Photo: Peter Baer
Many flowering plants were first cultivated because they were useful rather than decorative. They were used as medicines, sources of perfume and toilet water, and as soap substitutes, to disguise the fact that bathing was not convenient. The sweet scented orris root, is the powdered root of the Florentine iris, which was grown in ancient Greek and Roman gardens.
An ancestor of many of our modern plants of the iris genus, which includes over 200 species. Nowadays, orris root is used as a fixative, which holds the scented oil added to pot pourri. In olden days, women used it as a dusting powder, and “orris” is a corruption of the word “iris.”
The dwarf iris reticulata blooms with the crocuses. Dutch irises, grown from bulbs planted in the fall and often included in florist bouquets, bloom next, followed by the larger bearded or German irises, which bloom at the same time as the peonies. Bearded irises have standards, which are petals that stand upright, and petals that hang downward, known as falls.
Iris in Your Garden
The roots known as rhizomes should be divided every 3 to 4 years. They like full sun and shallow planting. Siberian iris requires more moisture are slender and elegant in shape. “Caesar’s brother” is a popular purple Siberian. Japanese irises (with flatter and larger flowers) are also beardless. Iris means “eye of heaven” a name also given to the center of our eyes.