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■ (SPEC) Iris cristata Solander

1789, botanical author Solander

'Cristata' (Daniel Solander, 1789) Tiny woodland Iris in South and Eastern USA, especially in the Ozark and Appalachian Mountains. In moist woodlands it may form great groundcovering mats usually less then 8 inches tall. It has three crest like ridges on the falls and is included in the Section Lophirus . Iris lacustris is a closely related species and some authors believe is a subspecies occupying a separated geographical area on the shores of the Northern Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

See below:

convention spring 2014 001.JPGcristata.jpgcristata01.JPGcristata02.jpgcristata03.jpgcristata04.jpgcristata1.jpgcristata2.jpgcristata3.jpgcristata33.jpgcristata34.jpgcristata4.jpgcristata5.JPGcristata6.JPGcristata7.JPGcristata8.JPGcristata80.JPGcristata81.JPGcristata82.JPGcristata83.JPGcristata84.JPGcristata9.jpegcristata edited-1.jpgcristata flower variations.jpgcristataalba.jpgcristatabudkp9.jpgDykes plate XLVIII cristata.jpgEO-I-CRISTATA CLUMP.jpgEP-I-CRISTATA ALBA.jpgEQ-I-CRISTATA BRIGHT BLUE CLOSE-UP.jpgER-I-CRISTATA LATE DARK BLUE.jpgIris Cristata Dwarf Crested Iris in Rock Garden (RS).jpgIris Cristata in Perennial Garden  (2RS).jpgIris cristata Doubly Stylish overheadView 05-23-2022rs125a.jpgIris cristata HybSel006 LtBlue crests boldYelToothy NavyHalo StandardsBlueEllipticalMidvein 05-18-2022rs10a.jpgIris cristata Powder Blue Giant.jpgIris cristata Sams mini KWW 1.JPGIriscristata02.jpgIriscristata03.jpgIriscristata04.jpgIriscristata05.jpgiriscristataalba01.jpgiriscristatabl01.jpgIriscristatakp9.jpgPdBlGiant.jpgSIGNA 09CR020 cristata.jpgSIGNA 09CR020 cristata enlarged.jpg


Hort. Kew. 1: 70. 1789;
Redoute, Les Liliaceae
Addisonia 9: 4, 63. Dec. 1924.
Small wrote:
Our so-called dwarf-irises represent a group quite different from the larger blue-flags. The groups differ from each other not only in the structure of the flowers and the fruits, but also in the habitats. The natural habitat of the blue-flags is wet; that of the dwarf-irises is dry. Consequently there is a difference in the anchorage and stem-systems. The larger blue-flags have cord-like fleshy roots and stout fleshy rootstocks, while the dwarf-irises have fibrous roots and coarse-wiry rootstocks.

This dwarf-iris flourishes in the plantations of the New York Botanical Garden, as well as in other places farther northward than its natural range. This fact leads one to suspect that the plant never regained all the ground it may have lost during the ice age. Within its range it is most abundant along the main drainers of the highlands. Along these highways, as it were, in post-pleistocene times, it reached the Atlantic seaboard on the east and the Trans-Mississippi country on the west. As there are no great erosion highways running northward from the old Appalachian plant reservoirs, the plant's progress in that direction was, evidently, checked or blocked.

The crested dwarf-iris, however, is one of the few flags that has left a tangible trail behind it in its escape from the old Appalachian Highlands. It spread radially from the high altitudes into the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, and it still maintains a foothold from the higher mountains to near sea-level.

Iris cristata is of wide geographic distribution, in the southeastern United States south of Pennsylvania and Missouri, and consequently of varying habitats. Cliffs, bluffs, rocky hillsides, ravines, and woods are among its native haunts. Plants with albino flowers have been found.

The origin of the type specimens of the crested dwarf-iris is not known. Alton, who first describes it botanically, records that it was introduced from North America into England by Peter Collinson in 1756. It was probably secured in the southern Atlantic States by Collinson's chief explorer, John Bartram, or by one of the half-dozen plant collectors who were then active in that region.

