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■ (SPEC) Iris xiphium L.

1753, botanical author: Linneaus

Iris xiphium L. (Carl Linnaeus, 1753, Southern Spain, Portugal, Southern France); Subgenus Xiphium Flowers 1 or 2, blue or violet, occasionally white, yellow, bronze or bicolored, blade of falls with orange or yellow blotch, leaves grayish green, Spring-early Summer flowering. (2n=34).

See below:

Iris-xiphium-61.jpgIris-xiphium-71.jpgIris xiphium lusitanica KWW 1.jpgXiphium355edited.jpgXiphium c686.jpg


Linnaeus in Species Plantarum ed. 1: 40. 1753;
Dickson 1794;
Dykes, The Genus Iris 213. 1913;
Rootstock, an ovate bulb covered with thin membranous tunics not splitting into fibres at the apex and producing bulblets ini pairs on opposite sides at the base (see Plate XLIII).
Leaves , 12-24 in. long, glaucous, channelled.
Stem , 12-18 in. high, usually with only one head of flowers but occasionally a very strong bulb will produce a side branch, very similar to those of I. spuria.
Spathe valves , up to 4 or 5 in. long, narrow, green, 1-2-flowered.
Pedicel , varying in length, often equal to, or a little longer than, the spathes, that of the second flower being the shorter.
Ovary , 1-1¼ in. long, oblong, narrow, usually exserted from the spathes.
Tube , practically none.
Falls . The suborbicular blade is separated by a gradual and slight constriction from the oblong-oval haft. The colour is very variable but there is always a yellow or orange streak or patch on the blade. The oblique veining on the sides of the haft is usually conspicuous.
Standards , oblanceolate-unguiculate, usually of a slightly different shade of colour to that of the falls.
Styles , broader than the haft of the falls.
Crests , subquadrate, large.
Stigma , bifid, with two rounded teeth.
Filaments , varying in colour.
Anthers , varying in colour.
Pollen , yellow or orange.
Capsule , long and narrow (2-3 in.), with a hollow running down each face (cf. Fig. 27).
Seeds , small, yellow-brown, thick D-shaped, compressed.

There is little doubt that Linnaeus included under the one name of I. xiphium both that species and also I. xiphioides. This is clear from the fact that he quotes C. Bauhin, Pinax, p.38 I. bulbosa latifolia, caule donata, which is almost certainly I. xiphioides, and also the Hortus Cliffortianus which refers us to Bauhin's I. bulbosa lutea inodora, which in its turn is based on Clusius, Hisp. p. 276 I. bulbosa angustifolia flore luteo, which is undoubtedly a form of I. xiphium. (Cf. the specimen, named I. xiphium, in the Smithian Herbarium at the Linnaean Society which is opviously I. xiphioides.)

This confusion is the more surprising in view of the fact that in this case, as in several others, Clusius was well aware of the difference between the two species and carefully described them both. There are doubtless many forms of this Iris even in the wild state but we should scarcely be justified in separating as species forms which differ merely in size or in the time at which they flower. The largest, as well as the earliest, form is probably that which is known to dealers as "I. filifolia." It has nothing to do with the true I. filifolia, as will be seen by comparing Plates XLIII and XLIV. The pseudo-filifolia has the characteristic short tube of I. xiphium, while that of I. filifolia is always of some length. Another obvious difference is to be found in the shape of the standards. This pseudofilifolia flowers in April and May and grows apparently in the neighbourhood of Gibraltar, while the true plant grows actually on the Rock itself.

On the other hand, at an altitude of over 5000 feet, further north, specimens of I. xiphium are found which do not flower until August or September. The Roquehaute form also flowers late.

Many garden forms of this Iris have long been known. Gerard in his Herball ( I 597) mentions among "certaine bulbose or Onion rooted Flower-de-luces" an Iris bulbosa jlore vario and the name probably means that he knew more than one form of the plant. The Hortus Eystettensis (1613) has about a dozen forms and in Simula's Flora exotica ( I 720, BM) eight varieties are depicted.

