Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
This iris has been in cultivation for so long that it is not known where it originated. In fact, taxonomists cannot even agree on what to call it. Some consider it a natural, white-flowered variety of the bearded (German) iris and call it Iris germanica var. florentina, while others think it is a cultivar (cultivated variety) or even a hybrid. We’ve settled on calling it Iris germanica ‘Florentina’, for now.
It is one of the irises used as the source of orris root, the thick, fleshy rhizome that has been used for centuries as a fixative in perfumes and for medicinal purposes. The latter is not recommended these days because, along with most of its iris kin, the plant is poisonous.
Grown in Italy since Roman times, it was particularly common around Florence, as alluded to in the ‘Florentina’ part of its name. A very stylized representation of the flower appears on the Florence’s coat of arms. The fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy is also thought to be inspired by the iris.
We have examples of this lovely plant in both the Herb Garden and the Wild Garden, where it can be seen in full bloom this week.