INFORMATION ABOUT SNAKE’S HEAD IRIS…
By: Nikki Phipps
Image by Alastair Rae Snake’s Head Iris is a Mediterranean native of Yugoslavia and Greece and has been in cultivation for three centuries. Interestingly enough, botanically, it is not a true iris at all. Its real name is Hermodactylus tuberosus, which means Finger of Hermes. The tuberous root bears some resemblance to the fingers of the human hand. Its common name, Snake’s Head, is said to come from the unusual coloring and shape that resembles the head of a reptile, specifically, a snake, alluding to its pointed buds that supposedly look like snake heads with open mouths. This flower has sometimes been referred to as the “widow iris” for its somber color or “black iris” for its black falls. Hermaodactylus tuberose 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.
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 Snake’s head Iris an interesting topic of discussion for visitors in the garden. It grows from small finger-like tubers. As a native of the Mediterranean, in grassy banks and rocky habitats, it enjoys a warm place in our gardens. This plant prefers a well-drained, sunny location but not too dry. Plant the tubers in autumn and divide overcrowded clumps after flowering.
Snake’s head iris is suitable for planting in rockeries, beds and borders, and 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. Its striking color combination will definitely add distinction to your garden. The foliage is stiff, green, and flat sided, lying along the ground. 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 for this plant include anemone and candytuft.
Snake’s head iris was once highly valued as a cathartic and for other medicinal properties.