Irises in Art and Culture

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Irises as a symbol

Iris is the Greek word for the colourful rainbow that symbolized the messenger of the gods.

Irises first appeared in stucco on one of the walls of the great Minoan palace at Knossos. In the background of the king’s figure there are many Irises painted. Shortly later it appeared sculptured in stone at Karnak, Egypt, glorify the triumph of Tehutimes 3rd on Asia Minor with its exotic flowers.

Iris represented the French monarchy since the medieval era, known as “Fleur de Lis”. Louis the 7th adopted the Iris as a symbol in the 12th century, probably due to a dream convinced him to use the three-petaled flower before setting into the crusade. The fleur de lis was on the shield of the royalty of France until the revolution, when the fleur de lis became but a memory-full decoration. The symbol roled in the history channels and later became the symbol of the scouts’ youth.

Irises are a beautiful flower and a challenge for artists. The famous Iris paints were made by Vincent van-Gogh.

Irises by Vincent van-Gogh


Some other artists made paints of Irises, trying to catch a glimpse of the Irises’ Beauty and royalty.

Iris by Basilius Besler

Zen Iris by Gladding

Iris, 1929 by Georgia O`Keeffe



Irises cultivation

Iris cultivation probably started with the Egyptians or the Romans. The rhizomes were used for medical and perfumery uses. The breath-taking blooming Iris fields around Firenze (Florence), Italy, are the fuel of the big industry of cosmetics. In Germany, Iris roots used for the beer production, while in France it was used for enrich the wine bouquet. In Russia, Iris root flavored a soft drink that was made with honey and ginger, and in England it was added to flavor the brandy.

The most common use of Irises in the 21st century is garden cultivation as an ornamental flower. In the Giardino Dell’Iris locating south to Firenze, a yearly competition of cultivars is held in May, accompanied by a beautiful presentation of rainbow-coloured Iris flowers. Many societies of Iris lovers and cultivators exist, and one is expertise in the Oncocyclus and Regalia sections: Aril Society International.

In Israel, David Shahak did a great deal of Oncocyclus cultivation at Kibutz Tirat-Tzvi in the Jordan rift valley. His major achievement is the possibility to cultivate and propagate this challenging group. By hybridising the species he created few of the most beautiful flowers on earth (objectively…).


Iris as conservation symbol

The Oncocyclus Irises are the most large and beautiful flowers in Israel and Jordan. The royal symbol of the Jordanian kings is the Black Iris of Amman region (Iris nigricans). In Israel, one of the first struggles of the Society for Protection the Nature in Israel (SPNI) was to rescue the Irises on Mount Gilboa (Iris haynei). The millions of Iris flowers blooming every March on the mountain are the evidence for the victory of the nature lovers. Therefore, the Iris became the symbol of the SPNI in memory for the success of the conservation efforts.







Introduction page


Royal Irises in Culture and Art


Species list - maps and flowering time


Genetics and Morphology Research


Pollination of the Royal Irises


Iris Links and Miscelanous


The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Rotem - Israel Plants Information Center

The Society for the Protection the Nature in Israel

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