Iris Flower Meanings & Symbolism + Iris Planting & Care

Iris Flower Meanings

Iris flower meanings include nobility, chivalry, wisdom, messages, faith, and purity. With nearly 300 species that come in a variety of colors, the iris has inspired storytellers and artists for centuries. In this post, you’ll learn about iris meanings, including color and spiritual meanings. In addition, you’ll learn about iris planting and care.

What does the iris symbolize?

  • Nobility
  • Chivalry
  • Wisdom
  • Messages
  • Faith and Hope
  • Purity

Detailed Iris Symbols and Meanings

Here are some of the qualities that the iris represents:

Nobility

Long associated with royalty, the iris embodies nobility in its ideal form. These qualities include leading by example and with service instead of fear. Thus, iris flowers make ideal gifts for people whom you look up to and who have inspired you in some way.

Chivalry

Knights with fleur-de-lis

The iris is also a symbol of chivalry. In our modern world, some may think of chivalry as holding the door open for another person. However, it means much more. In ancient times, chivalry encompassed the knightly code of conduct. This included valor, heroism, justice, honor, and a willingness to help the weak. Thus, the iris was emblazoned on many coats of arms, some in the form of a fleur-de-lis symbol.

Wisdom

Just as some flowers represent innocence, the iris symbolizes wisdom and experience. These complex flowers embody the kind of beauty that gets better with age, as well as the kind of knowledge that can only be gained by life experience.

Messages

Iris flower meaning also includes messages. In Victorian England, giving an iris to someone meant you had a special message for them. And on a spiritual level, like butterfly or hummingbird meaning, the iris is associated with messages from your angels.

Faith and Hope

The iris is also a symbol of faith and hope. So, if you are walking and see irises along your path, it’s a sign that you should find hope and believe in good outcomes, even if you’re feeling pessimistic or down.

Purity

As their name implies, water irises are semi-aquatic species of the flower that grow in water and marshy environments. They are special in that they remove toxins from the environment. In fact, yellow flag irises can be used in sewage treatment because of this special quality.

Because of this, the iris is also a symbol of purity. As with lotus flower or lily flower meaning, the iris can grow in murky or muddy environments, yet still bloom into a beautiful flower. All of these flowers symbolize the ability to transforms our lives for the better.

Iris Flower Color Meanings

Irises comes in a rainbow of colors, and each one has special meanings. Here are some iris color meanings:

Blue Iris Flower Meaning

A blue iris symbolizes spiritual faith, trust, and loyalty. As the saying “a true-blue friend” goes, giving the gift of blue iris flowers, whether bulbs or in a bouquet, is a lovely way to honor to long-term friendship and other trusted relationship. In addition, blue irises symbolize faith in your spiritual path or that of a loved one.

Irises that blue include:

  • Blue Dutch iris varieties (Iris hollandica) – hybrid developed from species in Portugal, Spain, and North Africa
  • Salt marsh or butterfly iris (Iris spuria) – native in Europe, Africa, and Asia
  • Bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe
  • Victoria Falls iris (Iris ‘Victoria Falls’) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe

Purple Iris Flower Meaning

What do purple irises symbolize? Long associated with royalty, the color purple is a way of paying tribute to and honoring another. It’s also the color of pride and confidence. Therefore, purple irises symbolize respect and honor – whether for others or even yourself.

Purple irises make lovely gifts for people who have taught you wisdom, such as parents, teachers, and other mentors. They are also the perfect gift for a 25th wedding anniversary.

In addition, purple iris meaning includes peace and harmony, as it blends two very different colors: cool blue and warm red. Therefore, purple irises are ideal to plant in a peace garden or to give to another as a symbol of goodwill, understanding, and forgiveness.

In addition, violet and purple are the hues associated with the seventh chakra, which rules your super-conscious or spiritual awareness. Therefore, purple irises are lovely flowers to have in a meditation space or garden.

Purple irises include:

  • Dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris) – native to the Great Lakes region of the Eastern U.S.
  • Purple Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana) – native to the Pacific coast of the U.S.
  • Wild flag iris (Iris setosa) – native to Alaska
  • Japanese water iris (Iris ensata) – native to Eastern Asia and Kazakhstan
  • Caesar’s brother iris (Iris ‘Caesar’s brother’) – hybrid derived from Iris sibirica (native to central Europe, northeastern Turkey, and southeastern Russia) and Iris sanguinea (native to Russia, Korea, and Japan)
  • Roof iris (Iris tectorum) – native to central and southwestern China and Myanmar
  • Purple fan iris (Iris virginica) – native to coastal areas of the U.S. from Virginia to Louisiana
  • Stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) – native to southern Europe and North Africa

Red Iris Flower Meaning

Red Iris Flower

A red iris symbolizes security, passion, and faithfulness in romantic love. The color red governs the first chakra, also called the root chakra. This chakra rules your primal instincts and the foundational aspects of your life that provide security. Thus, planting red irises or giving them as gifts is a wonderful symbol of commitment and creating sanctuary in your romantic relationship or home environment.

