Bearded Iris are identified by thick,
bushy "beards" on each of the falls (lower petals) of the blossoms. Originally,
most of these were native to central and southern Europe. The American Iris
Society has divided the bearded irises into six groups for garden judging
1. Miniature Dwarf Bearded (MDB) --
the tiniest of bearded irises, with height of up to 20 cm (8 inches). They are
also the earliest to bloom. They are most effective in rock gardens or planted
in drifts where they make a "carpet of color."
2. Standard Dwarf Bearded (SDB) --
some of the most useful garden plants, ranging in height from 20 cm (8 inches)
to 41 cm (16 inches). They begin their bloom as the MDBs are ending, still quite
early in the iris season. They are best displayed in clumps where they give the
effect of a "cushion" of individual blooms. The colors are nearly unlimited
since the SDBs show all the different "spot patterns" of the miniatures, as well
as the plicatas and pinks seen in the TBs.
3. Intermediate Bearded (IB) --
stand from 41 cm (16 inches) to 70 cm (27 1/2 inches) high, with their bloom
season overlapping the SBDs and the TBs. Although the IBs show their dwarf
ancestry in early bloom season and very interesting color patterns, they are
large enough that their individual stalks may be nicely branched, forming an
elegant bouquet. Some varieties are nicest in clumps, where they present a large
amount of color (like the SDBs), while others are showiest in specimen
plantings, where the stalks and individual blooms may be seen to best
4. Border Bearded (BB) --
essentially small versions of the TBs in the same height range and bloom size as
the intermediates, but blooming with the tall beardeds. Good BBs have round,
ruffled petals that complement their small size.
5. Miniature Tall Bearded (MTB) --
this class is distinguished by daintiness and delicacy. Height from 41 cm (16
inches) to 70 cm (27 1/2 inches). The blooms are smaller than on a BB and the
stems are thin and wiry. An MTB clump looks like a cloud of butterflies. They
are often called "Table Irises" because they are so well suited for
6. Tall Bearded (TB) -- have stalks
with a height of 70 cm (27 1/2 inches) and above, with branching and many buds.
Each stalk, in itself, makes a stately arrangement in the garden or in a vase.
In addition to a wide variety of colors and patterns, the TBs display other
qualities (such as ruffling and lacing) more frequently than do the other
Even if you grow nothing but bearded
irises, you can enjoy a remarkable range of color and a bloom season extending
for months. Some bearded irises are "rebloomers", blooming again in the summer,
fall or winter. Additional water and fertilizer applied during the summer months
encourages them to bloom again. There are now reliable attractive rebloomers
available which will perform in all but the coldest climates.
Incidentally, the word "median" refers to
all the bearded irises except the miniature dwarfs and the tall beardeds; that
is to say the SDBs, IBs, BBs and the MTBs. Strictly speaking, the word "dwarf"
means only the MDBs.
Two very different types of irises are
grouped together under the term "aril". These are the oncocyclus and regelia
irises of the Near East. Although they have beards, they are not classified with
the bearded irises because they are so different. Actually, their beards are
rather sparse, being long and straggly on the regelias, and nothing more than a
wide "fuzzy" patch on the oncocyclus. The arils show dark signal spots below the
beards with much veining and speckling, in an unbelievable range of colors.
Unfortunately, the arils are difficult to grow in all but the warmest and driest
regions of the United States.
However, in this century, hybrids were
produced from crossing the arils with the more common bearded irises. These are
called "arilbreds" (AB), and are usually very easy to grow and still display the
spectacular features of the arils. Most arilbreds are tall and have large
blooms. They usually bloom earlier than the TBs, with the SDBs and the
There are also small arilbreds, produced
from crossing arils or arilbreds with dwarfs or medians. They are variously
called "arilbred-medians", "aril-medians" or "aril-meds".
Beardless Irises are mostly native to
Asia. The first four types are commonly grown in gardens, and they all bloom
after the TBs, extending the iris season even longer. The fifth type, the
Pacific Coast Native, blooms before the TBs and is native to the western regions
of the United States.
1. Spurias (SPU) are tall (2 to 5
feet in height) and elegant, and have very attractive foliage. The shape of the
bloom often suggests orchids and the colors range from white and yellow through
blue, wine and brown, often with bright yellow signals.
2. Siberians (SIB), as their name
suggests, need cold and wet conditions to perform well. The blooms are mostly
blue, violet and white with large falls and smaller standards. They are most
attractive in established clumps and grow to a height of 2 to 4 feet.
3. Japanese (JA) require a slightly
acid soil and present some of the most spectacular flowers of all the irises.
Blooms are usually huge, ruffled and flat in form; some are marbled with gray or
white. They bloom about a month after the TBs. Japanese hybridizers have worked
with them for over 500 years.
4. Louisianas (LA) are native to
the American Gulf Coast; they require soil that is somewhat acid and wet in the
spring. The blooms are usually very wide petaled and open, showing brightly
colored style-arms and sharp signal-crests.
5. Pacific Coast Natives (PCN), or
Californicae (CA), are not widely grown as they are intolerant of the
climatic conditions of all but the far western area of the country. Where they
can become established, they grow most attractively with graceful and dainty
flowers held one to two feet high, in most colors and patterns.
6. Species often enhance gardens
with their delicate beauty. I. confusa (Evansia) requires conditions
similar to azaleas in a frost free climate. I. missouriensis enjoys wet
springs and dry summers.