Non-geophyte iris

James Waddick
Wed, 21 May 2003 15:03:56 PDT
Dear all;
	When is an iris  a geophyte? Like many plant groups-Families, 
genera etc. some members have root or stem or similar storage organs 
(bulbs, corms and rhizomes), but not ALL members of that family or 
genus. A few Pelargonium are good geophytes but certainly not all are 
worth this discussion list. Same for Berberidaceae, and the same for 
Iris. More than half the genus have good underground storage organs, 
but some have rhizomes that are mere pencil lead width and really fit 
into the category of herbaceous perennial better than bulbous plant.

	There's plenty of good bulbous and rhizomateous Iris to 
discuss- Junos, Dutch, Reticulata, Oncocyclus etc. and that deserve 
our attention.

	One elusive topic that the genus in fact shows very 
fleetingly is the evolution from non-geophytic to rhizomateous to 
bulbous species. There is a very odd species call Iris anguifuga (The 
Snake Bane Iris) that grows and looks like a skinny spuria, but 
underground it is doing odd things. It is evergreen all winter (even 
here), but really expands its foliage and grows new fans in spring, 
blooming about the end of April/early May. If you dig it up you will 
find a almost woody rhizome about 3/4 inch in diameter. After bloom 
it goes totally dormant all summer only to emerge in Oct or so. If 
you dig the plant just as it is beginning to grow, you will find an 
underground structure that looks very much like a typical bulb, but 
with a withered 'tail' (last spring's rhizome).

	I don't know what it does in mid-summer or winter when it 
seems to change form, but is one of the few plants I can think of 
that are seasonal bulbs/ seasonal rhizomes. It is also the only Iris 
with a single bract beneath the terminal flower. Altogether an oddity 
in the genus.

	Incidentaly the name derives from its odd life cycle. Chinese 
tradition says that this iris keeps snakes out of your garden. By 
growing all winter, it keeps the snakes away, but in spring when it 
blooms, then weakens and goes dormant it can no longer help and 
snakes come back into the garden. By fall the iris has regained 
strength, emerges again and chases snakes away (anquifuga means 
"snake chaser') Of course the snakes annual hibernation is just a 
coincidence -or is it?

	The rhizome is ground and used as both a poultice and an 
herbal medicine for snake bite. It is frequently planted around the 
edges of home herb and vegetable gardens. Works for me.

	Best		Jim W.
Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
E-fax  419-781-8594

Zone 5 Record low -23F
	Summer 100F +

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