, purple, yellow, etc.

Iris pallida

Iris pallida is native to the summer-dry karst regions of Southeastern Europe where it grows wild from the coast to the higher mountains on dry grasslands or rocky outcrops in sunny locations. It grows to a height of 70cm and blooms in April-May.

Iris germanica

The only Iris I have had so far not had any luck with. I was very interested in the “remontant” variety because of it’s re-flowering in the fall. But of the six bulbs I ordered and planted in the fall of 2022 not a single one came up the next year! And from a soil delivery in the late fall of 2023 I had so many lovely irises coming up the next spring that I decided not to bother with these presumably more fussy Irises. For now.

Iris germanica is an old European garden plant that has been naturalized across Europe since the Middle Ages. It can be found along vineyard walls and in grassy embankments on warm, mostly calcareous soil. It grows quite tall to about 1 meter and comes in almost any color from pure white to almost black.

Iris domestica / Belamcanda chinensis

This plant belongs to the Iris family even though it looks more like a lily and is also known as Leopard Lily. It is native to South and East Asia and naturalized in the northern USA. It grows to about 60 cm and reseeds itself in the garden if left alone.

Bulbous Iris

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata originates from Eurasia and the Middle East Caucasus, Turkey, Iraq, Iran) where it grows on stony mountain slopes and meadows. Instead of a rhizome it grows out of a bulb and needs to be planted about 10cm deep. It flowers in February-March and grows to a height of 15cm.

Iris aucheri

Iris aucheri is found in the Middle East at altitudes of 550 to 2100 meters. It is a bulbous iris and needs to be planted about 10cm deep. It flowers in April and May February-March, grows to a height of 25cm and has a light violet-like perfume.

Iris bucharica

The Bukhara iris is found in Central Asia on stony, grassy hills and field edges at altitudes of 800 to 2500 meters. It is a bulbous iris that forms big roots and needs to be planted about 10cm deep. It flowers in April and May in white and yellow and grows to a height of 30cm.


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