What Is It Wednesday: Blue Flag Iris

Name: Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

Also known as: Blue Wild Iris, American Fleur-de-lis, Northern Blue Flag, Water Flag

Striking in colour and familiar in shape, Blue Flag Iris is easily recognizable once you know what you’re looking at. The flower consists of three large, curving sepals that are blueish-purple at the ends and yellow with white near the centre. From the centre of the sepals rises three small petals that are stiff and upright and are usually paler than the sepals. These flowers grow in groups of 3-5 on top of stalks that grow 50 cm tall. The stalks rise from a clump of long, sword-shaped leaves which create a dense covering of foliage, and its tough, hardy roots help the plant to expand its range across its habitat. Blue Flag Iris blooms from May-August and produces seeds within an oblong capsule once its flowers have fallen. Its native range extends from Manitoba to Nova Scotia and is considered the most expansive range for a native iris.

Blue Flag Iris LOVES rich, wet soil. It usually grows in wetland habitats like marshes and swamps, wet spots within woods and meadows, and along shorelines of lakes, ponds, and rivers. It can even grow while submerged in 5-7.5 cm of standing water! Very few pollen-bearing plants grow in these types of environments, which makes Blue Flag Iris that much more valuable, as it may be the main food source for pollinators in that area.

Historically, the leaves of Blue Flag Iris were used to weave mats and baskets by Indigenous peoples, and the root was used medicinally to relieve constipation and vomiting and to treat liver problems and other ailments. It is not recommended to ingest any part of Blue Flag Iris as it is poisonous to eat.

Fun Fact: Blue Flag Iris is used in perfumes. The root is crushed into a powder and adds the fragrance of violets to the final product.