In the first week of February, I cycled past this lovely front yard. Basking in the winter sunshine are some very early flowers. I know about snowdrops blooming in January & snow crocus flowering by Valentine’s Day… but iris? These aren’t the dwarf iris reticulata we have in our garden. These are different.
These are Iris unguicularis… aka Algerian iris or winter iris. This evergreen is native to dry Mediterranean regions. We have a very similar climate in the Pacific Northwest, so it can grow here, too. It might be set back by the occasional snowstorm, but it pulls through.
Blossoms start opening as early as November & continue until spring. An unusual feature is that the flowers nestle, protected, near the base of the leaves. Look closely: in this yard, the gardener trims the leaves to the same height the flowers bloom at. Better to see the blooms.
Back in January (2016), at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, I saw Iris unguicularis with full leaf. The flowers bloom inside the clump, almost hidden. To my mind, the clump looks a little messy.
It’s a tough call – trim back the leaves or not? Letting them grow natural is not as showy but probably better for overwintering insects. I reckon I can put up with messy if it means the beneficials are snug & warm, and I’m still seeing flowers in January.
Here’s the same clump 5 weeks later. The winter aconites are almost done. The Hellebores are blooming like mad. The narcissi are opening. And the winter iris is still blooming. 🙂
That’s enough to prove to me Algerian iris is a keeper. But there are even more reasons why I’m a fan:
- The flowers are fragrant.
- It’s deer & rabbit resistant (probably because it’s poisonous).
- It’s happy in part shade under deciduous trees – or the sunny base of evergreens.
- It survives our summer drought.
Wouldn’t it make sense that every garden in Victoria would have some Algerian iris? I suppose most nurseries don’t carry it because most shoppers don’t show up in winter to purchase plants. By the time we show up in April & May, this iris looks inconspicuous amongst the jewels of spring.
I want to find some anyway. It’s my new mission.
Other January gems in the Pacific Northwest:
6 thoughts on “Winter Iris”
This is a fabulous plant (or so I understand) I first heard of it in Beverly Nicholas’ 1951 novel Merry Hall. Back then, it was called ‘Iris stylosa’, and in the book he says “One of my grandfathers died of a clump of iris stylosa; it enticed him from a sick bed on an angry evening in January, luring him through the snow-drifts with its blue and silver flames; he died of double pneumonia a few days later”. The fragrance is the thing, apparently.
Very lovely flowers! I think I’d agree with you in not trimming back the leaves, but for a different reason – I like a plant that looks crazy.
Are you getting any plants ready to put in the ground in spring?
Yeah, I get you. I too have an affinity for crazy-looking plants. And yup, there are a few plants started under grow lights – – mostly veggies & companion flowers to ward off aphids & such. In our courtyard, there are a fair number of plant divisions settling into pots in preparation of the garden club’s spring plant sale. 🙂