The First Iris of Spring


No, it isn’t the bearded iris, that sun-loving, hardy perennial beloved of gardeners, and it isn’t the familiar blue flag, a native, clump-forming iris that thrives in marshes, swamps, wet meadows, and ditches around the country.

This small and delicate beauty, known as blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.), isn’t a grass at all, but another member of the iris family named for its grass-like leaves. At least a dozen Texas species exist; most show a typical yellow ‘eye,’ although the color of the flowers can range from blue, to purple, to rose and white. I suspect this one, found in a Brazoria county ditch, may be Sisyrinchium augustifolium.

Several clumps of these flowers were in full bloom on February 1, and I wasn’t the only one enjoying them. This little syrphid fly found the flower to be just his size: a perfect source of nectar and pollen.


Comments always are welcome.

80 thoughts on “The First Iris of Spring

  1. What a good syrphid fly picture.

    When I first learned about blue-eyed grass the name puzzled me because I conceived the yellow center as the flower’s “eye,” as you did too in your text.

    1. I think I remember you mentioning to someone recently about the difference that a hyphen can make. Perhaps this flower originally was designated as a ‘blue eyed-grass,’ and over time the hyphen moved: like the transposition of letters in a word. ‘Blue eyed-grass’ certainly makes more sense.

      I laughed when I saw that fly standing up to reach the pollen. It reminded me of a dog trying to sneak a treat off a dining table.

    1. They’re delightful little flowers, Jeanie. Sometimes they’re so thick they can cast a delicate blue haze over a field. The bloom is only about a half to three-quarters of an inch across, so you can imagine how tiny the little fly is!

  2. I can only imagine the warm feeling this flower elicits. The shot with the syrphid fly is nothing short of terrific. It almost looks as though the insect obligingly posed for you. Well done, I say!

    1. If I could get a syrphid fly to pose, might hand-feeding chickadees be far behind?

      On this day, there were more insects than I’ve seen in some time: sunning, feeding, and generally enjoying the freshly blooming flowers. Their willingness to stay put for seconds at a time gave me an advantage, although I certainly didn’t expect to find one so obliging as this fellow. Thanks for the kind words about the photo — it’s a fun one.

    1. That made me laugh, Derrick. Your suggestion that the fly might have sucked the oomph from the flower reminded me of an auto transmission shop in Houston whose advertising gimmick is its promise to put the “Yee-haw” back in your motor and transmission. Their jingle is cute; you can hear it here.

        1. Hard to say. Some of my Canadian readers sometimes can’t open links on my blog, and vice-versa. I think copyrights and such may play a role, but it’s mostly a mystery to me.

  3. What a pretty flower, great colors, really neat shape! In the second shot, it looks like your little buddy has peeled the flower like a banana, that’s a great shot with the fly up on its hind legs.

    1. What a great vision — peeling back those petals to get at the good stuff. It occurred to me that the syrphid flies probably don’t visit the silverleaf nightshade, whose stamens actually resemble bananas. Those flowers don’t have nectar, and require buzz pollination from bees.

      I do love these little flowers. I’m hoping that an area I found that’s been rich in them in the past will have a nice crop this year, too.

  4. Gorgeous shots! The one with the syrphid made me swoon! I have a little clump of Blue-eye grass that comes up every winter in my limestone mortared patio. It moves around a little, but it’s been there for about 5 years running and will bloom for a few weeks. What a treat!!

    1. One of these days I’ll sort out the various syrphids I’ve found. I think I have photos of three or four species; it’s amazing how many there are, and how specific their flower choices seem to be.

      I looked for some buds in this patch, but it was late morning when I found them, and most had fully opened or were fading. I’m glad I found these. It’s a good reminder to get out and start looking for other spring ephemerals, lest they come and go before I do!

  5. We were at Lake Livingston this weekend and I noticed a few things trying to bud out and come up. No major flowers like this yet, though. Around my yard many things that awaken in March are awakening now. Let’s hope we don’t get a harsh freeze this month.

    1. When I looked at the forecast, it seems as though we’ll skate with this one: a good temperature drop, but no hard freeze. I did laugh when I checked the temperatures at 1 p.m. It was 77 in Houston and 27 in Amarillo. Now, that’s February.

