Meanwhile, Back at the Ditch

Wild irises along Brazoria County Road 306

After returning from my recent foray into the wilds of Bluebonnetland, I realized I was in danger of repeating a mistake I’ve made in the past. Despite knowing last year’s iris leaves had emerged in the ditches surrounding the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, I put off a return visit; by the time I saw the irises again, the flowers were gone.

Not wanting to miss them this year, I decided to make a quick trip to the refuge to see if a few irises might still be blooming. They were: another form of ditch diamond to enjoy.

A different sort of flag

Everyone seems to agree that at least three iris species are native to Texas. This Southern Blue Flag (Iris virginica) may be the best known. I first heard the phrase ‘flag pond’ after moving to Texas, and misinterpreted the phrase. I assumed it meant a pond with a flag pole next to it. A pond filled with irises never occurred to me.

Two to three feet tall, Blue Flags can vary in color from very light blue to purple, leading me to suspect that the next two photos also show Blue Flags.

The Zigzag iris (Iris brevicaulis) has different growth habits. Flowers are borne on sprawling stems which typically zig-zag to a height of no more than fives inches. The specific epithet brevicaulis means ‘short-stemmed,’ and the long, strap-like green leaves often hide the blooms.

A zigzag Iris blooming only inches above the ground

Color variations also exist among Zigzag Iris. While some sites describe the flower as lavender, others mention purple and yellow as possibilities. Given their short stature and the length of their sepals — substantially longer than their petals — I suspect this next pair might be Zigzag iris as well.

The colonies were pretty when seen from the road, but only a walk among them revealed their variety of color and form: except, of course, for the yellow iris, which demanded to be noticed.

Comments always are welcome.

56 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Back at the Ditch

  1. Rather than tip-toe through the tulips you zig-zagged through the irises.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary has this to say: “plant growing in moist places, late 14c., “‘reed, rush,’ perhaps from Scandinavian (compare Danish flæg ‘yellow iris’) or from Dutch flag; perhaps ultimately connected to flag (v.1) on notion of “fluttering in the breeze.”

    1. And I had to put boots on for that zig-zagging. At least I was smart enough to leave the ukulele in the car.

      The connections among the various meanings of ‘flag’ are interesting. Your linked page answered the question that came to my mind: how can ‘flag’also mean slowing, or lessening, as in ‘flagging energy’? Here it is: “Sense of “go limp, droop, become languid” is first recorded 1610s.” No wind, no flutter, so to speak — like having the wind go out of one’s sails.

      1. This was so interesting! I’ve kept a link to the Online Etymology Dictionary thanks Steve and it’s cool to know the background to ‘flagging’ Linda :)

  2. Irises are among my favorites, Linda. Those are beautiful photos. I have a patch of wild yellow flag iris here, along with all the domestic varieties. Iris season here won’t be for a few more weeks yet.

    1. I’ve always been a touch ambivalent about some of the more extravagant, cultivated irises, but when I met the native ones, I liked them immediately. At first, I assumed they had escaped from someone’s garden, but eventually I learned that they’re a natural part of the landscape, like our native water canna (Canna glauca). I was so entranced by the iris I forgot to go farther down the road and see how the refuge canna survived the freeze. Next time!

    1. When I looked at the distribution maps, I found the blue flags pretty widely distributed, including in your area. The zigzag iris is shown in only a few Texas counties, although the BONAP map shows it in Brazoria and the USDA map doesn’t. There’s a northern blue flag (Iris versicolor) as well as our southern blue flag that apparently favors ditches, streams, and ponds as well.

  3. I’ve got a lot of cultivated irises in my yard but they’re not in bloom yet. I used to have some yellow ones that co-existed with in my cattail bog but they died out after 5 years or so. Not sure why. Have you ever been stung by bees on your ‘flower foraging’ trips? I’m allergic so I stay away from the kind of places you go…one of the reasons why I like ‘tagging along’ with you and your camera.

