Color Changing In Irises: Why An Iris Plant Changes Color


Irises are old-fashioned garden plants with hardiness and persistence. They can delight for decades, if divided and managed properly. There are many colors and several sports and cultivars of each species, allowing for a palette of tones. If an iris plant changes color, it could be a combination of things or simply a random accident. Here are some things to investigate that mysterious hue change.

Why Iris Flower Loses Color

Occasionally, we hear that an iris has changed color. There are several possible reasons why an iris flower loses color, but it generally doesn’t change color entirely. Temperature changes, chemical drift, transplant issues or even a random rhizomes dug up by a dog can cause a stand of iris to change color.

Irises do not always bloom every year and an older variety may be asserting itself in your cultivar’s fallow period too. Several other explanations exist to account for color changing on iris.

Loss of color, or fading, is common when the plant experiences extreme heat or cold. Additionally, the color can be influenced by lack of or excess light – for instance, when a tree has grown over to shade the bed. There is little evidence that soil pH or type will cause irises to fade.

A deep purple iris turns color when it matures and begins to die. Most of these options for an iris flower changing color change over time and the plant will resume its usual flower tones. Unexplained instances of an entire bed that was purple and turned white the following year will need to be delved into further.

Permanent Color Changing in Iris

When you find the entire iris plant changes color, the explanation is more complex. Irises grow from rhizomes which are just beneath the surface of the soil. In fact, old stands will have rhizomes growing right on top of the soil.

These are easily broken away and can establish in any part of the garden they end up in. This happens when children play, during division or transplant, or even when the dog is digging in the yard. If a piece of rhizome ends up in another variety of iris, it can establish, taking over the bed and causing the iris flower changing color.

More notable still, would be the presence of a sport. This is when the plant produces an offset that is not true to the parent. In these cases, the sport may bloom an entirely different shade.

Transplanting and Why Iris Turns Color

Another thing to think about is the strange issue of transplanting. You or someone else may have planted iris in the landscape years ago. Perhaps it didn’t bloom anymore because it needed division or the site was not conducive to flowering.

If any of the rhizomes are still alive and you transplant into the location after amending the soil, the conditions are now optimum. Even a piece of the old rhizome can rise from the ashes and reestablish. If the older iris is a stronger cultivar, it may take over the new iris patch, making it appear the new iris plant changes color.

The same thing can happen if you transplant your purple iris from a bed but inadvertently move others of a different color. Lo and behold, the next year you may have several different colors in the bed.

The ease with which irises establish themselves make them valuable, consistent performers. This same thing can cause some anxiety when they seem to come up a different hue.


4 Rarely Shared Facts About Irises

Beard or no beard, there's a lot to love about irises. But even the most dedicated iris-lovers might not know all the fascinating facts about this bulb.

Who would have thought that a flower with a beard could be considered a beautiful addition to the garden. You won't find a flower with more variety and color than irises. Irises are often considered spring bulbs, but some of the thousands of iris varieties bloom in summer and fall, too.

One distinctive feature of irises is their lance-shaped, spiky foliage—the blooms are often confused with lilies, but the foliage is a tell-tale sign of which plant you’re looking at. Irises are perennials that easily self-multiply and can be divided, meaning you can plant more irises in your garden for free each year.


How to Grow Iris Bulbs Inside

Iris flowers grow from bulbs rather than seeds. They produce clumps of green, leaf-like foliage with a tall center stalk that supports the colorful flower blooms. Iris bulbs are hardy enough to plant outdoors, but you can also plant them in pots that are kept indoors. When iris bulbs are grown indoors, they experience a longer blooming season because you can regulate the temperature. In addition, indoor irises will not be eaten by pests such as deer, squirrels and gophers.

Fill your desired plant pot half-full with an all-purpose potting soil.

Place the iris bulbs in a single layer on top of the soil with the pointed end of the bulbs facing upward. Leave at least 1/2 inch of space between each bulb. You can plant as many bulbs as you like, with a maximum of 20 to 30 bulbs per 14- to 20-inch pot.