      The buttercups and oxalis are running rampant down here, along with crow poison, wild strawberry, and Texas tauschia. I found more Indian paintbrush last weekend, and a few ratty-looking spiderwort that had made a run at it, but seem to have been affected by cold temperatures. Still, spring’s on its way, and pretty much on schedule.

  6. What a pretty color! And such a happy sight, especially on this gray day (again!) with another winter storm on its way! Linda, I can always count on you to brighten up my winter by showing me Spring is on its way — thank you!

    1. It looks to me as though we’re sharing a storm system this week. We’re only getting rain and a temperature drop, though, while you’ll probably have some snow.

      I really like the colors of these flowers. They can be a deeper blue, like this one, or pale blue, or even lavender blue, which is especially nice. There’s even one that’s a pale violet with a deep purple ring around its ‘eye’ — there’s so much lovely variety to appreciate in this world.

    1. Isn’t it, though? This species sometimes will have three or four flowers to a stalk. You can see another bud tucked away just below this flower. I tried to photograph one with multiple blooms, but I couldn’t keep them all in focus, and decided that one would do. Then I found the one with the little guy raiding the pollen-cupboard, and of course I had to show him, too.

  7. wow! so early! I have a small clump of blue eyed grass in one of my flower beds that I dug up from the side of the road. no blooms on it yet. I did not know this was a member of the iris family.

    1. I was surprised to learn these belonged with the iris, too. There are several more in that family I’ll be showing, including the pretty lavender prairie nymph (Herbertia lahue). It’s interesting to see what’s showing up where at this point in the season. I still haven’t seen an anemone, but the buttercups are running wild. We’ll see what happens with the front that’s on the way. I don’t mind the thought of it slowing things down a bit.

  8. I think the insect looks cool too!! Harbinger of Spring I guess!! Sometimes I think when you get a cold snap then a warm spell, it fools nature into thinking spring has sprung.

    1. Speaking of cold spells, I thought about you (last week, maybe?) when we were hearing about the falling iguana alerts in Florida. Not much falls around here, but the alligators, turtles, and lizards do appear and disappear as the late winter and early spring temperatures fluctuate.

      I am seeing more bees and flies now; it makes sense that they’d appear with the first flowers, just as plants like the wolfberry set their fruit just ahead of the arrival of the whooping cranes. Everything does work together, as long as we don’t get in the way.

      Has nesting started there? It may be a little early, although I did see a great egret standing all by himself with a stick in his beak last weekend. He was shaking it for all it was worth — maybe he’s practicing his moves before he goes looking for a girlfriend!

      1. I haven’t been to the rookery at all this season yet, but am certain it is well underway. Nesting tends to start early here in Florida. I suppose kind of early in Texas too being on the nice warm Gulf.

        The iguanas being ectothermic do not do well in the cold hence the frozen iguana showers during cold snaps. This is all still relatively new as iguanas are not native to Florida but have definitely taken over the south end. I find alligators are easier to see in the winter as they come up to get some sun. In the summer you have to scan beneath the water more I find.

        The weather here in sunny South Florida is most excellent today!!

        1. Now that I think about it, I believe the iguana reports I read were from the Miama area. And I agree with you completely about the alligators. I’ve heard them called ‘bank-baskers,’ and that’s exactly what they do around here in the wintertime. In fact, there are places in the refuges where their favored spots are noticeable even when they aren’t around. The grasses are flattened in just ‘that’ way, and you know darned well who left their imprint.

          We’ve had the tail end of the front that brought snow to north and west Texas roll through, so it’s going to be cold and perhaps damp today. But tomorrow the sun’s back, and by the weekend it should be lovely again. I’ve felt so off kilter since the move that I haven’t gotten back on track at work or away: pulled in too many ways. Even my writing has suffered. But I’m declaring today a catch-up day, and maybe by its end I’ll be back on track!

          1. I’d send you vibes for organization and catch up control, excepting I’m so totally not qualified to do that!!

            Just over the flu and feeling ready to hit the ground running and get in control again too!! Unless I tank again this afternoon!! Big sigh!!

            1. Oh, gosh. It’s going around, isn’t it? I finally made myself get my flu and pneumonia shots, and I have my fingers crossed for a healthy rest of the season. Working in relative isolation out on the docks has some real benefits.

