Growing Snake’s Head Iris – Caring For A Snake’s Head Iris Plant

By Nikki Phipps

Image by Alastair Rae

An unusual garden specimen for those who love that sort of thing is the snake’s head iris. Growing and caring for a snake’s head iris is easy enough for beginners, and the plant is great for adding interest to the garden. Read on to learn more.

About Snake’s Head Iris Plants

Snake’s head iris is a Mediterranean native of Yugoslavia and Greece and has been in cultivation for around three centuries. Snake’s head iris was once highly valued as a cathartic and for other medicinal properties.

Interestingly enough, botanically, it is not a true iris at all. Its real name is Hermodactylus tuberosus, which means Finger of Hermes, as the tuberous root bears some resemblance to the fingers of the human hand.

Its common name of snake’s head is said to come from the unusual coloring and shape of the flower since it resembles the head of a reptile, specifically a snake, with pointed buds that look like the open mouths of these creatures. This flower has sometimes been referred to as the widow  or mourning iris for its somber color.

Hermaodactylus tuberosus is a lovely looking, unusual and fragrant perennial bulb with yellow-green, iris-like blooms and velvety, nearly black falls in early spring, between February and April. Its striking color combination will definitely add distinction to your garden. The foliage is stiff, green and flat sided, lying along the ground.

How to Grow Snake’s Head Irises

Snake’s head iris is a hardy, easy-to-grow bulb, surviving very low temperatures and is a good bulb for the beginner. An unusual color combination of green and black makes growing snake’s head iris an interesting topic of discussion for visitors in the garden.

As a native of the Mediterranean, in grassy banks and rocky habitats, snake’s head iris plants will enjoy a warm place in the garden. Snake’s head iris is suitable for planting in rockeries, beds and borders, and even containers. They can naturalize in grass and will also make exceptional cut flowers if handled appropriately. About the only real drawback to this curious plant is the fact that its flowers, if not careful, will snap off rather easily.

Additionally, the plant prefers a well-drained, sunny location – but not too dry. Plant the small finger-like tubers in autumn and divide overcrowded clumps after flowering.

Mature snake’s head iris plants generally reach heights of 12-18 inches. The slender leaves can make an untidy tangle later in the year, so the plants need to be carefully sited with additional cover-up plants. Good companions include anemone and candytuft.

Snake’s head iris plants can take some time to establish and may not bloom for the first couple of years. That being said, once established in the garden, caring for a snake’s head iris plant is minimal and it’s fairly drought tolerant.