Meaning of Iris

The purple iris is a common variety of the flower.

The purple iris is a common variety of the flower.

The iris is a perennial flower native to north temperate climates. There are numerous varieties of iris, which grow in many different parts of the world. In the U.S., the wild iris, or blue flag, is the most common. Revered by ancient cultures as a religious symbol, today the iris serves as the birth flower for the month of February. As with other flowers, there is a wealth of meaning, history and symbolism associated with the iris.

Iris Symbolism

The iris flower symbolizes faith, hope, cherished friendship, wisdom and peace of mind. The color of iris is symbolic as well. The purple iris denotes wisdom, while the blue iris implies thoughts of hope and faith. The yellow iris represents passion, and the white iris, like other white flowers, is a symbol of purity.

History

The iris is associated with the Greek goddess Iris -- the messenger of love. The goddess had many duties, including leading the souls of women who died to the Elysian Field -- the Greek idea of the afterlife. This led to the Greek practice of planting purple iris flowers on the graves of women. On a similar note, the ancient Egyptians often used the flower in their art to portray the concept of life and resurrection.

Emblems

Both France and Florence, Italy, have chosen the iris flower as their official emblems. In the U.S., the iris is the state flower for Tennessee. The most famous of all symbols associated with the iris is the fleur-de-lis -- the symbol of the French royal family. Louis the VII of France first adopted the fleur-de-lis as the crest on the banner of France before he set out for the ill-fated Second Crusade to the Holy Land.

About the Iris

There are more than 200 varieties of the iris and many different colors. In fact, the name iris is derived from the Greek word for rainbow. Iris is both the scientific and common name for the flower. The flower is found in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Some cultures describe the iris as the dancing spirit of the summer, perhaps because the flower’s soft petals seem to flutter in the breeze. The Chinese compare the iris's petals to butterfly wings. In China, people refer to the iris as Tze Hu-tieh, which translates as "the purple butterfly."

Orris Root

Orris root, which is made from iris, has had many uses over the centuries. Dried orris root gives off a scent of violets. The Greeks and Romans used it to make perfumes and to treat illness. Even later in history, violet-scented powders and perfumes were made from the iris until synthetic forms were introduced. The Germans used orris root to keep beer stored in barrels from going stale. The French used it to enhance the bouquet of wine.

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