Oh, Happy Day!

It’s been three years since I transplanted one of my favorite winter-blooming plants, Iris unquicularis, from my previous garden to the new. I’ve read this species prefers to remain in an undisturbed location, which I assume is true, as it’s just begun to flower again in the last couple of months. I found the first bloom in December but it was already ruined by cold. This happy morning I was thrilled to discover this perfect bloom as it was just beginning to open.

Iris unquicularis

Iris unquicularis

Iris unquicularis typically flowers here in good weather between November and March. Commonly called the winter iris or the Algerian iris, the perennial is native to Greece, the Near East, and northern Africa. To thrive, experts say it requires a sunny location with neutral to acidic well-drained soil, coupled with high temperatures and scant moisture in summer. Certainly, these conditions proved true in my previous garden.

Of the many varieties, most have pale lavender or vibrant purple blooms while others offer white or pink flowers. Foliage is also variable, ranging from narrow, grass-like spears to wider blades that are slightly more succulent, in hues from bright green to nearly blue.

Flowers do not grow on a stem but are nestled among the foliage on a perianth tube. Although they never last more than a few days, they can be cut and brought inside for a small floral display. In the garden I’m rarely able to detect a scent; inside, however, they have a sweet fragrance resembling violets, strong enough to perfume a room.

In my current garden, the iris grows in the sunniest spot, which gets nearly full sun in winter and roughly four to five hours of sun during the growing season when the deciduous trees are in full canopy. It is tucked just behind a low stone wall, which ensures good drainage and summer heat. As you can see from the photo, this winter’s extreme cold has damaged a good bit of the foliage.

Do you grow this plant? I would love to hear from others who have experience to share.

19 thoughts on “Oh, Happy Day!

  1. Will

    Wonderful, Marian! I keep seeing this in the pictures of my friends’ gardens in the Mediterranean, and I see it showing up with greater and greater frequency in the catalogs (there are a half-dozen in the new Plant Delights list!), so it’s clear I must start growing these treasures. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. ginnytalbert

    I’ve not grown this sweet, delicate beauty, Marian. But I do grow the iris x histroides ‘katherine hodgkin’, which is also one of the small, dainty looking early bloomers (not up yet, gardens still have 6″ of snow). Enjoy your little treasure!

  3. Pauline

    Such a lovely iris. We have one which started flowering at the beginning of December I,unguicularis Mary Barnard and one, I unguicularis Walter Butt, which started flowering in January and is still covered in flowers now. They certainly make me feel that spring is almost with us.

  4. Terry Gentry

    After walking today I saw my iris blooming and posted on facebook and then came in and saw your post—they must be sisters

  5. beth jimenez

    I do grow it Marian and love to divide the clump every few years and spread it around.It’s such a sweet little iris and always,always makes me smile.Thanks for the lovely picture and the recognition…it’s a real treasure and everybody ought to have some to enjoy.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Carol–the winter iris and the dwarf crested iris (I. cristata) are two different species, so no, they are not the same. Iris cristata is native to the eastern US, blooms in spring rather than winter, and requires light shade, rich soil, and regular moisture.

  6. aneye4detail

    I really….hope to go over to Plant Delights this weekend. What a treat that place is.
    I love these iris and definitely need to work with some early bloomers. My daffodils are just about ready to pop, and now it’s going to get cold again next week? Crazy weather indeed!

  7. Nancy Shannon

    Is this also called blue bearded iris. I have them nd they are so hardy that I accidentally threw some bulbs in the woods with brush and they bloomed. The bulbs multiply and multiply. I have given tons away. They are very prolific.

    Sent from my iPad


  8. Christina

    I love this Iris too, I found the first flowers on mine on New Year’s Eve and used some blooms in a table decoration. I need to move some of the clump mine is forming but have hesitated because I know they don’t like being disturbed, I think I’ll add some to my new Spring Walk to increase the colour early on.


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