I don’t know about you, but one of the things I appreciate most in a plant, that is, if I’m going to be expending the effort to plant and cultivate it, is enthusiasm.
That’s why the Yellow Flag Iris, iris pseudacorus is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, this iris shows so much enthusiasm that it’s considered an invasive nuisance in some areas.
More on this later, first a little background:
Yellow Flags are most probably the flower represented by the fleur-de-lis a design that dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, over six thousand years ago. I say “probably” because there exists a school of thought that says the fleur-de-lis was, in fact, a lily. However, even though the design we know today bears little resemblance to either plant, one has to recall that photography was not highly advanced six millenniums past. A pressed and dried iris pseudacorus, on the other hand, looks quite a lot like a fleur-de-lis in its flattened state. Further, the fleur-de-lis is most often found in heraldry on a blue background, symbolizing water, where the plant thrives.
While some claim the French term fleur-de-lis came from fleur-de-lys, or flower of the lily, I think its more likely to have originated from the name of the French river Lis.
In the twelfth century, either King Louis VI or King Louis VII (sources disagree) became the first French monarch to use the fleur-de-lis on his shield. There are lots of pretty little stories about how this came to be. The most credible, in my mind, is that King Louis VI or King Louis VII found his army trapped and outnumbered, where they had been driven to the shore of a large lake.
Seeing a continuous band of iris that stretched across the lake at one point, Louis VI (or VII if you’re a stickler for detail) realized that the band represented an area where the water wasn’t so deep and his army made its escape by that route. Indeed, Yellow Flags do not grow in water depths much greater than about 10 inches (25 cm.) Needless to say, this bit of horticultural savvy earned Louis Six or Seven an extremely high approval rating when he returned back home, and he rewarded the flower by pasting fleurs-de-lis about willy-nilly.
If you don’t care to believe that story, there are others, as I say, mostly involving God delivering a blue-backed fleur-de-lis flag to Louis in person.
Anyway, as I was saying, iris pseudacorus is quite hardy and prolific, given it’s exotic good looks. It first caught my eye in a seed catalog which used the term, “Thrives on neglect”. Well, this really spurred my imagination, because if there’s anything I am capable of supplying, it’s neglect, so when I first found an example for sale in no haughtier a venue than Wal-Mart, I dropped it into my cart and headed for home.
Back at the ranch, I not only have several large ponds, but numerous damp marshy areas. This is the domain of Yellow Flag Iris, or Pale Yellow Iris as it is sometimes called, for it flourishes in wet places and is very tolerant of low light. It will flourish around the edges of ponds and part of the way up the banks.
Just put the rhizomes under enough soil that they don’t float, and leave them alone. If you buy a few starters, in two or three seasons, you’ll have plenty to transplant to other locations, should you so desire.
The mature plant consists of a clump of sword-like leaves reaching about three feet tall and it produces a plethora of bright yellow flowers from May through July. It is quite similar to domesticated species of Iris, with the notable exception that it lacks that sweet fragrance (so you needn’t risk falling into the swamp when leaning in to catch a whiff).
We’re told that one shouldn’t plant Yellow Flags where cattle can feed on them, and you should probably keep in mind that some consider it an invasive species in much the same way cattail is considered so. It is listed as a noxious weed in Montana and Washington.
Personally, I have planted them among cat-tails where my plan is to let the two species duke it out.
On a more positive note, bees love it, and the root has been used for several medicinal purposes in the history of herbal remedies, including as a cure for toothache, diarrhea, and cramps among many others. A drink “similar to coffee” is said to be made from the seeds, and dyes of yellow and black can be made from the flowers and roots respectively. It is also used in sewage treatment, and is known to be able to remove metals from wastewaters.