Plant of the Week
Latin: Iris reticulata
Spring arrives here in my little corner of the Ozarks. Crocus started showing
a few scattered blooms in mid-January and today Iris reticulata is in
According to my less-than-perfect recollection and what few scattered bits of
information I’ve recorded over the years, her arrival is at least two weeks
ahead of schedule. But nature makes her own schedule and the rest of us can but
push back in our easy chairs and enjoy the ride.
Using flowers as an early warning system for spring’s arrival is about as
effective and accurate as listening to economists predict stock market trends.
But, we must try. The native heralds of spring - bloodroot, pepperwort and
hepatica - all seem to be saying spring is not here yet.
The reticulated iris, so named because of a net-like pattern on the surface
of the bulb, is a better indicator of the progress of the season than its cousin
crocus. Crocus roots may be so shallow that the first rays of winter sun
will spur them into bloom. But the reticulated iris bulbs stay at the depth they
were planted and give a better measure of soil temperature.
Reticulated irises are part of the large iris clan that produce either
rhizomes or true bulbs, depending on the branch of the genus to which they
belong. Iris reticulata is a small plant, usually 5 to 6 inches tall when
The deep violet to purple or even blue flowers appear as the foliage is just
beginning to push skyward. Individual flowers are 2 inches across with the
characteristic three-spokes of iris flowers.
The leaves are four-sided and eventually reach 16 inches in length. They have
a kind of rush-like appearance but are a bit more floppy. The reticulated iris
is native to the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia, the range which is
generally considered the dividing point between Europe and Asia.
Of the bulbous irises, this species and the yellow flowered I. danfordiae
are the most common of the late winter flowering types. While the reticulated
iris blooms for about two weeks, blooms of the Danford Iris are as fleeting as a
wintertime visit by a gayly colored butterfly. The reticulated iris is said to
be extremely fragrant but I have not noticed this characteristic even when we’ve
forced it in pots. Perhaps the hybridist has been at work to improve the garden
performance but sacrificed a sweet fragrance in the trade.
Using the small bulbs in the garden is easy. Because they are so small and
bloom so early, they should be located where they can be enjoyed during the
comings and goings of late winter.
I like to plant these small bulbs under creepers such as phlox or the cottage
pinks, thus double-cropping the same piece of ground for flowers. This also
prevents me from inadvertently disturbing the bulbs during my periodic quests
for a spot to plant a new treasure.
Reticulated irises are trouble free performers and persist for years in the
garden. They are said to be best planted in well drained soils that dry during
the summer, but bulbs have persisted for four years in one of my irrigated
flower beds and bloomed well each year. Bulbs are planted about 4 inches deep
and only rarely require division.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
March 8, 2002
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