Scientific Name: Iris douglasiana
Common Name: Douglas iris
Plant Type: Flowering perennial
Environment: Grows naturally along coastal zones, usually within sight of the ocean; it is common on bluffs and grassy hillsides. It sometimes extends farther inland in areas where human activity has opened forests to abundant sunlight.
Uses: Wonderful for consistent low ground color during their short bloom period. Best planted with other California natives and grasses as they die back to the ground each winter.
Other: Iris douglasiana clumps are often a single clone and can be hundreds of years old; Unpalatable to livestock, thrives in pastures
- Jepson eFlora
David Douglas (1799-1834) was a fearless botanist who traveled throughout the wilderness that was California and the Pacific Northwest, seeking new plants to send back to the Horticultural Society of London. This California native plant, the Douglas Iris, bears his name.
In spring, large clumps of iris with flowers ranging from cream to deep purple (range of colors caused by natural hybridization) bloom in grasslands along the coast, and in the deep shade of coastal forests from northern California to Oregon. The flowers are exquisitely painted with nectar guidelines for potential pollinators – in the iris' case, a bee or butterfly. The basal, sword-shaped leaves overlap and can reach over one foot long, rising from underground stems called rhizomes.
The Native Americans in California had respect and deep knowledge of the plants around them. They knew that despite the tremendous labor involved, iris leaves made fine cordage. Single fibers taken from each margin of each leaf were used to yield strong silky fibers for fishing nets, rope and snares for catching game. The dried rhizome – not the fresh which was known to be toxic – was used as a strong diuretic, and was also used for healing wounds.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS:
Docents Joanne Taylor and Kathy McNeil
Profile Contributor: David Kruse-Pickler, Associate Curator