Iris Family

Blue-eyed Grass © DSchiel

Iridaceae (eye-rid-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Flattened sprays of sword-shaped leaves
  • Flower parts in threes

Description (Jepson)

  • Monocotyledons (monocots) – monocots are a major lineage of flowering, mostly herbaceous plants, generally characterized by
    • Single seed leaf (cotyledon)
    • Linear or oblong leaves with parallel venation
    • Flower parts in threes
    • Pollen grains with a single pore
    • Vascular bundles scattered in stem
    • Fibrous root system
  • Perennial herbs
  • Geophytes (plants with underground storage organs)
    • Grow from bulbs (short underground stems with fleshy leaves, e.g. onion), corms (short, solid underground stems), or rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Leaves
    • Usually basal, simple (not divided into leaflets), and alternate (one leaf at each junction with stem)
    • Sword-shaped, often with a distinct central fold
    • Sheathing the stem, in a flattened, fan-like arrangement
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) in small groups or single flower, emerging from a distinct pair of bracts (modified leaves)
    • Bisexual, radially or bilaterally symmetric, saucer or funnel shaped flowers
      • 3 petals and 3 colorful sepals (outer flower parts)
      • 3 stamen (versus 6 stamen of Lily family members)
    • Ovary usually inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


  • 2,050 species worldwide, especially in Africa
    • Grow in a great variety of habitats, especially in climates with long dry or cold periods
    • Includes irises, gladiolas, freesias, and crocuses
  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • Scientific and common name from the included genus Iris, named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, referring to the flower colors
  • Represented by 7 species at Edgewood, only 2 of which are native

See General References

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family