Cover the iris bulbs with a 1- to 2-inch layer of soil, or just until the tips of the bulbs are no longer visible.

Water the soil until it is completely saturated and water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Place a dish under the pot to catch the excess water runoff.

  • Fill your desired plant pot half-full with an all-purpose potting soil.
  • Place the iris bulbs in a single layer on top of the soil with the pointed end of the bulbs facing upward.

Set the plant pot in an indoor location that receives bright sunlight and maintains a constant temperature of around 62 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 53 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Sprouts should appear within two weeks and flower blooms will appear within 12 weeks.

Water the iris as needed the soil will be dry and dusty.

Apply a slow-release, granular fertilizer to the soil once the iris bulbs start to bloom. Use the amount specified on the fertilizer package.

Continue your watering schedule until the iris stops blooming. When the foliage turns brown and dies back, typically in mid- to late summer, water the plant once per week until the fall. Increase your watering schedule to keep the top 1 to 2 inches of soil moist until the iris bulb produces new green shoots.


Natural Changes

A few plants change their color naturally in response to pH changes in their cells. For instance, some varieties of morning glories have flowers that start out pink as a bud, turn blue in full bloom and turn pink again as the flower wilts. The color changes occur as a result of subtle cellular pH changes over the course of a day. Hibiscus flowers can change color over the course of a day in response to cellular pH changes combined with other factors such as temperature and rainfall.


Irises are flowers worth repeating

Bearded irises have come a long way from the simple Iris pallida fondly called “Grandma’s flags” and grown in so many gardens many decades ago. Named for the Goddess of the Rainbow in Greek mythology, irises come in many colors are one of the least demanding of all perennial plants.

The good news for San Diego gardeners is that there are hundreds of varieties of tall, medium and dwarf bearded irises that bloom and rebloom reliably in our land of (almost) perennial sunshine. A small group of iris fanciers has been tracking the development of irises with reblooming characteristics (the technical term is remontant). These vigorous plants bloom in spring, often a week or so earlier than standard bearded irises, and they will issue bloom stalks again in summer, and even repeat the process in fall. Some will rebloom four or five times annually.

Bill Molnar is a local iris fancier, chairman of the Southwest District of the Reblooming Iris Society, who grows approximately 300 varieties at his house near San Diego State University. Among them are numerous remontant varieties.

“They provide color all year-round,” he said. “I don’t want to grow plants that are mainly green all year and then bloom only in April.”

One of his favorites is the cheerful variety July Yellow. Like the name suggests, blooms appear in summer after a lush spring bloom in March and May, and then again early September and November.

Not that long ago, reblooming irises were scarce because iris enthusiasts preferred varieties with fancy flower forms and unusual coloration. Hybridizers have changed this by creating new varieties that have award-winning flower forms as well as remontant characteristics.

Considered drought tolerant, remontant irises do require more water than the once-blooming varieties because they have accelerated life cycles. The central rhizome of any iris can bloom only once. Remontant irises accelerate the growth process by producing additional increases that send up flower spikes in the same year. Some repeat this process three, four or five times within one year. Because they grow and flower faster than the oncers, they must get additional fertilizer and water.

Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers that encourage vegetative growth. Use a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 in early and late spring, summer and early fall. These irises do require watering in summer but not too much, as rhizomes can rot. It’s crucial to place the plant rhizomes at or slightly higher than soil level, and they need fast-draining soil.

When blooms are finished, cut flower stalk near ground level if you haven’t already cut it for indoor enjoyment. Old leaves will turn brown and wither as new leaves form. Pull or cut each away from plant.

After approximately four years, clumps will become crowded and will need dividing and replanting. Lift the clump with garden forks (two people are useful for this task). Remove the nonproductive rhizomes in the center, and carefully break apart the clump. Save the large, new fans with foliage.

You’ll probably have extra to share with friends and introduce them to the excitement of reblooming irises.

Reblooming irises

These reblooming iris varieties are recommended for San Diego gardens.

Alice Goodman: Tall bearded variety, to 33 inches. Ruffled bright to light pink flowers.

