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Bearded Iris Flowers



'Zebra' bearded iris flowers are highly fragrant.

Courtesy: Missouri Botanical Garden

Taxonomy of Bearded Iris Flowers:

I will be using Dalmatian (also called "sweet") irises as an example in this article (specifically, "zebra"). Their taxonomy classifies them as Iris pallida. The cultivar is 'Variegata.'

Note that some experts assign the term "bearded" iris flowers only to the German type (I. germanica) -- not to the Dalmatian type (I. pallida) -- while others do not make such a rigid distinction. While acknowledging the difference here, for the purposes of this article I am placing myself in the latter camp.

Plant Type:

Bearded iris flowers are herbaceous perennials.

Characteristics of Bearded Iris Flowers:

"Zebra" is an appropriate common name for this cultivar of I. pallida. For these are variegated plants, with striped foliage. Interesting foliage notwithstanding, these plants are best known for two characteristics for which bearded iris flowers are famous: their blooms (in May or June, depending on region) and their fragrance. In fact, I chose I. pallida 'Variegata' as my example precisely because it is highly fragrant. Plants reach 2'-3' in height, with a spread of 2' or slightly less.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Bearded Iris Flowers:

Grow in full sun to partial shade, in a well-drained soil with plenty of humus. I. pallida 'Variegata' tolerates more shade than do many bearded iris flowers. Water new plants well; established bearded iris flowers display some drought-tolerance.

Planting Zones:

Grow these bearded iris flowers in planting zones 4-9.

Uses in Landscaping:

Because bearded iris flowers fill in an area nicely, crowding out weeds, they are often planted en masse in a row, so as to form a border. Alternatively, because this particular cultivar tolerates shade well, it may be used as a ground cover for an area in partial shade.

Care for Bearded Iris Flowers:

Bearded iris flowers spread via rhizomes. When they seem to be crowding each other too much, you can divide them. Late summer is a good time for division.

Fragrant Bearded Iris Flowers:

Many new homeowners are motivated to plant irises for one simple, compelling reason: namely, they remember, from childhood days, the heady fragrance of irises growing at home or in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, they are sometimes disappointed in their quest to recapture this piece of their youth. For not all irises waft the same quality of fragrance onto the gentle breezes. If you specifically want fragrant bearded iris flowers, plant I. pallida 'Variegata.' And its striking striped foliage is a nice bonus.

Speaking of bonuses, these plants are deer-resistant perennials. Seems that, while we humans may be thrilled with their smell, deer pests are not and tend to leave them off the menu.

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