Red irises include:

  • Copper Iris (Iris fulva) – native to central U.S.
  • Red bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe
  • Red dwarf bearded iris (Iris pumila ‘Red’) – native to central and eastern Europe
  • Louisiana iris (Iris ‘Professor Neil’) – native from southern Louisiana to Florida and the Carolinas
  • Japanese water iris (Iris ensata) – native to Eastern Asia and Kazakhstan

Orange Iris Meaning

An orange iris flower symbolizes courage and wellness. Orange irises make lovely gifts for loved one who are getting a medical procedure or are dealing with health challenges. They can give them confidence and hope that everything will go well. They are also ideal symbols to build your own self-confidence and to energize physical vitality.

Orange irises include:

  • Leopard flower (Iris domestica) – native to China
  • Maid of orange iris or orange bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe

Pink Irises

A pink iris symbolizes renewed faith in love and in chivalry. Thus, they make ideal gifts for friends and family members who have had their hearts broken. The pink iris can help to restore their faith in love and healthy relationships.

Irises that are pink include:

  • Pink Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana) – native to the Pacific coast of the U.S.
  • Stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) – native to southern Europe and North Africa
  • Pink Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) – native to Europe and central Asia
  • Pink bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe

Yellow Iris Flower

Yellow Irises

Yellow iris meaning includes optimism, purity, and passionate faith. Irises, especially some species of yellow irises, are used in water purification, so they are ideal symbols for regeneration and renewal. In the same way, yellow iris meaning also symbolizes the release of sadness or negative emotions that are holding you back. In essence, the yellow iris embodies looking on the bright side and believing in positive outcomes.

Yellow irises include:

  • Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) – native to Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia
  • Yellow Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana) – native to the Pacific coast of the U.S.
  • Yellow Dutch iris (Iris hollandica) – hybrid developed from species in Portugal, Spain, and North Africa

White Iris Flower Meaning

White Irises

Like white butterfly meanings, the white iris symbolizes messages from angels, spiritual faith, and purity. They make ideal gifts for newborns as well as to honor those who have passed on to the spirit realm. In addition, white irises bring hope for new beginnings, so they are ideal flowers for bridal bouquets, wedding and baby showers, christenings, graduations, and retirement gifts.

White irises include:

  • White Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) – native to Europe and central Asia
  • White bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe
  • White Dutch iris (Iris hollandica) – hybrid developed from species in Portugal, Spain, and North Africa
  • White African iris (Dietes iridioides) – native to southern Africa

Brown Irises

A brown iris symbolizes stability, security, and warm feelings. A brown iris is an ideal gift for a friend or someone who has been a teacher or mentor in your life. In essence, the brown iris is the color of soil, which is a building block for life. So, brown irises make lovely gifts for people in your life who are down to Earth and who have provided you with foundational wisdom.

Brown iris flowers include:

  • Chocolate bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe
  • Siva siva bearded iris (Iris germanica ‘Siva siva’) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe
  • Spiced custard tall bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe
  • Gilead iris (Iris atrofusca) – native to Israel and Jordan
  • Lion king Dutch iris (Iris hollandica) – hybrid developed from species in Portugal, Spain, and North Africa

Black Iris Meaning

Black IrisesBlack iris meanings include elegance, independence, wisdom, mystery, and rebellion. The presence of black irises in a garden can bring an enlightening contrast to the flashier flowers. A gift of black irises is a wonderful tribute to someone in your life who is the “real deal” – an authentic person and an old soul who has enlightened you in some important way.

iris flowers that are black include:

  • Black Asian iris (Iris chrysographes) – native to Tibet to northeastern Myanmar
  • Black bearded iris (Iris germanica) – origins uncertain, but most likely native to Mediterranean Europe
  • Black iris of Jordan (Iris nigricans) – native to Jordan
  • Black Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) – native to Europe and central Asia

Iris Flower Spiritual Meaning

Iris Spiritual MeaningAs they symbolize wisdom, irises are representative of reaching a level of spiritual enlightenment. As with lily and lotus flower meaning, water irises can grow in muddy, murky environments to blow into beautiful blossoms. So, they are synonymous with the human spirit undergoing challenges in the material world only to evolve into a more enlightened soul.

On a spiritual level, the iris also symbolizes the spiritual teacher or mentor who helps to guide you along the path of spiritual growth and enlightenment.

Iris Symbolism in Christianity

In Christianity, the three petals on an iris flower symbolize the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Iris Meaning in Islam

In Islam, iris flowers are placed on the graves of loved ones to show honor, devotion, and remembrance.

Associated Spirit Animals

The iris shares traits and symbiosis with certain wild animals and insects. Birds, ladybugs, wasps, and lacewing insects help to protect irises as they prey on the insects that eat iris flowers and their leaves. In addition, irises help to support the ecosystems of meadows and wetland habitats, so they are beneficial to fish, frogs, turtles, dragonflies, and other wildlife who share these habitats.