Clarence: Tall bearded to 35 inches. Fragrant flowers are blue with a light blue band.

Curvy Course: Tall bearded to 35 inches. Ruffled flowers of copper and brown with copper and lavender falls.

Double Shot: Tall bearded to 36 inches. White and purple-stippled flowers.

Immortality: Very popular tall bearded to 30 inches. Pure white flowers have slight sweet fragrance

July Yellow: Frequent rebloomer to 30 inches tall. Flowers are light yellow with creamy stripes.

Malaguena: Tall bearded to 40 inches. Heavily ruffled flowers are medium and dark orange.

Midnight Caller: Tall bearded to 37 inches. Silky deep-purple flowers.

Summer Radiance: Tall bearded to 36 inches. Medium to dark bright yellow flowers have slight spicy fragrance.

Victoria Falls: Tall bearded to 40 inches. Medium blue flowers with white center.

Sources for reblooming irises

Blue J Iris: 2018 catalog will be available in January at www.bluejiris.com

Breck’s: Iris catalog available at www.brecks.com

Schreiner’s Iris: 2018 catalog will be available in January at www.schreinersgardens.com

Note: Popular varieties sell out quickly, so place orders early for plant shipment in early spring.

Dardick is a freelance garden writer.


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Irises are wonderful garden plants. The word Iris means rainbow. Irises come in many colors such as blue and purple, white and yellow, pink and orange, brown and red, and even black.

The genus Iris has about 200 species and is native to the North Temperate regions of the world. The habitat of irises also varies a lot. Some irises grow in deserts, some in swamps, some in the cold far north, and many in temperate climates. Bearded Iris and Siberian Iris are two of the most common types of irises grown.

Kingdom Plantae Division Magnoliophyta Class Liliopsida Order Asparagales Family Iridaceae Genus Iris

Since Iris is the Greek goddess for the Messenger of Love, her sacred flower is considered the symbol of communication and messages. Therefore the flower iris in the language of flowers symbolizes eloquence. Based on their color, irises convey varied messages. A purple iris is symbolic of wisdom and compliments. A blue iris symbolizes faith and hope. A yellow iris symbolizes passion while white iris symbolizes purity. A gift of iris can be used to convey many emotions.

Some Interesting Facts about Iris

  • Irises come in many forms, shapes, colors and sizes and the sword-like foliage is attractive when the plant is not in bloom.
  • The Iris was named after the Greek goddess who is considered to be the messenger of love and uses the rainbow to travel. Iris was probably named after the goddess because of the numerous colors it is available in.
  • Irises are among the best-known and loved among garden plants. Irises are hardy herbaceous perennials.
  • The genus Iris is a large genus of bulbous and rhizomatous perennials.
  • The Iris was named after the goddess of the rainbow because of its many colors.
  • A flower on the Sphinx is considered to be an Iris, and another appears on a bas-relief of the time of the 18th Egyptian dynasty.
  • Pliny also knew the Iris and praised its medicinal virtues.
  • The Iris was also a favorite flower of the Moslems who took it to Spain after their conquest in the 8th century.

Types of Irises

Irises are classified into two major groups, Rhizome Irises and Bulbous Irises. Within those groups are countless species, varieties, cultivars and hybrids, according to the American Iris Society.

Rhizome Irises are thickened stems that grow horizontally, either underground or partially underground. After planting, iris rhizomes produce sword like leaves that overlap, forming flat fans of green foliage. Three popular irises in this group are Bearded, Beardless and Crested Irises.

  • The bearded iris has four distinct parts: the Standards, Falls, Stigma flaps, and Beard
  • The beardless variety has: Standards, Falls and Stigma flaps, but usually have crests
  • The crested Irises or Evansia Iris has: Standards, Falls and Stigma flaps and in addition to a ridge on the falls of the blossom, they have ridges like crests instead of beards

Crested irises are often considered in the same manner as the beardless iris. These plants spread freely by underground stems and produce flat flowers in the shades of blue, violet and white. Often the flowers and leaves are found on bamboo like stems which can vary in height from 5-200 centimeters in height.

