The genus name derives from the Greek word for rainbow; and the species name comes from the Latin “rete”, meaning net and referring to the netted or reticulated pattern on the dry bulbs of the dwarf iris. In Greek mythology Iris, the messenger of the gods, is represented by the rainbow, which forms a bridge between the heavens and earth.
The American Iris Society dates from January 29th, 1920 whose members are dedicated plant scientists, hybridizers, enthusiastic growers and gardeners from all across the world.
There are approximately 200–300 species of Iris in a rainbow of colors, yet the quest for newer varieties never ceases. The structure of the flower has a discernible rhythm of three divisions. The three outer sepals which drape downwards are called the “falls.” The three inner lobes or true petals which grow upright, are “standards”, with remarkably distinct characteristics, colors and markings. Then the third feature is the “beard,” a tuft of short vertical extensions growing in the midline, to a broader section or limb with captivating patterns. The dwarf iris is not “bearded” and it springs from bulbs, not rhizomes.
The ultra-stylized form of the iris is reflected in the fleur-de-lis (despite the literal translation = lily flower), which was emblematic of the French court for centuries. The iris has inspired not just painters but manuscript illuminations and designers of textiles, tapestries, stationery and interiors. The perfume industry relies on rhizomes (called orris root in the trade) of certain irises, as a base note or fixative while sophisticated brands of gin use the root for the distinctive flavor it imparts.
I. reticulata, while native to Russia, the Caucasus and northern Iran, is now widely cultivated in temperate regions. It is a particular favorite in rock gardens notwithstanding its painfully short blooming period. Its leaves, or scapes, unlike the broad fan-shaped foliage of most other iris, are grass-like in appearance. The petite flowers are of an intense purple with the falls displaying a dazzling gold central crest amidst a scatter of tear-shaped white spots. Its arrival in early spring, along with crocuses and snowdrops, is a most welcome sight and a clear message (perhaps from Iris, the Olympian messenger?) that Persephone is on her way with the promise of light and warmth.