That Family Resemblance

Blue Flag iris ~ (Iris virginica)

I suspect most people can recognize an iris; its popularity as a flower and its appearance on everything from dinnerware to stationery has helped to ensure that. But the iris family — the Iridaceae — is immense, and many of its members aren’t immediately recognizable as fringe relatives.

Three of my favorite native Texas wildflowers — blue-eyed grass, prairie nymph, and purple pleatleaf — belong to the Iridaceae. Their flowers aren’t particularly iris-like, but their buds provide a glimpse into the family relationship. In my next post, I’ll show the flowers that emerge from these entrancing little buds.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)  ~  Midfield, Texas
Prairie Nymph (Herbertia lahue) ~ Cost, Texas
Purple Pleatleaf  (Alophia drummondii) ~ Warren, Texas

Comments always are welcome.

78 thoughts on “That Family Resemblance

    1. In the beginning, it was easy for me to see resemblances in the sunflower family. Once I began looking at flowers at different stages of growth, less obvious relationships became more understandable.

        1. Of course, what qualifies as ‘good’ changes with time. In the beginning, ‘the best I could do’ was just fine, but even then the process of deciding what was acceptable for showing was its own good learning experience.

    1. Sometimes hanging on to photos for a while — or not having time to post everything! — is good. It was fun to browse my archives and discover I had the right photos for a post like this.

    1. They’re the sort of flowers that lend themselves to a ‘soft touch.’ The iris is good sized, of course, but the others are relatively small and delicate.

    1. I think most of the blue-eyed grasses are done now. I saw a few before this last spate of rain, but they were fading. I’ve seen fresh stands of pink evening primrose, though, so there might be a few more blue-eyed grasses, too. Even post-freeze this seemed to be a good year for the prairie nymph, and I was glad. They certainly were widespread, even if they weren’t as dense as in the past.

    1. Thanks. I was really pleased with the first photo, and a little surprised by how well the color was captured. I especially liked the horizontal and vertical lines in that one.

    1. The word that always comes to mind when I see these buds is ‘svelte.’ They’re the 1940s film stars of the wildflower world — but their blooms are just as pretty.

    1. Isn’t it, though? Taxonomy still confuses me more often than not, but familial characteristics sure can help with identification. One of the things I like about Michael Eason’s book is that it’s divided by families, with their scientific and common names on the edge of each page. Even routine exposure helps to fix them in the mind.

  1. I’m familiar with Iris virginica but the other three relatives are new to me. Fascinating how similar they look once you realize the connection. Flowers are fun.

    1. I remember how surprised I was to learn blue-eyed grass is in the iris family. That was the first of this group I discovered. Next were the prairie nymphs, and then the pleatleafs. They’re all pure pleasure to find, and common enough that they can be counted on to show up every spring. There are several species of blue-eyed grass; you can find the ones that grow in your area on these maps.

    1. If I have this right, there are sixty-six genera in the family: each of these iris family members belongs to a different genus:Herbertia, Iris, Alophia, and that tongue-twister, Sisyrinchium. Crocuses and freesias are in the iris family, too, but they aren’t native to our country. Crocuses are Mediterranean natives, and freesias are from South Africa — there are members of the iris family everywhere!

  2. As you say, it is a family of great diversity, much loved, and widespread throughout different climate zones. I think that irises have a part in the lives of most of us at one point or another.

    1. They certainly were a part of my grandmother’s life. She adored them; her only complaint was that their season was too short. That’s true of the other flowers I’ve shown here, as well. Blue-eyed grass may be one of our earliest spring wildflowers, but with the heat of summer, it fades away. That’s all the more reason to enjoy these when they’re with us.

    1. That made me laugh, GP. When I think of in-laws in a flower family, I think more of the thistles; they’re part of the sunflower family, but at gatherings their relatives may comment quietly about their prickly nature.

        1. A place to start might be these BONAP maps that show the various blue-eyed grass species. I see there are a few native to your state. Sometimes I start by looking for photos of a species that’s shown in my area. Another place to start is an app called Picture This. (There are similar apps, but that’s the one I’ve seen.) You can snap a photo with your phone, and see what the app suggests as an identity. It’s not perfect; I’ve seen it misidentify several flowers, but it’s still helpful. Or, you could post a photo on your blog, or email a photo to me; I’d be happy to have a look.

