Dwarf Iris

There are well over 200 different species of Iris. The most familiar one, the Dutch Iris, blooms in the summer (typically in June or July), so I won't deal with it here. Iris species that bloom in the spring are much shorter than the Dutch Iris. Therefore, they are usually referred to as Dwarf Irises.

The two species of Iris I will describe here are both commonly referred to as Dwarf Irises. These are the Iris reticulata and the Iris danfordiae.

Iris reticulata

The wild Iris reticulata occurs in and around the Caucasus mountains (in Turkey, the Republic of Georgia, etc.). This wild Iris has been extensively cultivated, resulting in over a dozen different named varieties, most in beautiful shades of blue and purple. The Iris reticulata is the species of Dwarf Iris which is most often sold commercially.

Iris reticulata bloom very early in the spring. The flower is quite large in relationship to the plant as a whole, and has a wonderful fragrance, somewhat like a violet. They are very easy to grow: not only will they come back year after year, but, given half a chance, they will even multiply. What more could you ask for?

The Iris reticulata varieties "Harmony" and "J.S. Dijt" are very popular, and, so, are easy to find commercially. However, other varieties are not equally easy to locate. For the less common varieties, you might start by looking at: McClure & Zimmerman, Botanus, Brent and Becky's Bulbs or Fraser's Thimble Farms.

Iris danfordiae

Also referred to as a Dwarf Iris is the species Iris danfordiae. It shares most of the characteristics of the Iris reticulata except that: (a) it is a bright canary yellow, and (b) when left in the ground, the bulbs break up into bulblets. As a result, it may take quite a while for these Irises to re-bloom in subsequent years.

Both species and all their varieties have a fragrance. This is also indicated by the use of the asterisk asterisk (*) after the name of each variety in the list of example varieties.

Flowering time:very early spring

Dwarf Irises typically bloom after Snowdrops, but before Giant Dutch Crocuses

Plant height:4" - 6" (10 - 15 cm)
Minimum planting depth:4" (10 cm)
Hardiness zones:suitable for zones 5 - 9

may also be suitable for zones 3 and 4 if a deep mulch is used on the bed in the fall

Colours:Iris reticulata: white, blue, purple; may have yellow markings
Iris danfordiae: canary yellow with brown speckles
Shape/form:relatively large (iris-shaped) flowers on a short stem
Alternate names:Rockgarden Iris, Miniature Iris
Latin names: Iris reticulata; second species: Iris danfordiae
Notes:good for rock gardens, under shrubs and trees, in beds, borders, and containers and for indoor forcing; needs a well drained soil
Examples of Iris reticulata varieties:Cantab* (light blue), Harmony* (deep sky blue), Ida* (lobelia blue with dark blue spots and yellow blotches), Iris reticulata* (dark purple), Joyce* (sky blue), J.S. Dijt* (deep purple-violet and reddish purple), Katharine Hodgkin* (pale blue and yellow), Natascha* (ice blue and white with golden yellow blotches), Pauline* (purple with white blotches), Purple Gem* (violet-purple and plum purple)

Ida Natascha Harmony


J.S.Dijt Iris danfordiae Purple Gem


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Last modified: October 12, 2008