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(Iris family)


Members of this moderately large family of 800 species in 60 genera are found in tropical and temperate regions. The principal centres of distribution are southern Africa and tropical America.

Crocus sativus provides saffron which is used for dyeing and flavouring. Saffron has also been used in exanthematous diseases to promote the eruption.

[Summary yet to be added]

Aristea abyssinica Pax
(syns Aristea alata ssp abyssinica Weim., Aristea cognata N.E.Br. ex Weim., Aristea johnstoniana Rendle, Aristea tayloriana Rendle
Blue-Eyed Grass, Miniature Iris

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Crocus sativus L.
(syns Crocus autumnalis Sm., Crocus officinalis Honck.)
Autumn Crocus, Common Saffron Plant, Saffron Crocus

The vivid red stigmas from the flowers provide the culinary spice known as saffron, which is used as a seasoning and colouring agent. It was formerly included in US, British, and other Pharmacopoeias as a colouring agent (Todd 1967) but also has a history of medicinal use by medieval and earlier physicians. Pereira (1842) and Remington et al. (1918) noted that in domestic practice, saffron tea has occasionally been used in exanthematous diseases to promote the eruption.

Pammel (1911), who cited Bernhard-Smith (1905), listed Crocus sativus as an irritant poison. It is possible that these authors failed to differentiate this species and Colchicum autumnale L. (fam. Colchicaceae), the meadow saffron, which is also known as autumn crocus.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Gladiolus L.

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gladiolus communis L.
(syn. Gladiolus reuteri Boiss.)
Cornflag, Eastern Gladiolus

Pammel (1911) listed this species as having irritant properties.

Gladiolus italicus Mill.
(syns Gladiolus guepinii K.Koch, Gladiolus ludovicae Jan ex Bertol., Gladiolus segetum Ker Gawl.)
Italian Gladiolus

Pammel (1911) listed Gladiolus segetum as having irritant properties.

Iris Tourn. ex L.

Contact dermatitis from Iris species was reported by Shelmire (1940); Hjorth (1961) observed a patient who was contact sensitive to a blue iris. A patch test to a petal of the blue iris was positive, but negative to the green leaf. Patch tests to the petal and green leaf of a yellow iris were both negative. The patient was also contact sensitive to Rosa (fam. Rosaceae).

Dioscorides in the 1st Century A.D. noted that beating the plants provoked sneezing (Gunther 1959).

Iris ensata Thunb.
(syns Iris graminea Thunb., Iris kaempferi Siebold ex Lem., Limniris ensata Rodion.)
Beaked Iris, Japanese Iris, Japanese Water Iris

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Iris florentina L.
(syns Iris albicans Lange, Iris × germanica ssp albicans O.Bolòs & Vigo, Iris officinalis Salisb.)
Fleur de Lys, Florentine Orris, Orris, Sweet Flower-de-Luce, White Flag, Violenwurzel

The dried rhizome of this and other Iris species provides orris root which smells of violets (Viola, fam. Violaceae) and which yields essence of violets used in perfumery.

Application of Iris florentina to healthy skin has been reported to produce redness, slight burning, eczematoid and urticarial eruptions (Piffard 1881).

The root was formerly inserted into wounds as "issue peas", and produced eczematoid and urticarial eruptions (White 1887). "Violet water" produced dermatitis on the chest of a girl; the solution has a strong odour of orris root which was the usual substitute for the genuine perfume of violets in such preparations (White 1889). Ramirez & Eller (1930) reported three cases of dermatitis from orris root. Glossitis and gingivitis resulted from a dentifrice which contained orris root (Winter 1948). Preparations containing orris root can cause pustular conjunctivitis and recurrent corneal ulceration (Duke-Elder 1965, Duke-Elder & MacFaul 1972b). Orris root in adhesive plasters has also caused dermatitis (DeWolf 1931).

Orris root was said to be allergenic for atopic dermatitis (Coca et al. 1931), and to produce vasomotor rhinitis (King 1926), coryza, asthma, and skin eruptions (Greenberg & Lester 1954, Klarmann 1958).