          1. I posted the images on a recent post about our feral farm Red Bud. I use an app called Seek which is great for identification. So far I have had good luck with wildflowers.org. I’ll check out your resources to see if I can learn more. Thanks

    1. I wish I’d found a more tightly-wound prairie nymph; this one already was opening before I got myself out and about. They open in the morning and last only for a day before shriveling, although new flowers appear for several weeks.

  3. The hobbits of the iris world. I have regular iris in the garden, but they don’t seem to bloom anymore. Too old, too root bound, too something.

    1. I know so little about Hobbits I had to look them up, and discovered the first search entries referred to them as imaginary. These are quite real, so I suppose you were referring to their size. They sure are small, which makes photographing them a challenge, and probably an entertainment for anyone watching the photographer!

        1. No, but I used to eat at a café called The Hobbit Hole in Houston. I’ll confess I was more interested in the food than in the Hobbits — and the food was pretty darned good. They had the freshest sprouts I’ve ever had in a restaurant.

    1. Then I’ll count this post as a success, since my purpose was to make their iris-like qualities obvious! The prairie nymph and pleatleaf have traits that do suggest ‘iris’ when they’re blooming, although the blue-eyed grass had me fooled for a good while.

  4. As your fans have pointed out, excellent photography! That fact is underscored when one knows how relatively small these plants can be. Very nice series.

    We first encountered the Prairie Nymph at Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR. Stunning blooms!

    Looking forward to flowers.

    1. I do love my macro lens. A nice spread of blue-eyed grass can be lovely, but the details of the individual flowers shine when seen more closely. Of course, trying to photograph a two-inch-high prairie nymph can elicit questions like “did you lose something?” but what better way to meet people?

    1. Thanks, Becky. Here’s an early morning thought: if we could see the connections among people as easily, we might have fewer problems in this world.

    1. The blue eyed grass certainly surprised me. I learned it was in the iris family about the same time I figured out that the name, so often written as ‘blue-eyed grass,’ would be better written as ‘blue eyed-grass.’ Most of the time, the flower’s little ‘eye’ is yellow.

    1. That would be interesting, but take another look. It’s actually purple ‘pleatleaf.’ I had a brief moment of panic, thinking I’d mislabeled it — thank goodness it was just an example of something I’ll do from time to time: creative misreading! You’ll like the pleatleaf flower; the vaguely iris-like bloom can be discerned once the family’s known.

          1. Some words just suggest themselves. I imagine there have been studies of why our brain substitutes some familiar word for another when we read too quickly.

  5. After having featured the domestic type last week, Linda, I featured a wild one today from my walk in the woods. There are a number of varieties around here, and I find them all attractive. –Curt

    1. All of the irises are pretty, but these family members — not of the iris genus, but related — are pretty darned cool. Two of these look a bit iris-ish when they’re in bloom, now that I know there’s a family relationship, but one doesn’t at all. Taxonomy’s gotten even more complicated now that DNA analysis has gotten involved, and sometimes I just don’t understand the way things are categorized — but these make sense to me.

      1. The whole DNA thing is fascinating, even if confusing. Even my own family’s DNA. Lots of reclassification going on. “You are related to me how?” One of the things that I intend to do with my summer break from blogging is to spend a bit more time with genealogy and work on some of the sub-species.

        1. I’m often amazed by people who can figure out the second-cousin-three-times-removed business. Of course, our family was so small it wasn’t hard to keep track of everyone. On my mother’s side (back to Ireland) there are good records, but my dad’s parents brought nothing but the family Bible with them when they emigrated from Sweden c. 1900. I am lucky to have quite a few records of my mom’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, including things like Civil War pension applications. Living history!

