Bearded irises grow beautifully in my arid garden. And this is their moment. (Early on, in March, my wooded areas host Siberian iris, tiny assurances that spring is truly on its way.)

bearded iris

Irises are named for the Greek rainbow goddess and are said to free the soul from the body. Greeks and Romans decorated tombs with iris. Perhaps this is why they’re still popular in cemeteries. That they’re easy to care for might be another reason.

Iris was a messenger of the gods and Hera’s handmaiden, a goddess of sea and sky–her father was Thaumas, an ocean god, and her mother was Elektra, a cloud-nymph. Coastal-dwelling Greeks believed Iris replenished the rain-clouds with water from the sea.

Iris, Athenian red-figure lekythos ca. 5th BCE

In ritual work or just around the house, the plant is used for purification, fresh flowers placed in the area to be cleansed. The root of so-called Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima) was used all over Europe and Greece as a purgative, sometimes mixed in beer.

stinking iris

The wild yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus) produces black, blue-grey and dark green dyes. The seeds can be roasted as a coffee substitute.


The three points of the iris symbolize faith, wisdom and valor.