On a spiritual level, the iris shares symbolism with the deer and the stag spirit animals as both represent nobility. The iris flower also shares synergies the hawk spirit animal as they both symbolize messages and spiritual awareness. In addition, the iris is associated with the owl spirit animal, as both are symbols of wisdom. And finally, iris flowers share symbolic meaning with the dragonfly, the frog, and the turtle spirit animals as they all symbolize spiritual growth.

The Iris in Cultural Mythology and Folklore

Irises by Vincent van Gogh
“Irises” by Vincent van Gogh, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 1889. Image: The Getty Center.

There are roughly 300 species of irises and they can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia, and North America. So, irises are subjects in the myths and folklore of many of the cultures in these regions. Here are some of those stories:

Iris Meaning in Greek Mythology

The name iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, and it is fittingly the name of the Greek goddess of rainbows, Iris. As a carrier of messages from the mortal world to the gods, Iris was also believed to help brings souls to the afterlife. So, iris flowers were associated with death in ancient Greece.

Iris Symbolism in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians were cognizant of Greek mythology and were likely intrigued with the goddess Iris as a messenger who could travel between the material and spiritual realms. The Egyptians depicted iris flowers on their artwork and, as with other cultures, they associated the beautiful flower with royalty. As some of the original perfume makers, the Egyptians were also known to use iris flowers in their oils and perfumes.

Iris Symbolism in France and the Fleur-de-Lis

France was becoming a Catholic nation as early as the 2nd century. So, it’s possible that iris symbolism in France began around that time when the flower was viewed as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

By the time the Middle Ages began in the 5th century, the French had created the fleur-de-lis symbol based on the iris flower. They soon associated it with not only their faith, but the French nobility. In fact, the fleur-de-lis became a common symbol on coats of arms, shields, and tapestries to denote chivalry, faith, and victory.

Iris Symbolism in Asia

In China, the iris shares meanings with the butterfly. It also symbolizes summer and honor for loved ones who have passed. And in Japan, the iris symbolizes purity and protection.

Iris Flower Tattoo Meaning

Iris Flower TattooAn iris flower tattoo or fleur-de-lis tattoo can symbolize your passion for noble causes as well as your dedication to your religious faith and spiritual growth. It can also symbolize your respect for the noble ideal of chivalry. While tattoos are deeply personal to each individual, having knowledge of the history and cultural meanings applied to iris flowers can hopefully imbue your tattoo with deeper meaning. In addition, hopefully this awareness can invite a lively conversation if anyone asks you about your tattoo!

Planting Irises

Iris Garden

Irises are perennials that will bloom in USDA Zones 3 – 9. So, even if you live in a cold climate, you can count on these hardy and fragrant flowers to bloom some time from early spring to late summer. Different varieties have different blooming times, so you can select a combination so you always have some blooming in your garden or containers.

Because there are nearly 300 species of irises, you can likely find a variety that’s native to your area. When it comes to planting irises, I recommend researching the native species for your geographical area first. Native irises will have an advantage over non-native species because they’ve evolved to live in the temperature, water, and other climate conditions for your area. In addition, native insects and birds will be better adapted to benefit from native irises than from non-native species.

Finding Native Irises for Your Area

If you google “native irises” or “native plants” plus your geographical area, you’ll find a number of native plant resources. However, if you’re keen on planting some of the many hybrid irises that are available, you might consider a mix that includes some native species as well.

When to Plant Irises

Iris Rhizomes

The ideal time to plant irises (for the following year’s blooming season) is from early spring to late summer or early fall, depending on your climate. Irises will go dormant over the winter. So, if you’re planting them outside in cold weather, you need to give them at least six weeks to establish themselves before the ground freezes.

Planting Irises in Containers and Flower Beds

If you don’t have a yard, you can grow irises in containers. Tall bearded irises will need a container that’s at least 12” deep x 12” wide. For dwarf irises, around 7” x 7” will work. When planting in the ground, you want to give your irises plenty of breathing room. For example, plant tall bearded iris bulbs about 12 – 18 inches apart.

Irises multiply over time, so, every few years, you can divide them and replant them (giving you more irises!) I like this video from Y Garden, which walks you through the process of dividing irises.

Sunlight

Irises prefer full sun – about 6 hours per day. They’ll grow in partial shade, but they won’t bloom as much as in full sunlight. In addition, full sun will help to keep the rhizomes (which are root-like stems that help the iris to spread) from rotting.

Ideal Soil for Irises

Neutral to slightly acidic soil that is well-drained is ideal for irises.

Mulch (Don’t)

You don’t have to use mulch with irises because containing too much moisture in the soil can cause the rhizomes to rot.

Watering

Growing Irises

Water your irises right after planting. Then, you only have to water them every 7 to 10 days depending on your climate. It’s important not to over-water, as it can cause the rhizomes to rot.

Feeding Your Irises

Fertilize your irises in early spring about 6 – 8 weeks before they start blooming. Then, fertilize them once again when the blooms are gone. Low-nitrogen fertilizers are ideal.

It’s easy to see why Vincent van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe loved to paint irises. They are rich with folkloric meaning and they look intriguingly complex. However, while they might appear like they’re high-maintenance flowers, they are hardy and easy to grow in a variety of climates. Now that’s a winning combination!

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