    1. I started roaming around in 2015, and in all those years I’ve only been stung once: by a bumblebee. That was the day I learned that bumblebees nest in the ground, that they don’t like clumsy humans who disturb their nest, and that they can sting more than once because they lack barbs on their stinger and can pull it out for a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) sting. Honey bee stingers have barbs, so it’s once and done for them.

  4. Irises are one of my favorites as they remind me of my Aunt Iris. I’m so glad you were able to revisit them while they were still in full glory. Your photos are fabulous! (We’ll see ours in June, though maybe a bit early this year.)

    1. Did you know that ‘Iris’ was the name of a messenger of the Olympian gods, and that she was represented by a rainbow? In the Iliad, the word is used both for the messenger and for the rainbow. These irises certainly provided a rainbow of color, and I’ll bet yours do, too. June isn’t that far away at this point; personally, I wouldn’t mind time slowing a bit. We’re barreling toward summer at what seems to be breakneck speed.

  5. I’ve photographed a number of different wild iris over the years, Linda, when wandering through the woods. But here at the Mekemson Rancho, they are all domestic, and abundant. We had a small iris garden for a few years and the bulbs reproduced in such numbers that Peggy dug them up and separated them last fall. Now it’s hard to look around here and not see an iris growing. As I noted in a recent post, Peggy even shoved them into gopher holes. I think that the gophers moved on in disgust. Even our ravenous deer leave them alone, which is a good thing. They should start blooming in a few weeks. Iris are beautiful flowers, as your photos so aptly display. –Curt

    1. I grinned when I read about Peggy ‘redeveloping’ those gopher holes in that post. Any time nature wants to help out in such a concrete way, we’d be silly not to take advantage of it. It is interesting that some of our most lovely plants aren’t disturbed by the deer, except in the occasional extreme conditions. Do your deer leave your lupines alone? One reason the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush thrive as they do is that the deer don’t favor them — and we’re all glad of it.

      1. One thing that lupine, Indian paint brush, poppies and Texas Blue Bonnet all have in common is that they are poisonous to varying degrees to animals, Linda. Fox Glove is another. When we grow it the deer will come by, bite off a flower, and then spit it out. They will walk around our poppy patch rather than through it. –Curt

    1. Aren’t they pretty? Have you done iris in glass — either etched or as a box or tile? I’ve always enjoyed the way Tiffany and some of the other artists of that era made use of them.

  6. What a beautiful flower to grow in the wild. We only grow them in residential gardens (i.e. bought from plant nurseries).

    What a glorious sight they are and their beautiful colour(s).

    1. I’ve developed a preference for these native iris, although the range of colors is greater in cultivated species. The ones I see on garden sites often are “fancier,” too, with extra ruffles and larger flowers. I think my taste for simplicity probably comes into play. I prefer our native roses to most garden roses, for example, and our native canna to the fancy ones I see in gardens. No matter: there’s a flower for every taste, and that’s the important thing.

    1. I was glad I could find some examples to photograph that weren’t so hidden by foliage or other flowers that they were impossible to isolate. I think they’re beautiful, too; overcoming inertia to get on the road and make the two-hour drive to their ditches was worthwhile.

        1. I have so many wonderful natural areas within a reasonable distance from home that the only real problem is deciding which direction to go. There’s always something to see, but sometimes there’s more than I expected, and this was one of those times.

  7. A flag pond. Now there’s an image. Isn’t that Iris blue a snuggly color! Those last two photos made me want to have a good old upper body taut-to-the-point-of-quivering stretch.

    1. Instead of being stretched to the breaking point, that last pair could be said to be stretched to the blooming point. I really was surprised by the range of colors. A ‘blue’ flag can be purple, or the lightest blue in the world. I’ve often found white variants of pink or blue flowers in the wild; finding a white blue flag would be terrific.

    1. They’re great, aren’t they? There’s a northern blue flag (Iris versicolor) that’s native to your area. Do you ever see them along your rivers or pond edges?

