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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers (monocotyledons)

Iris Family, Iridaceae

The Iridaceae, a family with many colorful flowers, is appropriately named for Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. The family is made up of sixty genera and 1,845 species world-wide. Many Iridaceae—Gladiolus, Crocus, Freesia, Iris, and others—are found wherever flowers are cultivated. Most are perennials, spreading by bulbs and root-like stems (“rhizomes”) and by seeds. Usually there are three bent back petal-like sepals (“falls”), and three erect petals (“standards”) joined at their base to form a swollen floral tube. There are three hidden stamens and three stigmas which—confusingly—may take the shape and color of a petal. Leaves are “equitant,” meaning that the sides of the longitudinally folded leaves ride on either side of adjacent stems. The parallel-veined leaves are otherwise typical of monocotyledonous plants in general. Three wild irises are found in Idaho. One, not shown here, is Iris versicolor, the harlequin iris, common in the northeastern states and provinces. A disjunct population grows at the head of Priest Lake in Idaho’s panhandle; it is a rare plant in Idaho.

Western Iris, or Blue Flag,  Iris missouriensis Nutt. (left) looks like a garden iris on a diet, blooming in late spring to mid-elevations along the banks of slowly flowing streams and in moist meadows. Its color varies from light to dark blue according to location. Meriwether Lewis collected the plant on the Blackfoot River in Montana on July 5th, 1806. Only fragments survived, so botanist Frederick Pursh could not publish a description. It was again found by Nathaniel Wyeth in 1833 and described by Thomas Nuttall. Not everyone is enchanted by this plant; it is classified as a weed in California and Nevada.

Yellow flag, Iris pseudacorus L. (right) was imported from the Old World as an ornamental water plant. It is now quite at home in the New World, forming spreading clumps in the shallow water of ponds and streams (this plant was photographed in Blaine County’s Silver Creek). It is immediately identifiable by its pale to deep-yellow flowers and its growth habit. The yellow flag is also classified as a noxious weed in Nevada and California.

Idaho blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium idahoense E. P. Bricknell (left, right). The blue-eyed grasses are Iridaceae, with narrow, grass-like basal leaves. A single flower on the end of a naked stem bears three blue petaloid sepals and three matching petals with sharp-pointed tips. In the past many sisyrinchiums were lumped into one species, more recently they have been split into many. Blue-eyed grasses favor moist meadows and stream banks. The name Sisyrhinchus was used by Greek natural historian Theophrastus (372-287 BC) for an iris-like plant.

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