Iris Cristata is a very special plant to me- so delicate, fleeting in bloom and such a brilliant and rare flower in the wild. I first discovered Iris Cristata on a creek bank when I was on horseback. They were growing by a crossing place and I was surprised and excited to find them. Now, I’ve put that crossing off limits, except for walking, so they are not trampled by the horses or the off-road vehicles we sometimes use to traverse the trails.
These are the first group of iris I discovered, but they were past bloom when I found them.
It was already after bloom-time when I first discovered the iris by the creek and it took me two years to catch them in bloom! Last year, they didn’t bloom (or I missed them); I suspect it was due to the drought. This autumn, I was so excited to find another stand of iris in the rocky woods. To my extreme delight, I found these in bloom this April. Just gorgeous–take a look.
Group of Iris cristata in woodland
Latin Name/Common Name- Iris Cristata is the Latin name. It is commonly known as crested iris or dwarf crested iris, because of the small size and the yellow crest.
This picture highlights the interesting crest
Bloom Color- The lavendar blooms seem huge compared to the slight foliage. They have a golden yellow crest on the fall, surrounded by a small, white field–truly beautiful. Occasionally, white blooms are reported, but I have not seen any on Ozarkedge. There is nothing like a group of these in bloom. They usually bloom in unison, with a few strays that are early or late. This results in just a spectacular sight. It is almost shocking when you see a group in peak bloom, not because the color is vibrant, but because it is unusual. To me, the flowers remind me of looking through a kaliedoscope.
What a beautiful combination of lavendar and green
Description- The sword-like leaves are only about 4-5 inches tall. The shape is like a domesticated iris, so you will recognize the leaves if you find them outside of their bloom time. The leaf color is a pale green with a slight yellowish cast. The rhizomes may be visible and close to the surface. I’ve seen them on a creek bank with the rhizomes nearly completely exposed, and some of the iris even below water when the creek is overflowing. The rhizomes are whitish yellow, and slender with visible root tips. Iris Cristata tends to grow in stands and in the garden will spread as a ground cover (if happy). I’ve grown them in my Memphis shade garden and they are surprisingly tough! Please grow them in your garden. Their foliage adds interest in addition to the fantastic blooms. Just don’t dig any from the wild! They are readily available at specialty garden centers selling native plants.
The graceful bud is shielded by the sword-like leaves
Still graceful once the flower is spent
Bloom Time- The iris bloom in early April on Ozarkedge. Their bloom time is fleeting, so you have to be at the right place at the right time to catch them.
Habitat- On Ozarkedge, I’ve only found four stands of Iris cristata. Two stands are on the edge of a creek. Another is in the rocky woods on a western slope and the final is in a low, moist wooded area. They are typically reported to live on rocky, wooded slopes, on bluffs and along streams, which fits the habitat of those I’ve found on Ozarkedge. They are found mostly within the southeastern United States, with the northernmost state being Pennsylvania and the westernmost state being Oklahoma. The USDA plant site does not list them in Florida or Louisianna.
What’s Growing Nearby? On the edge of the creek, they are not far from Dodecatheon meadia (Shooting star), which bloom close to the same time. In the woodlands, they are surrounded by May Apples.
Shooting stars share a similar habitat and bloom time with Iris cristata
Interesting Tidbits- You won’t run across these plants very often in the woods. They are on the endangered list in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The deer seem to enjoy the taste of iris. I’ve noticed that several in the woodland patch on Ozarkedge have been bitten half through, so no blooms from them this year.
Deer feasted on the tender leaves of Iris cristata before bloom
Endangered List-Iris cristata is listed as endangered in Maryland and Pennsylvania. http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=IRCR