Dwarf Iris

Iris verna. The iris is a fabled flower — and a tabled one, too. The name comes from the Greek goddess Iris, who was a messenger between humans and the gods atop Mount Olympus. Wherever she went, a rainbow followed her. Whenever the ancient Greeks saw a rainbow in the sky, it was a sign that Iris was delivering a message to someone. Thus, iris came to mean “rainbow” and, used as the generic name of these plants, reflects the variety of brilliant colors sported by many species. The Greeks had a more practical use for the iris, however.  According to the story, a Greek name for one type of iris was machaironion, and the rhizome of this species was ground with flour to create a variety of pasta. Later this staple became known simply “macaroni.”  Among more than 30 Iris species in the United States, Dwarf Iris (Iris verna) comes in two versions, Upland, I. verna smalliana, which has clumps of flowers, and Coastal, I. verna verna, shown here, whose flowers are farther apart in loose colonies. Both employ typical iris techniques to attract large bees: Extremely showy upright displays, which are especially reflective in ultraviolet light; large sepals, which serve as comfortable landing pads; and very effective mechanisms for depositing pollen on the bees seeking the ample quantities of nectar. Perhaps because of destruction of habitat — typically dry oak or pine forests — and theft of plants, the Dwarf Iris is considered endangered in several states. However, since the plant is somewhat poisonous, deer — a deadly threat to many spring natives — appear to ignore this species. 

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