            2. A few years ago I had a flu that had me so miserable that I decided I didn’t want to do it again. So this year, actually end of last year, I did get my first flu shot. But, everything is so species specific that its hard to tell effects. I like to think this recent episode could have been worse if I hadn’t gotten the shot and maybe there were some helpful antibodies working for me. I will get the shot from now on I think. Everything hurts worse the older you get.

            3. That’s right. And I just learned that both the shingles and pneumonia shots now are two-part. I had a shingles shot almost a decade ago, but my pharmacist said that one is considered about 50% effective. The new, two-part immunization has been determined to be 95% effective. Even I can figure out the advantage to making another run at it!

            4. I had the chicken pox as a kid but antibodies may be gone. For some reason I am more nervous about a zoster shot than the flu but ought to think about it. Being an army brat, I grew up with many required shots and felt it was a good thing. I agree with your thinking.

            5. I didn’t have any side effects at all to the shingles shot, and neither did my mom, who had survived a bout of shingles and who said, “Bring on the shot, doc.” She had one more episode post-immunization, but it was very mild, and didn’t last long at all.

            6. My parents did get the shingles shot late life and didn’t seem to have any bad side effects either. If we could only predict the likelihood of it happening!! Guess we should stop or this will look like a medical blog!!

    1. Isn’t it fun to realize how much is going on around us, all the time? Even the tiniest creatures have their rich and complex lives; those lives may not seem like much to us, but I suspect that syrphid fly was pleased as could be to find such readily available pollen — and I was pleased to discover him enjoying it.

    1. This is one I never would have expected. I had to laugh — while the little fly was standing up to get his portion of pollen, I was flat on the ground, trying to get him in my viewfinder. His flower was only about six inches tall, so I had to play contortionist.

  9. Two things I miss down here at this time of year are the irises and the daffodils. But the summer is pretty nice, and would be a whole lot nicer if we would only get some rain!

    1. Isn’t it funny, the things we miss when we’re in a different setting? In spring, I miss the pussy willows and forsythia of the midwest, and the flowering almond. On the other hand, we have these pretty blue-eyed grasses and other ephemeral delights, so I’ll not complain too much. Now, if only I could send you some rain; I would if I could!

    1. I like the thought of flowers sleeping, all tucked into their beds with a blanket of snow. Everyone needs their rest — even the flowers. But once it’s time to get up, they’re like children — unstoppable in their enthusiasm.

    1. Isn’t he a cutie? He probably was thankful to find such accessible pollen, although I must admit it never had crossed my mind that a fly would stand on its hind legs like that. On the other hand, why not? It certainly worked for him!

    1. I was surprised to see how many cultivars there are. It’s an interesting example of one of our natives being carried back to Britain (and perhaps other countries). Our natives are especially nice because of their long bloom time. They disappear as the heat of summer builds, but they’ll be around for several months.

    1. This is one of the species that I categorize as ‘ditch diamonds.’ I’ve been meaning to do a post about them, but you know how that goes: so many photos, so little time and space. The number of beauties that show up in the ditches is amazing; of course, most of them are plants that will tolerate or even thrive in wet conditions. Heaven knows we’ve had plenty of rain this year, so it will be interesting to see what emerges.

      1. I’m always interested how plants can adapt to and thrive in what may be challenging conditions. And how local environment, even in a very small area, can have such an impact. –Curt

  10. The fly seems to really relish the thought of getting some nectar. He stands back a little in order to relish the coming of his first taste. He looks at it from all sides before tucking in. At least that’s how I see it.

    1. They’re so dependable: like the dandelions. And they aren’t fussy about their neighborhoods. One of the best patches I’ve ever seen was at the foot of a utility tower near the San Bernard refuge. Everything around was gravel, but there they were, happy as could be.

  11. I can see with the arrangement of the petals (three atop three) how they could be related to bearded iris, my personal favorite. “Blue-eyed grass” — what a wonderful name. — Great exclamation of surprise — “What in the ever-loving, blue-eyed grass is that?!”

    1. That’s an expression you could have used when you looked out the window last night or this morning. It seems some less than springlike weather has come your way. I doubt anyone has a photo of blue-eyed grass in snow, but you never know.