In recent years many fine large-flowered forms have been introduced into cultivation under the name of Dutch Irises. These were raised by the well-known firm of C. G. Van Tubergen, Junr., of Haarlem, who tell me that I. Boissieri, I. tingitana, and other species were used as well as I. xiphium. The pollen of these species seems however to have had little effect except in increasing the vigour of the plants and the size of the flowers, for I can see no trace in any of the specimens that I have grown or seen illustrated of the long perianth tube that is found in all the species except in I. xiphium. It may be that the absence of tube is dominant over its presence and that specimens with obvious linear perianth tubes will occur in the next generation of these hybrids, but on the other hand there is no doubt that hybrids with flowers at least <).S early and as fine as those of these Dutch Irises can be obtained by crossing the early form of I. xiphium already described, and for which I. xiphium var. praecox would be a not inappropriate name, with pollen of garden varieties of I. xiphium. This, at least, has certainly been the result of some crosses which I made several years ago and from which I have obtained a number of fine seedlings, which come into flower in the last week of May. The absence of the linear perianth tube in any of these so-called Dutch Irises is the more remarkable because there is in existence a hybrid of I. tingitana crossed with pollen of I. xiphium, raised by Foster, in which the linear tube is half an inch or more long. This hybrid is of great garden value for the growth and the flowers are practically identical with those of I. tingitana and yet the plants flower freely and the flowers survive when those of I. tingitana succumb in the bud stage to late spring frosts. In 1912 this hybrid was actually in flower in the open on April 15th in Surrey. For the cultivation of I. xiphium, see the introduction to the section, p. 210.
Curtis's Botanical Magazine 18: tab. 686. 1803,
Bulb oblong-ovate with a brown fibro-membranous integument. Leaves (which are above ground in the Winter) long-subulate, subcepaceous, compressed-channelled, caudately-cuspidate upwards, outwards carinate, lineate, inwards polished, with a silvery gloss, about equal to the stem; root ones 2—3, sheathing downwards; cauline 3—4; stem upright, round > geniculate, furnished with leaves at the joints, which are longer than the internodes and remotely subimbricate; involucre one rarely two-flowered, 2 — 3-valved, valves 3 — 4 inches long, herbaceous, oblong-lanceolate, convolutely conduplicate, inner valve longer than the outer; peduncle as long or longer than the involucre, 3 — 4 times longer than germen; tube short, hollow, suburceolate; outer segments divaricately patent, nearly rotate and somewhat the shortest, their ungues beardless, lanceolate-oblong, subconvolute-concave, firm, traversed by a (lightly elevated ridge or keel, which is continued to about the middle of the laminae, than which they are twice longer, round-ovate, entire, and but little recurved ; inner segments oblanceolate, erect-patent, ernarginate, unguiculately narrowed and convolute downwards; (style thick trigonal, length of the tube; stigmas recurved-patent, nearly the length of the outer segments, rather broader than the upper part of their ungues, spathulate-oblong, keeled-convex, with the fide-edges but (lightly revolute; inner lip round-ovate, bipartite, segments (lightly divergent, subundulate, crenulately gnawn; outer lip nearly obsolete, truncate, notched; germen an oblong, obtusely trigonal shaft, twice shorter than the corolla; filaments about the length of the anthers. Capsule oblong-triquetral, a— 3 times shorter than peduncle; seeds vertical, oblong, truncately flat at both ends from mutual pressure, upper and lower ones generally angled. Flowers expand in May, and have a flight smell of coriander-seed.

A native of Spain, growing, according to Clusius, in the country about Valladolid, to Quer (who by the bye speaks of a plant with white outer laminae) in the green-oak woods of both the Castiles; Desfontaines tells us he found it in Algiers; but it remains to be ascertained if he means the precise species we are now describing. It is perfectly hardy and propagates rapidly by offsets, of which it produces abundance; cultivated here in 1633, by Gerarde.

The best roots are said to be those annually imported by the seedsmen from Holland, There are many varieties of it, but not so many as usually supposed; on this head we shall however defer our observations till we have an opportunity of further confirmation; we suspect many to be hybrids between xiphioides, lusitanica, juncea, our present plant, and perhaps also alata, and probably yet more perfectly distinct fpecies, --G
-Red. Lil. 337. 1812,
JACQUIN Aîné, Iris Xiphion, Annales de Flore et de Pomone, 1836, p. 82 + illustration.
Lynch, The Book of Iris 154. 1904


Spanish Iris; Iris coronaria, Salisb.; Iris lusitanica, Ker-Gawl; Iris serotina, Willk.; Iris spectabilis, Spach; Iris Taitii, Fos.; Iris Xiphion; Iris variabilis, Jacq.; var. Mestrius; Xiphium sordidum, Soland. ex Salisb.; Xiphium verum, Schrank; Xiphium vulgare, Miller.

Not to be confused with Iris xiphium Dezf. A synonym of Iris fontanesii Godr. or Iris xiphium Jac. A synonym of Iris latifolia Miller.

Chromosome counts

2n=34, Colasante & Sauer, 1993; 2n=34, Pérez & Pastor, 1994.


Botanical varieties
Iris xiphium L
Garden Varieties
There are selections of I. xiphium that have been given cultivar names and that may still be in commerce include; 'Afterglow'; 'Cajanus'; 'Count of Nassau'; 'Hercules', 'King Of The Whites', 'King of the Yellows'; 'Prince Henry'; 'Queen Wilhelmina';
Many cultivars were available in the past but no longer extant. View a history of these cultivars at Spanish Iris Cultivar History


The hybrids of this species are normally called Dutch Iris or Iris xhollandica

Distribution and Cultivation

Distribution: The distribution of the species gives clues as to its cultural requirements, although plants in cultivation can often tolerate a wider range of variables:

The species is found in the following region: Western & Central Mediterranean: in the following states: Corsica, France, Portugal, Sardenia, Spain, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia

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-- Main.RPries - 2010-02-04
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
Iris-xiphium-61.jpgjpg Iris-xiphium-61.jpg manage 194 K 21 Jan 2015 - 12:57 BobPries Rafaek Diez Dominguez photo
Iris-xiphium-71.jpgjpg Iris-xiphium-71.jpg manage 203 K 21 Jan 2015 - 12:56 BobPries Rafael Diez Dominguez photo
Iris_xiphium_lusitanica_KWW_1.jpgjpg Iris_xiphium_lusitanica_KWW_1.jpg manage 54 K 30 Jan 2015 - 03:54 Main.KWalker Photo by Ken Walker; var. lusitanica
Xiphium355edited.jpgjpg Xiphium355edited.jpg manage 67 K 11 Jan 2012 - 16:49 UnknownUser Xiphium bulbs Pries photo
Xiphium_c686.jpgjpg Xiphium_c686.jpg manage 17 K 11 Jan 2012 - 17:06 UnknownUser Curtis Botanical Magazine
Topic revision: r26 - 09 Aug 2018, BobPries
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