Oil of orris root is derived from orris root. Concrete of orris root was said to be a common allergen (Greenberg & Lester 1954). Orris root in raw form, which formerly accounted for many allergic reactions, has been replaced by a refined orris root oil which is considered to be non-reactive (Burks 1962).

Iris foetidissima L.
(syns Chamaeiris foetidissima Medik., Iris foetida Thunb., Xiphion foetidissimum Parl.)
Gladdon, Stinking Gladwin, Stinking Iris

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Iris × germanica L. (pro sp.)
(syns Iris florentina hort., Iris × germanica var florentina Dykes, Iris × mesopotamica Dykes, Iris × neglecta Hornem., Iris × pallida Ten., Iris × sambucina L., etc.)
Bearded Iris, Common Iris, Flag Iris, Flag Lily, Fleur de Lys, German Flag Iris, Orris

Originally recognised as a distinct species by Linnaeus, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and other authorities now regard this taxon as being of hybrid origin, its parentage being identified as Iris pallida Lam. × Iris variegata L. However, the bearded irises comprise more than just a hybrid swarm originating from the two presumed progenitor species. Complex intercrossing between cultivars and/or eight or more related species is increasing the number of named bearded iris cultivars in the horticultural trade year after year (Guo et al. 2006, Li et al. 2020). The National Gardening Association, in February 2021, included 67,943 irises (i.e. species and cultivars) in its Plants Database. Whilst the parentage of cultivars created for the horticutural trade by plant breeders has in recent times been documented, parentage of older varieties / cultivars is often obscure. Accordingly, plant breeders generally omit the species name germanica when naming new bearded iris cultivars, using a cultivar name in place of the specific epithet.

Nomenclatural confusion pervades the bearded iris literature. For example, the white-flowered bearded iris originally named Iris germanica L. var florentina Dykes has been confused with other white-flowered irises including Iris alba Savi and Iris florentina L. (syn. Iris albicans Lange) (Martini & Viciani 2018).

Aplin (1976), citing Everist (1974), referred to reports indicating that Iris germanica is acrid and irritant and capable of causing gastro-enteritis. These authors may have obtained their information from Pammel (1911) who in turn cited Cornevin (1893). Cornevin drew particular attention to the acrid, purgative, emetic, and poisonous properties of "Iris pseudo-acorus," adding that Iris germanica shared these properties, but to a lesser extent. No mention was made of skin irritant effects.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Iris pallida Lam.
(syn. Iris × germanica ssp pallida O.Bolòs & Vigo)
Dalmatian Iris, Fragrant-Root Iris, Orris, Pale Flag, Sweet Iris, Bleiche Schwertlilie

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Iris prismatica Pursh ex Ker Gawl.
(syn. Iris carolina Radius)
Poison Flag, Slender Blue Flag, Slender Blue Iris

Pammel (1911), citing Lyons (1907), included this species in a list of irritant poisons, but was possibly referring to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects.

Iris pseudacorus L.
(syns Iris bastardii Boreau, Limniris pseudacorus Fuss, Moraea candolleana Spreng., etc.)
False Sweet Flag, Flag Iris, Sword Flag, Yellow Flag, Iris Jaune, Sumpf-Schwertlilie

The seeds [incorrectly identified as tiger lily seeds] of this plant, made into a bracelet, caused dermatitis of the wrist, which later spread to the arms and face. Patch tests to the seed and leaf produced positive reactions. Control tests with the seeds were negative (Calnan 1970b).

Iris reticulata M.Bieb.
(syns Iridodictyum reticulatum Rodion., Xiphion reticulatum Klatt)
Dwarf Iris, Early Bulbous Iris, Netted Iris, Reticulated Iris, Winter Iris

This species has been described as an irritant poison (Pammel 1911, Bernhard-Smith 1923). Although these records seemingly refer to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects, many of the other irritant poisons listed by these authors are well-known skin irritants.

