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Portland Nursery

NATIVE IRIS

Of the fifteen or so Iris that are native to the whole of the west coast, seven are at home here in Oregon. Most are known as “grass iris,” because their narrow leaves grow in a narrow-bladed grass-like clump, rather than the more distinctly separate, wider blades of their relatives (one exception is I. tenuis, which a “crested iris,” having the telltale ridge or “crest” along the center of it’s curved petal). They are also typically lower-growing than their non-native counterparts – generally not reaching any taller than 18 inches.

Most of our native species can be found west of the Cascades, from Washington southward into northern California; colorful drifts in primarily open, wooded areas at low elevations. So in the garden they will be happiest in part to full sun in well-drained soil. Others, native to parts of southwest Oregon and the grasslands east of the Cascades, can be beautiful additions to a rock garden or other dry spots. Blooming in the spring and going dormant in the summer, they like regular moisture through their bloom cycle then allowed to go dry, like the parts of the state from which they originate.

The flowers, rising gracefully above the foliage on slender stems, wear colors ranging from deep bluish purple to lavender to yellow to white (or varying combinations of these), generally with dark purple veining. Freely cross-pollinating, in areas where two or more species grow adjacent to each other naturally-occurring hybrids occur.

Slugs enjoy the leaves of the natives just like other Iris, but otherwise these jewels of the garden are relative problem-free.

I. bracteata - Siskiyou iris Iris bracteata– southern Oregon to Del Norte County, California. In open Pine woods, so tolerant of partial sun and drier conditions. Flowers are cream to golden yellow with dark purple-red veining. Photo credit: Colin Rigby / Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris.
Iris chrysophyllaI. chrysophylla - Yellow Leaf Iris – found in southern Oregon into northern California; grow in more sun with moderate water. Flowers are pale yellow to white, with distinctive dark purple veining. Photo credit: Elyse Hill / Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris

I. douglasiana - Douglas’ Iris Iris douglasii– the only evergreen native iris – found from southern Oregon to central California. Can tolerate sun or shade and somewhat drier conditions than its brethren. Flower color ranges from light blue-violet to dark purple, occasionally white.

I. innominata - Golden IrisIris innominata – found in higher elevations in the Siskyous of southwestern Oregon, in open meadows and pine/fir forests with good drainage. Flowers are generally a rich yellow with purple veining though sometimes with hints of lavender. Photo credit: Colin Rigby / Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris.
Iris missouriensisI. missouriensis - Western Blue Flag - wide ranging along the higher elevations east of the Cascades, covering large areas in sub-alpine and alpine meadows where there exists shallow ground water. Flowers are typically a beautiful blend of sky blue and white. 12-18” tall.
I. tenuis - Clackamas Iris Iris tenuis– the only example of a “crested” Iris in the western US, I. tenuis is only found sporadically along the Clackamas and Molalla rivers in western Oregon, and in sporadic patches near Mt. Hood. This dwarf Iris blooms light blue to white, with light purple veins and yellow ridges on the sepals.
I. tenax - Oregon IrisIris tenaxprobably our most common Iris, I. tenax is widespread west of the Cascades in open wooded areas and on hillsides. Flower color can range from blue to purple, though occasionally can be yellow to white. I. tenax
Pacific Coast Iris Hybrids – In the wild many of the native Iris species growing in the same area will cross-pollinate and naturally hybridize. Some of these combinations result in beautiful color variations and combinations. Naturally-occurring hybrids can sometimes be found in nurseries, and are of unknown color until blooming. Named hybrids will be those intentionally created by hybridizers.

Special thanks to the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris for use of their information and photographs. For more information, please visit the Pacific Coast Native Iris Website

Iris dougasiana

Iris douglasiana 'Pacific Frost'

FACTS: NW NATIVE IRIS

Family: Irisadacea

Genus: Iris

Common name: Iris

Native Range: several native species of Iris found throughout our region, both sides of the Cascades, at various elevations.

Characteristics: The native Iris has the classic grassy, strap-like leaves, with delicate flowers rising above, ranging in colors from white to yellow to purple to reddish, and combinations of one or more of these colors. Different species that grow together in the same habitat often cross-pollinate of their own accord as well, so there is a wide variation of color combinations within this palate!

Culture: Sun to partial shade, seasonally to mostly wet to dry, depending on species and location. All prefer well-drained soil.

Pests/Diseases: slugs are fond of the foliage of some native iris, but generally problem free.