Iris versicolor (Harlequin Blueflag)
|Also known as:
|Blueflag Iris, Northern Blueflag
|part shade, sun; wet meadows, marshes, along shores
|May - August
|1 to 3 feet
|Wetland Indicator Status:
|GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):
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Flowers are a typical iris shape, 3 to 4 inches across, blue to blue-violet, infrequently red-purple and rarely pale blue. The deeper colored edges of the 3 large, drooping petal-like sepals fade toward the base, with a pale yellowish to greenish spot in the throat and prominent blue-purple veins radiating from it. The upper lip of the sepal is shorter and shaped like a shoehorn, curving up. Sepals are 1½ to 2¾ inches long and to 1½ inches wide. The 3 petals are lance-oblong, and ½ to 2/3 the length of the sepals, drooping to spreading or erect in the center. There are 1 to a few flowers on a stalk.
Leaves are mostly basal with 1 or 2 along the stem. The sword-like leaves are about 1 inch wide and 1 to 3 feet long, erect or arching out from the base, often purplish red at the base. Stem leaves rarely rise above the flowers. The flowering stems emerging from the base are smooth with a waxy surface (glaucous) and strong, remaining erect as the seed pods mature. Stems are 1 or 2 branched.
Minnesota has two native irises appropriately named "northern" and "southern" Blueflag with their respective continental ranges overlapping in the southern half of the state. Iris versicolor is the northern and predominant species from the Twin Cities up into Canada. Iris virginica similarily from the Twin Cities south to the Texas coast. While very similar there are several distinguishing characteristics, but there is overlap so look at several before making a determination. Iris versicolor is usually richly pigmented on the outer sepal edges, fading lighter towards the throat, the veins prominent but the throat a faded greenish yellow. Iris virginca is frequently lighter blue with less contrast between the darker colored sepals margins and throat, the veins less prominent, but with a sharply defined, school bus yellow spot in the throat. Also I. virginica's center petals are 2/3 to nearly as long as the sepals and the flower stalk weaker, often falling over while in flower. The petals on I versicolor are proportionately shorter, ½ to 2/3 the length of the sepals, the flower stalk firm and remaining upright at maturity. Stem leaves typically rise above the flowers on I. virginica and do not on I. versicolor. We would also note that many references (Gleason & Cronquist) note that the yellow spot on I. virginica is "hairy" while I. versicolor's is merely papillate (covered in minute, blunt hairs or protuberances). In our observations, both have very similar, dense, glassy papillate hairs that appear as a rough, solid surface, both to the naked eye and under a microscope. Neither species is what horticulturists would regard as hairy (i.e. a bearded iris).
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- Harlequin Blueflag plant
- Harlequin Blueflag habitat
- unusual 4-petaled flower
- flowers with darker yellow spot
- surface texture of the sepal
- more habitat
Photos by K. Chayka taken at Savanna Portage State Park and in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin, Anoka and Lake counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?