Charles Dickens, who wrote the classic novel of the French Revolution – A Tale of Two Cities, would surely approve of my pilfering his title since this article involves touches of French history, a view of the fleur de lis, and honorable intentions as I simply need a theme for the state flower of Louisiana – my next state in alphabetical order. Louisiana, like several states, has two floral emblems – the Magnolia and the state wildflower – Louisiana Iris. My basic research involved reams of info on both and I am considering two different articles on the two vastly different flowers First, let’s investigate that iconic sign of French culture – the Fleur de lis or “Flower of the Lily”. I always thought the translation was “Flower of Life” or “Flower of Love”. Regardless of how one translates the phrase, it symbolizes French royalty, religious fervor, and military prowness
. The actual flower is the Iris which can be translated as “rainbow” and the English word “iridescent” is close in meaning and context. To say the least, I was overwhelmed as I began Iris research! There are a thousand varieties of Iris from all areas of the world but five are native to Louisiana and they do not interbreed with the other multitudes. The legislature adopted Iris giganticaerulea as the official state wildflower in 1990, but we will visit all five native species.
The giant blue iris grows 3-5 feet tall and prefers freshwater marshes. The leaves are 30 inches long or less and 1 1/2 inches wide; they clasp the stem near the base. The blue outer tepals 3 inches long by 1 3/4 inches wide, are marked with a whitish patch with a prominent yellow center; they hang down and are called falls. The blue, erect inner tepals are 3 inches long and are called standards. Tepal is a new word for me and in botanical science circles it means that we can’t determine if an appendage is a petal or a sepal – so we call it a tepal. Though a number of iris species are native to Louisiana, only five species – Iris brevicaulis, Iris fulva, Iris giganticaerulea, Iris hexagona and Iris nelsonii – are known as “The Louisianans.” Only in south Louisiana do all five species occur together.
Did you notice several characteristics of Louisiana Irises? They are “beardless”! Most of our garden Iris varieties are bearded and sport a small fuzzy beard on three of the standards. All five Louisianans have rhizomes while some Iris have bulbs and all five love swampy conditions. They grow through the winter, flower, and then are dormant through the summer so if they are planted in home gardens, they can be mixed with more summery flowers to hide the spent leaves and stems.
We will not overlook the state flower (not wildflower) of Louisiana – the Magnolia. It’s the next article and I might even attempt a seperate article on native Iris throughout North America – a fascinating subject!