Iris sibirica L.
(syns Iris acuta Willd., Iris flexuosa Murray, Iris pratensis Lam.)
Siberian Iris, Sibirische Schwertlilie

Pammel (1911), citing Cornevin (1887), included this species in a list of irritant poisons, but was possibly referring to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects.

Iris variegata L.
(syns Iris flavescens Redouté, Iris reginae Horvat & M.D.Horvat)
Hungarian Iris, Bunte Schwertlilie

Pammel (1911), citing an earlier author, included this species in a list of irritant poisons, but was possibly referring to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects.

Iris versicolor L.
(syns Iris caurina Herb. ex Hook., Xiphion versicolor Alef.)
Blue Flag, Flag Lily, Harlequin Blue Flag, Poison Flag, Purple Iris, Snake Lily, Water Flag, American Flower-de-Luce, Iris Varié, Amerikanischer Schwertel

A sensitising agent is present in the rootstock and other parts of the plant (Muenscher 1951, McCord 1962).

Tritonia gladiolaris Goldblatt & J.C.Manning
(syns Gladiolus lineatus Salisb., Ixia gladiolaris Lam., Tritonia lineata Ker Gawl.)
Lined Tritonia, Yellow Tritonia

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Aplin TEH (1976) Poisonous garden plants and other plants harmful to man in Australia. Western Australian Department of Agriculture. Bulletin 3964 [url] [url-2]
  • Bernhard Smith A (1905) Poisonous Plants of all Countries. With the active, chemical principles which they contain; and the toxic symptoms produced by each group. Bristol: John Wright & Co. [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Bernhard-Smith A (1923) Poisonous Plants of all Countries, 2nd edn. London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Calnan CD (1970b) Iris pseudacorus L. Contact Dermatitis Newsletter (8): 171 [url]
  • Cornevin C (1893) Des Plantes Vénéneuses et des Empoisonnements qu'elles Déterminent. Paris: Librairie de Firmin-Didot et Cie [url] [url-2]
  • Duke-Elder S, MacFaul PA (1972b) System of Ophthalmology, Vol. XIV. Injuries Part 2. Non-Mechanical Injuries. London: Henry Kimpton [WorldCat]
  • Everist SL (1974) Poisonous Plants of Australia. Sydney: Angus & Robertson [WorldCat]
  • Guo J, Zhang Z, Sun G, Shi L (2006) 根茎鸢尾园艺学研究进展 [Advances of horticultural study of rhizomatous irises]. 园艺学报 ~ yuanyi xuebao ~ Acta Horticulturae Sinica 33(5): 1149-1156 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Hjorth N (1961) Eczematous Allergy to Balsams, Allied Perfumes and Favouring Agents. With special reference to balsam of Peru. Copenhagen: Munksgaard [WorldCat] [url]
  • Li F, Sun Y, Liu C, Yuan Y, Zheng L, Chen X, Bao J (2020) Genetic diversity and population structure in bearded iris cultivars derived from Iris × germanica L. and its related species I. pumila L., I. variegata L., I. pallida Lam. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 67(8): 2161-2172 [doi] [url]
  • Lyons AB (1907) Plant Names Scientific and Popular, 2nd edn. Detroit, MI: Nelson, Baker & Co. [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Martini G, Viciani D (2018) What happened to Linnaeus’s Iris florentina? Re–evaluation of this taxon at species level. Taxon 67(2): 395-400 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Pammel LH (1911) A Manual of Poisonous Plants. Chiefly of North America, with Brief Notes on Economic and Medicinal Plants, and Numerous Illustrations. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Pereira J (1842) Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, 2nd edn, Vols 1 & 2. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans [WorldCat]
  • Remington JP, Wood HC, Sadtler SP, LaWall CH, Kraemer H, Anderson JF (Eds) (1918) The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 20th edn. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Todd RG (Ed.) (1967) Martindale. The Extra Pharmacopoeia. 25th edn. London: Pharmaceutical Press [WorldCat]
  • White JC (1889) Some unusual forms of dermatitis venenata. Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 121(24): 583-584 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • [Others yet to be added]

Richard J. Schmidt

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