Iris – German or Dutch?

German Iris

German Iris

A couple of days ago a local garden center posted on their blog about transplanting iris. The information was good for those growing bearded German iris but the post included a picture that was all wrong. Instead of a German iris flower it showed the flowers of Dutch iris . While these two plants are both iris, the way they grow is completely different and the information was all wrong for Dutch iris. You would think a garden center and its “garden guy” would have caught this mistake!

There are almost 300 different species of the genus Iris. While most of these are wildflowers or non-cultivated varieties, there are a number of different iris species that can be grown in the garden. But when you get right down to it, there are basically two kinds of iris with which people are familiar – bearded German iris (Iris germanica) and Dutch iris (Iris tingitana x Iris xiphium).

Dutch Iris

Dutch Iris

Dutch iris aren’t grown a lot in gardens but if you ever get a flower arrangement from a florist that has iris in it, you’ll be getting Dutch iris. These spring-flowering plants come in white, yellow, blue, purple and various combinations of these colors and they grow from a bulb that’s planted in the fall like tulips and daffodils. Dutch iris blossom in the late spring and die down in the summer like other spring-flowering bulbs. Since this flower grows from a bulb, growers can plant and force them to bloom throughout the year to provide the floral  industry with iris. While I like these flowers, they’re often hard to find. I was lucky enough to locate some bulbs locally last year and they’re blooming now.

Iris Beard

Iris Beard

While Dutch iris are the iris florists know, when most people think of iris, they’re thinking of the bearded German iris. These large flowers typically have 6 petals, three of them are upright (standards) and three of them drape downwards (falls). This iris are called bearded because on the falls is a fuzzy caterpillar-like structure that points into the center of the flower. These beards have no specific function other than possibly directing bees to the pistil and stamens of the flower.

German iris come in all kinds of colors and variations. In some of the more interesting varieties (at least in my opinion!), the falls and standards are different color. While the Dutch iris is a spring bulb, the German iris is a spring-flowering perennial that grow from rhizomes, modified stems that serve as storage organs. In order for German iris to thrive, these rhizomes need to be at the surface of the soil and not buried in the ground.

While German iris are a great spring flower, more and more varieties of this iris are re-blooming. The main time for flowering is still spring for these re-bloomers. But if the conditions are right, the plant can also flower in the fall. The re-bloomers that I have blossom in the fall about every other year. While the show isn’t as impressive as in the spring, there’s something kind of amazing about seeing iris blooming with the chrysanthemums.

Well, I sent an email to the “garden guy” pointing out that the picture didn’t match the article – I’d want someone to point it out to me if I did this. But whether he changes the picture or not, there is a big difference between Dutch and German iris both in looks and culture. But they’re both great plants for the garden.

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2 responses to “Iris – German or Dutch?

  1. Working in a garden center myself, and sometimes making the same mistake as the garden guy did, I’m always glad when people point out my mistakes. I am responsible for knowing the growing habits and mature sizes of literally 1,000s of plants. I don’t always know that, or sometimes I am in such a hurry (garden centers can be frantic places to work!) that I do mess up, much like this guy did. It’s a bit embarrassing and so always welcome when a customer politely points it out! I”m sure you did him a favor. Tomorrow I will give a bulb seminar (hour long) for customers at our store. Your information here was quite helpful on the difference of the iris. Thank you, I will include it in my seminar. The best to you in your garden!

    • Thanks so much for your comments! I can understand how easy it is to put the wrong picture with a given article. I also appreciate hearing the perspective of those creating the articles: busyness, time-pressures and the vast amount of plant material that you’re expected to know. Best of luck with your seminar and glad I could be of help!

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