Here in southern Oregon, we’re fortunate to have a nice selection of native Iris available for our gardens. While our native Iris lack the in-your-face showiness of their Bearded Iris relatives, they do have a lovely, refined look to them that many gardeners prefer. They’re also tough, sturdy plants that are both deer-resistant and relatively drought tolerant.
Native Iris do best in sunny to light-shade areas, and work beautifully in borders, or as part of a woodland garden. They bloom from March into late June (depending upon species) and only require occasional water during the summer months – because these plants are already adapted to our summer-dry Mediterranean climate. In addition, most species feature colorful ‘veins’ on the flowers that serve as nectar guides for bees and other pollinators.
The one requirement these plants do have is that they require well-drained soil. If your soil tends toward clay, plant them on a slight mound so excess water can drain away from their crowns quickly – or plant them in pots!
Here are a few species of native Iris that Shooting Star carries regularly:
Iris bracteata: Also known as Siskiyou Iris, this lovely plant is endemic to the Klamath-Siskiyou region of southern Oregon and northern California. Flowers are generally creamy white to pale yellow, with contrasting veins of a rich brownish-purple. Plants feature slender leaves, and grow between 6-12” tall.
Iris chrysophylla: Another Iris from southern Oregon and Del Norte County, California. Iris chrysophylla is generally a pale yellow with contrasting purple veins. Plants range from 6”-2’ tall, and are easily distinguished from I. bracteata by their extremely long floral tube.
Iris douglasiana: Named after Scottish botanist David Douglas, Iris douglasiana can vary widely in color – from nearly white with blue accents to a rich deep purple. They also prefer part-sun to full shade in the garden, and like water every 2 to 4 weeks during the summer months. If you have encountered a blue Iris while hiking along the coast, it was probably Douglas Iris!
Iris tenax: Also known as Tough-Leafed Iris, ranging from southwest Washington to northern Oregon. In the wild, it is usually found along roadsides and in grasslands and forest openings. Flowers are generally lavender-blue in color, and plants grow in tight clumps – about 1-1/5’ tall. Unlike most other Iris, Tough-leafed Iris does not like to be divided.
Pacific Coast Hybrids: Pacific Coast Iris hybrids are the real showstoppers of the group. Flowers come in an incredible range of colors – blues, purples, reds, oranges, browns, and multicolors; often with showy ruffled petals. They’re also the fussiest of the bunch (but well worth the effort!): they don’t tolerate clay soils or watering during the heat of the day, and prefer not to be divided every year.
If you’d like to try creating your own native Iris hybrids, it’s easy to do – and a lot of fun. Since most of the Iris described above have similar cultural requirements, you can create mixed plantings of several species. Iris hybridize freely – just collect the seeds when they are ripe, grow them out, and see what exciting color variations you come up with!