Also known as winter iris, this evergreen herbaceous perennial is native to north Africa, Greece, Turkey and Syria. It is a member of the iris family, Iridaceae, that also includes crocus, gladiolus, and blue-eyed grass. The plants grow from a rhizome and form clumps of tough, grassy, dark green leaves up to 2′ long. The leaves are evergreen, have lengthwise low rides, and tend to arch to the side with maturity. Between late fall and early spring, short flowering shoots appear below the foliage bearing a single lavender to deep purple flower that is fragrant and 2-3″ across. The falls have a yellow blotch near their base and the flags lack a blotch but may have a flush of reddish-purple near their base. The fruit is a capsule containing numerous seeds. Algerian iris is a good choice for rock, Mediterranean, fragrance, and winter gardens. All parts of the plant are toxic to humans, cats, dogs, and horses. The genus name, Iris, honors the Greek goddess of the rainbow due to the huge variation in flower color of the genus.  The specific epithet, unguicularis,  is from the Latin word, unguis meaning claw’ and refers to the shape of its flower.

Type: Evergreen herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Lavender to deep purple fragrant flowers between late fall and early spring

Size: 1-2′ H x 1-2′ W

Light: Part shade to full sun

Soil: Average, dry, well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline; drought tolerant but must never dry out entirely.

Hardiness: Zones 7-9

Care: Remove dying foliage and old stems after flowering.

Pests and Diseases: Susceptible to damage by snails, slugs, grey molds, bacterial soft rot, and a virus.

Propagation: Division mid summer to early fall; resents being disturbed

Companion Plants: Mediterranean spurge, Japanese quince, early crocus

Outstanding Selections:

‘Alba’ (white but more tender that species)

‘Great White’ (large white flowers with yellow strip on outer tepals)

 I. unguicularis subsp. cretensis (dwarf)

‘Mary Bernard’ (rich violet flowers)

‘Peloponnese Snow’ (white flowers with hints of orange and purple)

‘Walter Butt’ (very large pale silver orchid flowers)

Photo Credit: Feloidea, Wikimedia Commons

By Karen