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■ (SPEC) Iris brevicaulis

1817, Rafinesque

Iris brevicaulis (Constantino Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, 1817, Mississippi River Basin, Ohio to Texas); 12-20" (30-50 cm); Leaves ensiform, 3-6, about 45 cm long. 2.5-4 cm wide. Stem about 15 cm. long somewhat zig-zag, with flowers produced terminally and from the axils. Standards spreading, oblanceolate, smaller than falls, pale blue-purple with greenish haft. Falls broadly-ovate - the blade and haft about equal, blade reflexed, bright-blue, 7.5 cm. long. 3 cm. wide, a yellow linear crest in center of falls and whitish-green striations on the haft. Styles greenish, style crests ovate-pale lavender.

The habit of the plant makes this easy to recognize from other Louisiana species. The flower stalks emerge to the side of the clump of leaves and often wind up sprawling on the ground. This cluster of leaves with a ring of flower stalks is distinctive to brevicaulis.

See below:
brevicahlis3.jpgbrevicalis2.jpgbrevicaulis09.jpegbrevicaulis1.jpgbrevicaulis3.jpgbrevicaulis4.jpgbrevicaulis9.jpgbrevicaulis edited-1.jpgbrevicaulisalba.jpegI brevicaulis LA Species 2 Lupinetti 09.jpgibrevicaulis01.jpgLAIbrevicaulNH.jpgSIGNA 09LA109 brevicaulis ex SW Ohio mix HP resized.jpg


Rafinesque made his diagnosis in Fl. Ludov. 20. 1817.
Mackenzie & Bush as I. foliosa in Transactions Acad. St. Louis v.12, p.80, 1902
Iris foliosa n. sp.

Perennial from stout rootstocks; stems 20-38 cm. high, glabrous, usually very flexuous; leaves green, not glaucous, 12-28 mm. wide, strongly many nerved, the lower often over 6 dm. long and much exceeding the culm, the upper short, and the uppermost one or two sometimes but 7.5 cm. long; flowers axillary on pedicels 20-28 mm. long; bracts scarious, 3.75-7.5 cm. long, reaching beyond the perianth tube and in fruit loosely inclosing the capsule; perianth tube 14-22 mm. long ; perianth segments about 3.75 cm. long, spreading, not crested, bluish; capsule oblong-cylindric, hexagonal, 3.75 cm. long or less, abruptly contracted at the apex and short beaked; seeds in two rows in each cell.

Type locality: Little Blue Tank, Jackson County, Missouri; collected by K. K. Mackenzie, June 6, 1897; type in Herb. K. K. Mackenzie, duplicate in Herb. Missouri Botanical Garden. Grows in dense masses in low open dry woods and prairies in Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. This species is distinguished from Iris hexagona Walt., a species of the Southern States, to which it has been referred by Watson and other American botanists, by its smaller pedicelled flowers.
Dykes, under the name I. foliosa in The Genus Iris 1914 Description.

Rootstock , a pale buff-coloured rhizome with greenish rings.
Leaves , glaucous green, ensiform, 18 in. long by 1 in. broad, dying down completely in the autumn.
New shoots appear almost at once, but do not grow until the spring.
Stem , very short, not more than six inches, so that the flowers are hidden among the leaves.
Spathe valves , lanceolate, green, 2 in. long.
Pedzcel , short, 1 in.
Ovary, triangular, with a double ridge at each angle. 1 in.
Tube, about :! in. long, yellow, with pale greenish yellow ribs.
Falls. The ovate blade is as long as the narrowly cuneate haft. The latter is greenish, with a distinctly downy ridge extending on to the blade, as in I. hexagona. The blade is of a fine bluepurple, except for a triangular patch of greenish-white about the end of the ridge. The pubescence extends over this patch. The haft is veined with green or green-white. 3 1/2 in. by I 1/4 in.
Standards , oblanceolate, pale blue-purple, with a greenish haft. 2 1/2 in. by 1/4 in.
Styles , keeled, greenish, 3/4 in. long.
Crests , 1 in. long, quadrate, very pale lavender.
Stigma , with two large lobes.Filaments, about equal to the anthers, but usually rather shorter, greenish.
Anthers, long and narrow cream, the sacs being widely separated.
Pollen, yellowish white, much more sharply pointed than that of I. hexagona.
Capsule , globular, more than an inch in length, and nearly as wide.
Seeds , resembling those of I. hexagona, but slightly smaller.

This is the Iris that has been known in gardens for some years as I. hexagona var. Lamancei. It would perhaps have been better to keep this varietal name, but unfortunately, although Lora S. La Mance's note in Garden and Forest (I.e.) states that the plant was named by Mr J. N. Gerard, no description was apparently published. Even though there is no absolute proof that Gerard's Lamancei and Mackenzie and Bush's foliosa are identical, there can be little doubt that both names were given to the same plant.

I. foliosa is well named, for it almost hides its curiously flexuous stems among the luxuriant foliage, which is more glaucous and less distinctly that of an aquatic Iris than the leaves of I. hexagona. Its rhizomes spread very quickly, and need to be transplanted soon after the flowers have faded every two or three years. The soil should be rich in .humus, and not too dry in the spring and early summer.

The question of the relationship of I. foliosa to I. hexagona has already been discussed under the Observations on the latter, and it only remains to add here that the few seedlings of I. fol£osa that I have been able to raise have reproduced the dwarf habit and other characteristics without any noticeable variation.

A very beautiful white-flowered form has lately been introduced into our gardens, but it is not known whether this was found wild or whether it is of garden origin. The white flowers are somewhat faintly tinged with pale purple, and in this respect resemble the albino forms of I. laevigata and I. sibirica.

The pollen of I. foliosa has been used to fertilize I. fulva, and the description of the resultant I. fulvala (see Plate XXI) will be found in the note on the hexagona group (see p. 81).
Addisonia 9: 4, 53 Dec.1924 John Kunkel Small wrote about Iris foliosa

IRIS FOLIOSA Leafy Blue-flag

Native of the lower Mississippi valley. Family Iridaceae Iris Family. Iris foliosa Mack. & Bush, Trans. Acad. St. Louis 12: 80. 1902.

The proposal of this species of Iris in 1902 marks the second successful attempt to add a species to the genus in the eastern United States, following nearly a century of inactivity in studies in and interpretation of the blue-flags. The plant was really not unknown, even as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century, but it was not botanically named or described

The present aggregates called Iris foliosa and I. hexagona doubtless had a common ancestor living in the biologic reservoirs of the Appalachian Highlands. After the latest elevation of the continent the plants that descended eastward developed Iris hexagona, while those spreading westward developed /. foliosa. The latter did not become as robust a plant as the former. The leaves are weak, and lie diffuse and more or less decumbent on the ground. The flowers are hidden among the foliage because the flower-stem is decumbent or prostrate. This habit has been brought about, perhaps, by the weight of the flowers and fruits that are borne along the zigzag stem from near the base, instead of merely a flower or two at the top of the stem, as in I. hexagona. Although Iris foliosa has sometimes been considered a variety of Iris hexagona or even conspecific with it, there are structural diagnostic characters in all parts of the flower. The lack of vigor, exhibited by the foliage and the flower-stem, is also evident in the flower itself. For example, while the flower of Iris hexagona with its heavy firm parts will stay fresh for several days, that of Iris foliosa with its evidently frail parts will last a day at the longest

The type locality of Iris foliosa is Little Blue Tank, Jackson County, Missouri, collected June 6, 1897. The type is in the herbarium of K. K. Mackenzie. The plant grows in dense colonies, in open woods and on prairies, in Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. It is hardy in latitudes north of its natural range. Colonies derived from material sent in by Mr. Mackenzie, and from which the accompanying illustration was made, have flourished in the plantations of the New York Botanical Garden since 1903

The leafy blue-flag has a stout extensively creeping rootstock. The leaves are numerous, not glaucous, the larger ones sometimes two and a half feet long. The flower-stalk is relatively slender, one and a half feet long or less, decumbent or prostrate, thus usually hidden under copious leaf-growth, markedly zigzag, often strongly so, simple, but bearing flowers at several nodes, usually at short intervals. The flowers are solitary in the axil of the greatly elongate foliaceous subtending bract or two together at the top of the stem. The pedicel is as long as the ovary in anthesis, with six prominent ribs or angles. The perianth-tube is narrowly funnelform, as long as the ovary or shorter. The three sepals are remate, three and a quarter to three and three quarters inches long; the blade is ovate, somewhat longer than the claw, clear violet or bluish, except the white radii on either side of the clear yellow linear crest ; the claw is about one third of an inch wide, whitish green and with deeper green fine striations, changing to pale yellow in the base of the blade. The three petals are mostly spatulate, about 8 cm. long; the blade is slightly longer than the claw, slightly paler than the sepal-blades; the claw is white with few green median striations. The three stamens are an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half long, with the filament about as long as the anther. The three style-branches are narrowly cuneate, an inch and a half to two inches long, about a half inch wide, pale green, except the thin lavender margins and the tip within. The style-appendages are semi-ovoid to ellipsoid-ovoid, an inch and a quarter to two inches long, usually blunt-beaked, with a shallow groove on each face, the angles with two lateral elevated sharp ridges, thus making the capsule unequally six-angled. The mature pedicels are usually less than half the length of the capsule. The seeds, borne in on two rows in each carpel or cavity of the capsule, or in one row in some cavities, are quite corky, semicircular or irregular from mutual pressure, brown, a half inch in diameter or less.
John K. Small.



The name brevicaulis is used by Brian Mathew in The Iris, and Clive Innes in The World of Iridaceae because it was believed to have priority over the synonym Iris foliosa Mack Bush. Iris foliosa was used in the 1939 Checklist and Index Kewensis. Phil Ogilvie presented the argument for returning to the name foliosa at the 1995 Iris Symposium. see foliosa for description; synonym. Iris alabamensis Small, Iris brevipes Small, Iris foliosa Mack. & Bush. ----

Chromosome counts

Chromosome number: 2n=44-Simonet 1934, 2n=42-Randolph 1958; 2n=42, Randolph, 1966. ----


Iris brevicaulis has the following variations as named cultivars: ----


Iris brevicaulis crosses:
  • Iris brevicaulis X Iris nelsonii: 'Bonfire'.
  • Iris nelsonii X Iris brevicaulis: 'Belle Helene'.
  • Iris brevicaulis X Iris fulva: 'Louise Austin'.
  • Iris brevicaulis X Iris giganticaerulea: 'Flexicaulis',
  • Iris fulva X Iris brevicaulis: 'Bertha Fabel', 'Cacique', 'Calera', 'Champaigne', 'Dorothea K. Williamson', 'Fluvial', 'Fulvala', 'Fulvala Purpurea', 'Fulvala Violacea', 'Huron Regent'.
  • Iris fulva X _Iris brevicaulis_hybrid: 'Holochee'.
  • Iris hexagona X Iris brevicaulis: 'Spring Sorcery', 'Tidewater'.
  • Iris brevicaulis X LA : 'Creole Fantasy', 'Little Star', 'Mac Folio', 'StateBlue'
  • LA X Iris brevicaulis: 'Elizabeth Washington', 'Mary Washington', 'Mudbug', 'Seeing Double'.
¼ Iris brevicaulis crosses:
  • 'Bright Galaxy', 'Miss Arkansa', 'Pristine Beauty', 'Tahlequah', 'This I Love'.

Distribution and Cultivation

Distribution: The distribution of the species gives clues as to its cultural requirements, although plants in cultivation can often tolerate a wider range of variables:
The species is found in the following region:

Bonap's North American Plant Atlas shows the following map reproduced by permission of Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. Taxonomic Data Center. ( Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]
Prefers moist soil, but can be grown in good garden soil, well-drained and flourishes in full sun to part shade. Copius water during bloomseason. See Cultivation of Louisiana Irises
See more about preservation of Iris Brevicaulis at Louisiana Iris Preservation Project


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-- Main.RPries - 2009-11-08
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
I_brevicaulis_LA_Species_2_Lupinetti_09.jpgjpg I_brevicaulis_LA_Species_2_Lupinetti_09.jpg manage 68 K 17 Nov 2009 - 15:26 UnknownUser  
LAIbrevicaulNH.jpgjpg LAIbrevicaulNH.jpg manage 69 K 08 Sep 2013 - 17:45 Main.Betsy881 Photo by Nyla Hughes
SIGNA_09LA109_brevicaulis_ex_SW_Ohio_mix_HP_resized.jpgjpg SIGNA_09LA109_brevicaulis_ex_SW_Ohio_mix_HP_resized.jpg manage 51 K 12 Jan 2011 - 18:20 UnknownUser Pries photo
brevicahlis3.jpgjpg brevicahlis3.jpg manage 173 K 24 Aug 2016 - 17:48 Main.TLaurin Photo by Louisiana Iris Gardens
brevicalis2.jpgjpg brevicalis2.jpg manage 86 K 23 Jun 2016 - 20:50 Main.TLaurin Photo by Louisiana Iris Gardens
brevicaulis09.jpegjpeg brevicaulis09.jpeg manage 77 K 18 Feb 2020 - 20:36 Main.TLaurin Photo scanned from the Carla Lankow slide collection
brevicaulis1.jpgjpg brevicaulis1.jpg manage 50 K 23 Jun 2016 - 03:07 Main.TLaurin Photo by Louisiana Iris Gardens
brevicaulis3.jpgjpg brevicaulis3.jpg manage 287 K 17 Oct 2022 - 02:34 Main.TLaurin Photo by Peter Jackson- Adelaide-South Australia
brevicaulis4.jpgjpg brevicaulis4.jpg manage 151 K 29 Jun 2019 - 19:10 Main.TLaurin Photo by Gary White
brevicaulis9.jpgjpg brevicaulis9.jpg manage 266 K 05 Apr 2021 - 14:52 Main.TLaurin Photo by Cindy Dufrene-Cindy's Louisiana Iris
brevicaulis_edited-1.jpgjpg brevicaulis_edited-1.jpg manage 73 K 30 Nov 2009 - 21:13 UnknownUser Plate from Dykes Genus Iris
brevicaulisalba.jpegjpeg brevicaulisalba.jpeg manage 64 K 20 Feb 2020 - 00:05 Main.TLaurin Photo scanned from the Carla Lankow slide collection
ibrevicaulis01.jpgjpg ibrevicaulis01.jpg manage 58 K 25 Jan 2016 - 12:33 Main.TLaurin Photo by Iris City Gardens
Topic revision: r33 - 16 Sep 2023, TLaurin
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