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FLORA OF THE VALLEY

Iris

May 31, 1987|MAYERENE BARKER

Irises, noted for their beautiful, showy blossoms, belong to one of the largest and most remarkably diverse of all flora families.

More than 1,500 species grow in gardens and in the wild throughout the world. They vary in color and form, and most flower in spring or early summer.

Irises are complex in structure. The three inner petals usually are erect, arching or flaring, whereas three outer petals hang or curve backward. The flowers are clustered at the top of long stalks, and the usually deep-green leaves are either swordlike or grasslike in shape.

The species known as the bearded iris (Iris barbata) , characterized by tufts of hair, has the most varieties, which have been developed through years of hybridizing. The creeping stems and bulbs of cultivated flowers are sometimes stewn upon the urban landscape.

Several irises are native to California. The western blue flag iris, a pale blue or blue-violet blooming flower, grows from dense clumps in meadows and on stream banks in Southern California. Bearded irises, such as those pictured here on Mulholland Drive in Calabasas, grow in most colors except red and green. Appropriately, iris is Greek for "rainbow."

Some bearded irises grow as tall as four feet, while others reach heights of only about 10 inches. The blossoms are from two to five inches across.

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