      The iris family is huge, and three is the key number. These have are 3 sepals, colored to look like petals, and 3 true petals, plus 3 stamens. Like your favorite iris, they spread by underground rhizomes. I’ve always thought the French fleur-de-lis was a lily, but I’ve read that many experts consider it to be a stylized rendition of the Iris pseudocorus.

  12. Wow Linda, SO bizarre! We won’t be seeing Blue-Eyed Grass in bloom up here for at least another three months…
    Love your little flying fellow sipping (or should I say supping?) lol

      1. There are a couple more I’ll be showing that also are in the iris family. I didn’t have a clue, until I did a little reading about them. They’re all native, and all are spring ephemerals; it’s time to be out exploring and searching.

    1. What a difference a few degrees of latitude make, eh? It’s time for other beauties to begin appearing, and some of them are doing so, with enthusiasm. Photos to follow!

      I think the hoverflies are cute as can be, and this was a really special capture.

      1. It’s wonderful when they pose, isn’t it? I have some super-focussed pics of one perched in my Studio Garden last year. Kept expecting him/her to take off but it very obligingly stayed put while minding the blossom it fed upon much more than my invasion.

    1. There are several amazing things about the photo of the little fly, not the least of which is that he stood still long enough for me to get the photo. I often see such things after the fact on the computer, having caught them accidentally, but I saw this little dude in action, and really was happy to get him in that typical ‘puppy pose.’

      1. We all get these little surprises but on occasion see them as they happen. Insects are, or were, one of my main subjects so I have decent odds but even then there are surprises.

        1. Some things I see are so tiny there’s probably no way I could even get a decent photo of them. The latest example was a spider about the size of a large pinhead weaving a web (or at least stringing silk) between the anthers of a spiderwort. Amazing.

  13. Wonderful photos! And such a sweet plant – I’ve always been very happy to find little Blue-eyes grass in meadows (back east). My face would light up with a smile – how can you not? When I learned it was in the Iris family I could see the resemblance. The second photo is really amazing – just beautiful!

    1. I didn’t realize until recently that the iris-like ‘threes’ are part of this flower. What I’d assumed to be six petals actually are three petals and three sepals: an arrangment that’s more obvious in the bearded or garden iris and other members of the family. So: tepals! As for that little hoverfly, I was completely charmed by him. I’m always touched by the little peeks into the insect world that show them living their smaller, but not at all insignificant, lives.

      1. Yes, three and three, or six….I didn’t know it was in the iris family but it’s fun to find that out, and then one sees it a little differently, right? And boy, insect lives sure aren’t significant! The more I hear about insect population declines, along with so many other environmental issues, the more worried I feel. So we need to appreciate them, as you do, while we can.

        1. I’m developing a real affection for insects, although it’s going to be a while before I’m wholly enthusiastic about millipedes and roaches. Like vultures and maggots, they have their place, but it helps if you’re a cute little bee, or a caterpillar with a smiley face!

  14. Nice shots. Not just pretty – it’s tough to get a fly to stand still when you’re getting up close and personal, or to have enough depth of field on those macro shots to get most of the flower in focus.

    1. This hoverfly seemed ready enough to stand still, but my ability to get down to his level was another matter entirely. I solved it by lying on the ground and shooting with the camera turned sideways. It was worth it, though — I’m glad you enjoyed the result.

    1. At first glance, it doesn’t look much like an iris. But the flower has the typical iris structure (three petals, three sepals = six tepals), its leaves are long and sword-like, and it also reproduces by rhizomes. There’s a nice article here by a midwestern master gardener that gives more information about species that do well in your area. Could blue-eyed grass of some sort be a nice addition to that space where you were considering violets?

  15. This is so sharp and you had beautiful either early morning or late afternoon light and it shows. You’re so fortunate to also get the fly, as at times they can be quick to fly off.

    1. It was morning light, but not so early. The first photo’s time stamp is 10:54, and the second was taken at 11:02 — proof that the harshness of midday light can be mitigated somewhat. It was a little hazy, and that helped. As for the hoverfly, he seemed as intent on the pollen as I can be on ice cream; he just wasn’t inclined to speed off — and I was glad!

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