The yellow iris is the only representative of the iris family native to The Netherlands. The irises in our gardens all belong to the yellow iris family and are cultivars of foreign ancestors. Irises are cherished for their fantastic deep red, blue, yellow and purple colours and for their distinct patterning. These flowers have the original colours of the rainbow in memory of a Greek goddess. Draw closer and listen to this Greek myth.
A long long time ago the Greek gods had a problem. Every god was busy sending wise, kind or threatening messages to people. But there were so many messages being sent, that people could not see the wood from the trees and eventually ignored them all. Every god thought up a different solution. One sent thunder and lighting with the message; the next arrows of love; and yet another whispered their message lovingly into the person’s ear. Queen Goddess Hera had a very beautiful solution.
Hera’s solution combined beauty with a feast for the eyes. She gave the Greek goddess Iris a part-time job delivering her messages to the earth’s inhabitants in a clear and dazzling way. Have the skies turned a dark and threatening colour while the sun is shining on clouds saturated with raindrops? Then Iris is on her way. With feet as swift as the wind and Hera’s message tucked under one arm, Iris is speeding her way down from heaven over the rainbow to earth. Whenever the Greeks looked up and saw such dark and ominous skies together with the colourful splendour of the rainbow, they knew Iris was coming. Impressed by this extraordinary way of announcing a delivery, people always listened to Hera’s messages brought by Iris.
While Iris was busy delivering Hera’s messages, she did not want to neglect her other task. Iris was dear to the farmers. She brought water from the lakes and the rivers to the clouds which released rain to water their crops. The farmers called her the goddess of growth. And very often Iris combined both her tasks: bringing messages via the rainbow then releasing the live-giving rainwater from the clouds.
To ensure this special goddess would never be forgotten, flowers were specially created in her honour on earth with the most magic colours of the rainbow. What is more, they also love water. It’s where they prefer to grow.
In the Netherlands the only variety growing in the wild is the Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) with its unique deep yellow colour, one of the seven colours of the rainbow. In spring the iris brightens the banks of waterways. Its roots firmly in the water as ever. Once the flowers of the yellow iris have faded, it is hard to distinguish it from the sweet flag, the bulrush or the bur-reed until its seeds pods have ripened. Neatly stacked inside these are the small seeds like draught counters. Later on in the summer when ripe, these pods burst open and the seed discs float away across the water in search of a good place to germinate. In the Dutch reference book ‘Ecological Flora’ (Oecologische Flora) which describes plants in relation to their environment and other organisms, the authors enthusiastically describe the iris: “Iris flowers are unique by virtue of their attractive architecture”. The colours of the different iris varieties are so beautiful that already in early times people associated them with the colours of the rainbow. Iris is the Goddess of the Rainbow. Worldwide the iris family has at least 1500 varieties.
© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl