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Provocative blooms

The flowers are what make the plant so provocative. The three petals and three sepals, often similar in color, are organized as two alternating whorls. A whorl is a biological term that refers to a set of petals going around the vertical axis of a flower. Each can range from upright or flaring to even arching or pendant. Furthermore, the flower may be augmented with an unusual third whorl: either flared styles (a style is the elongated part of the female pistil) or petaloids (extra petals) that vary in length and often sport elaborate crests. Double and semi-double flowers are produced, also.

All floral parts are “beardless.” This means that the inner midline of each petal lacks the upright hairs or “beards” characteristic of most European or Asiatic varieties – the species most commonly marketed in plant catalogues.

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Provocative blooms

The flowers are what make the plant so provocative. The three petals and three sepals, often similar in color, are organized as two alternating whorls. A whorl is a biological term that refers to a set of petals going around the vertical axis of a flower. Each can range from upright or flaring to even arching or pendant. Furthermore, the flower may be augmented with an unusual third whorl: either flared styles (a style is the elongated part of the female pistil) or petaloids (extra petals) that vary in length and often sport elaborate crests. Double and semi-double flowers are produced, also.

All floral parts are "beardless." This means that the inner midline of each petal lacks the upright hairs or "beards" characteristic of most European or Asiatic varieties – the species most commonly marketed in plant catalogues.

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Throughout the Western world, the most recognizable floral icon is perhaps the fleur-de-lis, literally “flower of the lily.” Traced back at least to the 12th century, the classic, elegant design is thought to depict a stylized iris flower. Historically, the emblem was associated with the coats of arms and flags of French royalty as well as the Trinity and Virgin Mary of the Roman Catholic Church.

Over time, the fleur-de-lis has evolved as an enduring symbol of early France and Christianity as well as a metaphor for nobility, heraldry, artistry, perfection, purity, light and life.

Since I call Louisiana home, the fleur-de-lis has been part of my heritage, too. We Louisianians adorn everything from ornamental iron, tile and glass works to street signs, flags, stationery, clothing, Mardi Gras masks and those stylish helmets of the New Orleans Saints football team with the fleur-de-lis. Moreover, in 1990, the Louisiana State Legislature adopted as the official State Wildflower an actual living fleur-de-lis: the Louisiana Iris.

 

Irises abound

Irises are distributed worldwide, particularly within temperate climates. A special variety, however, occurs naturally only in the freshwater wetlands within the lower Mississippi Delta and along the Gulf Coast. Termed “Blue Flag,” “Louisiana Flag,” “Louisiana Iris” or simply, “Louisianas,” the names apply technically not to one but to five distinct but closely related species of plants with characteristic sword-like leaves (“flags”) and lily-like flowers. The “Giant Blue Flag” or Iris giganticaerulea, the largest and most common of the group, is honored as Louisiana’s official species of wildflower.

When nature ruled, southern Louisiana boasted one of the grandest spectacles of spring color to be found anywhere on the North American continent. Early botanical chronicles describe the watery land of what is now the New Orleans Metropolitan Area as a kaleidoscope of color. As a youngster growing up in the outskirts of New Orleans, I remember seeing what my flower-fancier father called “Blue Flags” virtually everywhere rain and floodwaters lingered. Today, however, drainage and pollution of wetlands, coastal subsidence, erosion, incursions of salt water, herbicides, and exploitation by collectors have all contributed to a drastic decrease of these plants in the wild.

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