          1. Peggy and I had a great time pursuing roots out on the road, Linda. Even going off to Scotland. I’ve been fortunate in the US to see family documents on my mother’s sided from the 1650s and my fathers from the 1750s. Living history, indeed. It’s like a combination of historical research and a treasure hunt. And I am also lucky that my great grandfather on my mother’s side wrote a memoir and his uncle wrote a book about his experiences in the Civil War. Fun.
            Family bibles are a major source for genealogists when the families have recorded birds, marriages and deaths in them. –Curt

            1. I have a friend who says there are ‘thinkos’ as well as typos. When I saw the ‘thinko’ in your comment, I laughed. Bibles certainly do record ‘birds,’ marriages,, and deaths.’ What family doesn’t have a strange bird or two? Of course there’s a song that celebrates those strange birds!

            2. I admit to having fingers that were born to make typos, Linda. :) Sometimes I even catch them. There’s a reason why I have Peggy proof my posts.
              I’ve been to a couple of Jimmy Buffet concerts. Always fun. The first was way back in the 70s. Some friends and I drove up to Lake Tahoe.

  6. Variations on a theme. An exercise in Iridaceae. Since bearded irises are a personal favorite, I shall eagerly await the next post.

    1. I just got the flowers-in-bloom posted. I think I know which you’ll like the most, but I’ll keep my predictions to myself for the time being. It’s been fun seeing people from all over the country — and Canada — suddenly posting photos of their garden irises. They’re so very pretty.

  7. I hadn’t realised that sisyrinchiums were part of the iris family, but now I can see the resemblance. I do love irises so I’m looking forward to your next post.

    1. Isn’t it fun to discover these ‘hidden’ connections? When I first saw the bloom of the blue eyed grass, my impulse was to see it as akin to a phlox, or even a violet. Of course, it was one of the first wildflowers I learned to identify, so my skills weren’t too sharp, but it still was quite a surprise when I found it belongs with the iris. Its flower isn’t particularly iris-like, but it grows from rhizomes, has those slender leaves, and has six petals (or tepals — I’m still not sure about those).

      I’ll bet you’re up to your elbows in your garden. I hope the weather’s favorable, and that you’re having a good time!

  8. I remembered that in Scotland I tried growing a little blue sisyrinchium (may even have been the same one) but it didn’t survive for long so I probably didn’t give it the right conditions. Here I have the yellow Sisyrinchium striatum which is happily popping up wherever it feels like it.
    It feels as if summer is starting this weekend and Monday is a holiday so we’re getting out and about for the first time in ages and spending the rest of the time in the garden. Heavenly!!

    1. There are so many species, it’s hard to say which you tried. As long as the yellow one’s growing nicely, I’d say you’re ahead of the game! As I recall, we have seven species of blue eyed-grass just here in Texas, and identifying any of them is a chore. Going by color’s tricky, because the color range within species is so wide; leaves and such are better guides. ‘Blue eyed grass’ is good enough for me — but then I ran into pink blue eyed grass!

      1. Sounds like some of the place names not far from here…White Notley Green for example. (There’s a Black Notley too, and I think it probably has a village green too.)

        1. Here’s what I found about Notley: “The Notley surname finds its earliest origins with the ancient Anglo-Saxon culture of Britain. Their name is derived from a habitational name from the places Black and White Notley in Essex. These place names derive from the Old English “hnut” meaning a “nut tree,” and “le-ah,” which referred to a clearing.”

          The Wiki adds, ” The name is supposed to have been derived from the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) “knut” and “ley” (meaning “nut pasture”) and is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086 A.D.) as Nutle[i]a. The hazel trees for which the Anglo-Saxon settlement was named still proliferate around the village and in the hedgerows of the surrounding fields.”

          So even there, there’s a botanical connection!

          1. I’m amused…I started off reading your comment and thinking that the ‘hnut’ was so likely to be a hazel because we have so many around here. (Including those in our garden and in our neighbours’ garden too.) And sure enough, it turns out that they were. So hazels proliferate in both Essex and Suffolk, now and in the past. I blame the squirrels!

            1. That’s just wonderful! It really brings the past to life: discovering that the trees that surround us today were around “even then” — and that squirrels were squirrels, even then!

            2. And some of the hazel trees around now may be the descendants of those earlier trees.

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