INFORMATION ABOUT SCARLET-SEEDED STINKING IRIS…
By: Nikki Phipps
Image by Marilyn Peddle The flowers of the Scarlet-seeded iris, or Stinking iris (Iris foetidissima), are an unusual color—a pale yellow-lilac with brown mixed in. Blooming usually occurs in early summer and later develops into a pod of brilliant orange berries in autumn. These interesting berries last throughout the winter. The leaves are long and narrow, and the plant grows in clumps reaching anywhere from 1-3 feet high.
Stinking Iris is native of northern Africa and southwestern Europe and is naturalized in many places throughout Europe and North America where it grows in open woods and shady areas.
The plant gets its name of stinking iris from the smell that is given off when the leaves are crushed. Another name for it is “Roast Beef Plant” as it is supposed to smell like gamey meat.
It is perhaps just as well that it warns others to ‘back off’ with its foul odor as the beautiful plant can be deadly; it is poisonous. The rhizomes are toxic but were once used medicinally for cramps and other ailments, having been alleged to be an effective topical treatment for ringworm.
In spite of its name, the stinking iris makes an excellent candidate for any landscape. This unusual iris is more often grown for its attractive scarlet-colored seed pods but the flower itself is quite lovely too.
The color of stinking iris flowers can vary from a dull purple tinged with yellow to a pale yellow with darker veins, depending on its overall location and the pH levels of the soil.
If you have a moist and partially shaded spot in the garden, stinking iris will be quite at home. This plant is easy to cultivate in basically any ordinary garden soil.
The stinking iris has thick, creeping rhizomes and can be grown either from seed or by dividing these rhizomes. The seeds can take nearly two years to germinate and should be planted in autumn, as soon as the seeds have ripened. The rhizomes should be planted just beneath the soil in a semi-shaded location.
Stinking iris becomes increasingly drought-hardy with age, so it makes a good candidate for areas of dry shade. It can also tolerate coastal conditions and is a good choice for cliffs overlooking the sea.
This evergreen iris loves moderate shade but also does well in considerable sunlight. Its large evergreen sword-shaped leaves do not fade away as the majority of other irises do.
Blooms don’t open all at once so flowers seem to be around longer than many irises. Each bloom after only a few days begins “going to pod.” The burst seedpods make good cuttings for bouquets and as cuttings they last even longer than they do in the garden.