(Iris versicolor) Iris family

Flowers - Several, 2 to 3 in. long, violet-blue variegated with

yellow, green, or white, and purple veined. Six divisions of the

perianth: 3 outer ones spreading, recurved; 1 of them bearded,

much longer and wider than the 3 erect inner divisions; all

united into a short tube. Three stamens under 3 overhanging

petal-like divisions of the style, notched at end; under each

notch is a thin plate, smooth on one side, rough and moist

(stigma) on side turned away from anther. Stem: 2 to 3 ft. high,

stout, straight, almost circular, sometimes branching above.

Leaves: Erect, sword-shaped, shorter than stem, somewhat hoary,

from 1/2 to 1 in. wide, folded, and in a compact flat cluster at

base; bracts usually longer than stem of flower. Fruit: Oblong

capsule, not prominently 3-lobed, and with 2 rows of round, flat

seeds closely packed in each cell. Rootstock: Creeping,

horizontal, fleshy.

Preferred Habitat - Marshes, wet meadows.

Flowering Season - May-July.

Distribution - Newfoundland and Manitoba to Arkansas and Florida.

"The fleur-de-lys, which is the flower of chivalry," says Ruskin,

"has a sword for its leaf and a lily for its heart." When that

young and pious Crusader, Louis VII, adopted it for the emblem of

his house, spelling was scarcely an exact science, and the

fleur-de-Louis soon became corrupted into its present form.

Doubtless the royal flower was the white iris, and as li is the

Celtic for white, there is room for another theory as to the

origin of the name. It is our far more regal looking, but truly

democratic blossom, jostling its fellows in the marshes, that is

indeed "born in the purple."

When Napoleon wished to pose as the true successor of those

ancient French kings whose territory included the half of Europe

- ignoring every Louis who ever sat on the throne, for their very

name and emblem had become odious to the people - he discarded

the fleur-de-lis, to replace it with golden bees, the symbol in

armory for industry and perseverance. It is said some relics of

gold and fine stones, somewhat resembling an insect in shape, had

been found in the tomb of Clovis's father, and on the supposition

that these had been bees, Napoleon appropriated them for the

imperial badge. Henceforth "Napoleonic bees" appeared on his

coronation robe and wherever a heraldic emblem could be employed.

But even in the meadows of France Napoleon need not have looked

far from the fleurs-de-lis growing there to find bees. Indeed,

this gorgeous flower is thought by scientists to be all that it

is for the bees' benefit, which, of course, is its own also.

Abundant moisture, from which to manufacture nectar - a prime

necessity with most irises - certainly is for our blue flag. The

large showy blossom cannot but attract the passing bee, whose

favorite color (according to Sir John Lubbock) it waves. The bee

alights on the convenient, spreading platform, and, guided by the

dark veining and golden lines leading to the nectar, sips the

delectable fluid shortly to be changed to honey. Now, as he

raises his head and withdraws it from the nectary, he must rub it

against the pollen-laden anther above, and some of the pollen

necessarily falls on the visitor. As the sticky side of the plate

(stigma), just under the petal-like division of the style, faces

away from the anther, which is below it in any case, the flower

is marvelously guarded against fertilization from its own pollen.

The bee, flying off to another iris, must first brush past the

projecting lip of the over-arching style, and leave on the

stigmatic outer surface of the plate some of the pollen brought

from the first flower, before reaching the nectary. Thus

cross-fertilization is effected; and Darwin has shown how

necessary this is to insure the most vigorous and beautiful

offspring. Without this wonderful adaptation of the flower to the

requirements of its insect friends, and of the insect to the

needs of the flower, both must perish; the former from hunger,

the latter because unable to perpetuate its race. And yet man has

greedily appropriated all the beauties of the floral kingdom as

designed for his sole delight

The name iris, meaning a deified rainbow, which was given this

group of plants by the ancients, shows a fine appreciation of

their superb coloring, their ethereal texture, and the evanescent

beauty of the blossom.

In spite of the name given to another species, the SOUTHERN BLUE

FLAG (I. hexagona) is really the larger one; its leaves, which

are bright green, and never hoary, often equaling the stem in its

height of from two to three feet. The handsome solitary flower,

similar to that of the larger blue flag, nevertheless has its

broad outer divisions fully an inch larger, and is seated in the

axils at the top of the circular stem. The oblong, cylindric,

six-angled capsule also contains two rows of seeds in each

cavity. From South Carolina and Florida to Kentucky, Missouri,

and Texas one finds this iris blooming in the swamps during April

and May.

The SLENDER BLUE FLAG (I. prismatica; I. Virginica of Gray),

found growing from New Brunswick to North Carolina, but mainly

near the coast, and often in the same oozy ground with the larger

blue flag, may be known by its grass-like leaves, two or three of

which usually branch out from the slender flexuous stem; by its

solitary or two blue flowers, variegated with white and veined

with yellow, that rear themselves on slender foot-stems; and by

the sharply three-angled, narrow, oblong capsule, in which but

one row of seeds is borne in each cavity. This is the most

graceful member of a rather stiffly stately family.