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Iris variegata (Hungarian iris)

Iris variegata has striking bicoloured flowers and is the source of many of the most colourful bearded iris cultivars.

Hungarian iris flowers

Iris variegata

Species information

Scientific name: 

Iris variegata L.

Common name: 

Hungarian iris

Conservation status: 

Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Stony slopes and open woods.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

All parts of both wild and cultivated irises are poisonous, especially the rhizomes (underground stems).

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Asparagales
Family: 
Iridaceae
Genus: Iris

About this species

This standard, dwarf bearded iris does not in fact have variegated leaves, as the Latin name seems to suggest, but the flowers are bicoloured. Iris variegata and the many hybrids and cultivars derived from it are widely grown as ornamentals. It has striking flowers with bright yellow standard petals and veined cream and purple falls. Grown in western Europe since the late 16th century, it is a parent of many of the most colourful modern bearded iris cultivars.

Synonym: 

Iris rudskyi

Genus: 
Iris

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Native to the area stretching from central and south-east Europe to Ukraine, Iris variegata is found in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. It is naturalised in Switzerland and Italy.

Description

Overview: Iris variegata has a tuberous rhizome (underground stem) with fleshy roots.

Leaves: The deep green leaves are sword-shaped, slightly curved, 1-3 cm wide and around 30 cm long.

Flowers: The flowering stems are 20–45 cm high and are branched, with 3-6 flowers. Each flower measures 5–7 cm across. The standards (inner tepals) are yellow and the falls (outer tepals) are white to pale yellow, with red to purple veins sometimes fusing into a purple blotch, pointing out at an angle from the stem. The style branches and beard are yellowish. 

Illustration of Iris variegata

Illustration of Iris variegata by Sydenham Edwards (1787) taken from Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

Seeds: The seeds are flattened.

Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants.

Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Hybrids - dingy flag iris

Iris × germanica (dingy flag iris) is a low-growing bearded iris, similar to some of the modern dwarf bearded cultivars, such as ‘Langport Wren’. It is a hybrid between Iris variegata and the blue I. pallida, and is sometimes found wild where the species grow side-by-side, for example in northern Italy and Croatia. These hybrid swarms produce plants with flowers which show a great range of colours. This variation has been exploited by iris breeders to produce many cultivars of different sizes and colours.

Iris × germanica has a tuberous, shortly creeping rhizome (underground stem). The leaves are sword-shaped and are usually curved. The flowery stems are around 30 cm tall and are branching, with several flowers. The flowers appear in shades of purple or reddish-brown. The standards (inner three tepals) are upright, and the falls (outer tepals) are deflexed to horizontal. The styles are petaloid and curve downwards, hiding the stamens. The capsule has three locules (small cavities) and numerous flattened seeds.

Uses

Iris variegata is cultivated as an ornamental.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

Cultivation

Iris variegata is easy to grow and should be planted in a well-drained, sunny spot. It will benefit from being replanted in fresh soil every third year.

This species at Kew

Iris variegata can be seen growing in the Rock Garden at Kew.

Pressed and dried specimens of I. variegata are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

References and credits

Cooper, M.R. & Johnson, A.W. (1998). Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Britain. 2nd Edition. The Stationery Office, London.

Curtis, W. (1787). Iris variegata. Curtis's Bot. Mag. 1: Plate 16.

Mathew, B. (1981). The Iris. Batsford, London.

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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