Varieties of Bearded Iris Varieties of Beardless Iris
Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris Siberian Iris
Dwarf Bearded Iris Japanese Iris
Intermediate Bearded Iris Louisiana Iris
Border Bearded Iris Dutch Iris
Miniature Tall Bearded Iris Yellow Flag Iris
Tall Bearded Iris Blue Flag Iris

Bulbous irises grow from bulbs that require a period of dormancy after they have bloomed. The bulbous irises are typically smaller than rhizome irises and usually produce smaller blossoms.

Growing Irises

Before planting Iris, improve the soil conditions by using a slow release fertilizer. To increase the organic matter content, use compost, peat moss or well-rotted manure. Fertilizer and organic matter should be worked thoroughly into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil.

  • Wooded areas with good drainage and partial shade are ideal spots for the crested iris.
  • Irises are grown from both seed and root separation.
  • The roots or rhizomes, are easily separated and replanted.
  • The rhizome looks like a long, thin potato with roots underneath.
  • When transplanting, separate the rhizome. Make sure to have some root and a leaf or two in each section.
  • Plant the rhizomes near the surface with the roots below.
  • Divide the clumps and plant single rhizomes, spacing them 8 to 18 inches apart according to the effect desired.
  • Spade a planting hole about 10 inches deep and work 1 tablespoonful of fertilizer into the soil in the bottom of the hole.
  • If the soil is heavy, some drainage material such as gravel or broken pottery should be placed in the hole.
  • Fill the hole with loose soil and place the root section so that it will not be covered more than 1 inch deep.
  • Most Beardless Irises can also be propagated from seeds.

Iris Plant Care

  • Apply a thin layer of compost around the base of plants each spring, leaving the rhizome exposed.
  • As flowers fade, cut back the flower stalks to the base of the plant.
  • To encourage a second bloom on re-blooming varieties, promptly remove faded flowers and maintain consistent watering throughout the summer.
  • In autumn, trim away dead foliage and prune back healthy leaves to a height of 4 to 5 inches.
  • Once the soil has frozen, apply a layer of mulch to help prevent roots from heaving out of the soil during alternate freezing and thawing.
  • If heaving occurs, don't try to force plants back into the soil. Instead, cover rhizomes and exposed roots with soil.
  • Divide bearded irises every 4 to 5 years, preferably in late summer. Each division should have one or two leaf fans. Older rhizomes that have few white feeding roots should be discarded.

Want to learn more about growing Irises and other flowers? View books on Gardening


How to Easily grow Iris from Seed

Iris And Daisies by David Wagner

If you are fond of irises and want to have more in your garden, one inexpensive way is to start them from seed. If you have a little patience (and you enjoy a surprise-more on that later) you can produce more irises very easily.

We’ll start by assuming your favorite iris produces a seedpod after bloom, which will be a somewhat lumpy, green oval atop the flower stem after it fades.

To keep the seedpod, avoid the impulse to deadhead your irises immediately after blooms fade. Let the seedpods ripen and turn fully brown and begin to split open before you cut them off and store them in a cool, dry place.

In the fall, as it begins to cool, plant the seeds in the garden in an area prepared with amended soil and that is weed free. Plant the seeds about ½” to ¾” deep and a few inches apart, and mark the area. Now let nature take its course.

In the spring, about half of the seeds should have sprouted. Be careful-they look like grass at the seedling stage until they develop the distinctive, flat fan arrangement of leaves that are typical of the iris family. Once they are a few inches tall, they can be carefully dug up and moved to their permanent location. Don’t disturb the rest of the seed nursery area yet-the seeds that did not sprout the first year may very well sprout the second year, and you’ll have yet another crop of baby plants.

Iris Patch by Peter Griffin

They will not flower the first spring, but they should the second. Here’s the surprise: the new Iris will probably not be the same color as the mother plant was, as most Irises are hybrids and do not breed true. You will have a unique iris that you can call your own.


Watch the video: Ibis Paint X - Tutorial For Beginners


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