  8. I learned from this post. I have the the same iris or at least it looks the same. I’ve had them them for about 50 or more years ago and don’t remember how I acquired them. I had always believed my iris was non native. I had no idea. I have two clumps and I really must get them moved because in both places Ilex decidua sprung up in the middle of both clumps. I am very happy to know mine are native. I adore the blue blossom and look forward to the blooms each year.

    1. I’m no plant expert (to say the least!) but I have read that the native versions will endure and spread, while some cultivars tend to fade away after a few years. I’ve been watching these iris colonies for four or five years, and despite mowing and such, they’re continuing to thrive, so it makes sense to me that your iris could be native. It’s a shame their bloom time is so short — it certainly does make their appearance a treat!

  9. I love blue irises – here I’m watching the leaves grow on some Siberian irises. When I was a kid in Scotland, we used to see the yellow flag irises growing in damp areas – they gave an exotic air to the otherwise harsh landscape.

    1. Yellow in any form brightens up a landscape, doesn’t it? I’ve never thought of iris as a world-wide flower, but ‘Siberia’ and ‘Scotland’ suggest otherwise. I’m glad you have some — I’ll bet we might even see some photos!

    1. I did, although I had to spend a little time persuading myself that I should. Given a four-hour round trip, there went Sunday afternoon — but it absolutely was worth it.

    1. They are here, too. My sense is that individual flowers last a couple of days or so, and the bloom period generally is two-three weeks. It was missing them last year, and finding only seed pods when I returned to their ditches, that encouraged me to get with it this year and go on the search.

    1. It didn’t occur to me until yesterday that ‘ditch diamond’ is appropriate in another way. A new local (and apparently ‘exclusive’) jeweler was advertising on radio, and the topic of the ad was their extensive collection of colored diamonds. Somehow I’d missed knowing that diamonds come in colors, but they do — making the metaphor even more appropriate for our variously colored flowers.

  10. These are just gorgeous! The colors, the delicate blooms, AND the fact that they were hiding in plain sight. Hard not to realize Spring has sprung when Iris is in bloom!

  11. Various species of iris are present here, but it is a little early for them to be in bloom June seems about right.

    1. As I recall, iris were thought of as summer flowers in Iowa, too. I know they bloomed after the tulips and with the lilacs, so that makes sense. It’s hard to believe that June is on the horizon, but it is. Many of the migrant birds are appearing in our area now, resting after that long trip. You might enjoy these photos taken at a spot relatively near my home by a very skilled and knowledgeable photographer.

  12. Beautiful – and thanks for describing the different iris varieties. I used to see a lot of different kinds around California and it’s nice to know their names now!

    1. Here’s an interesting tidbit for you. Neither of these species grow in California, but both of them grow in Indiana, so your chances of seeing them just increased exponentially! Have you ever used the BONAP maps? Here’s the one for Iris. I love them because it’s so easy to see which species might appear in my area just by looking at the graphics.

      1. Well isn’t that interesting! I will say I saw them most at the nearby botanical garden, but I did see them in some people’s yards too. And I’m glad I still get to see them here in Indiana. And thanks for the BONAP tip!

    1. They have a short life here, too. I’m not sure how long the individual flowers last, since each plant produces multiple flowers. The overall impression may be the same from day to day, but it’s created by different blooms. It’s a fact that their season isn’t more than two or three weeks, so I’m glad to have timed it right!

  13. This is a wonderful collection of irises, all beautiful of course. But that yellow is a show stopper. We have some yellow flags near the swamp I often visit but they are not at all native.

    1. The yellow one sure stopped me in my tracks. There were four or five of them, but only one that was in any position to be photographed. A couple were just too surrounded by other foliage, one was nearly gone, and one was too far into the woods — I wasn’t sure, even with knee high boots, what I might run into. No matter. This one is a lovely example, and I’m glad you enjoyed seeing it.

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