The method of seed-dispersal in the dwarf-irises is quite different from that of the large blue-flags. The corky-coated seeds of the blue-flags merely float away or about on the water of the plant's habitat. Each seed of the dwarf -irises, inhabitants of dry places, has a viscid appendage – aril – by which it may adhere to the feathers of birds or fur of animals, and thus be disseminated.

The crested dwarf-iris has coarse-wiry branching rootstocks with tuberlike thickenings. The branches are dimorphous; the foliage ones very short, with three to six leaves which are closely imbricate at the base and with sabre-like blades one to twelve inches long, the inner much the longer; the flower-branches are mostly one to three inches long, with the small dirk-like leaves more or less enfolded, but not imbricate at the base. The flowers are solitary or two together, faintly scented, exceeding the involucre formed by the upper leaves of the flower-stalk. The pedicel is about as long as the ovary in anthesis, or longer. The hypanthium, surrounding the ovary, is sharply three-angled and with a slight ridge on each face. The perianth-tube is mostly one and three quarters to two and three quarters inches long, very slender, broadly funnelform at the top.
The three sepals are cuneate-spatulate to narrowly obovate, one and a quarter to one and a half inches long; the blade mainly lavender, dark or pale, with a white blotch bordered with violet; the claw is shorter than the blade, with a crest of three beaded ridges, the median one yellow and running to the base of the claw, the lateral ridges yellow with white edges, all extending up into the blotch in the blade. The three petals are spatulate, somewhat shorter than the sepals, lavender, except the deeply channeled purple claw. The three stamens are one half to three quarters of an inch long, w4th the subulate filament tinted with lavender and the yellow anther longer than the filament. The style is filiform, about as long as the perianth-tube. The three style-branches are narrowly cuneate above the slender claw, about one inch long, lavender, more deeply shaded along the midrib. The style-appendages are semi-ovate, about a quarter of an inch long, blunt, undulate. The stigma is semicircular, not lobed, minutely erose. The capsules are ellipsoid or oval, varying to ovoid or obovoid, one half to three quarters of an inch long, often minutely beaked with the persistent style-base, three-lobed, the lobes with a slight median groove, each sinus with a minute groove. The mature pedicels are about as long as the capsules or longer. The seeds are nearly or quite one sixth of an inch long, oval or obovoid, but slightly inequilateral, brown, with the aril-tip curled over the top of the seed-body.

John K. Small
Dykes, The Genus Iris 1914

Rootstock , a slender rhizome, spreading by means of long stolons ; in cultivation a single rhizome sends out as many as 6 or 8 of these stolons to form new rhizomes for the following year. In the wild state, growth often extends for 8-1 2 in. without any lateral shoots.
Leaves , about 6 in. by ½-½ in. at flowering time, subsequently increasing to as much as I 2 in. by 1¼ in.; ensiform, not very rigid, finely ribbed, of a somewhat yellowish green.
Stem , short, not more than I in., bearing near the base 2-3 reduced leaves.
Spathes , 1-2 flowered, green, sharply keeled, acuminate, slightly inflated, 2½-3 m.
Pedicel , ¼ in.
Ovary , trigonal, with a slight groove on each face, ¼ in. long, tapering at either end.
Tube , 1½-4 in. long, distinctly trigonal, becoming wider above.
Falls . The somewhat blunt and broad obovate blade is not separated by any constriction from the wedge-shaped haft, which bears three parallel ridges. The central ridge is crinkly, white, tipped with orange ; those on either side are orange or brownish yellow on the inner face, beyond which the colour becomes lilac purple. On the blade the end of the central ridge or crest becomes white, tipped and dotted with lilac purple. Around this there is a white patch, edged with deep lilac purple, which shades away into the plain paler lilac of the rest of the blade.
Standards , obovate unguiculate, emarginate, lilac purple.
Styles , narrow, keeled, pale lilac.
Crests8 , long, narrowly triangular.
, oblong, entire.
Filaments , white, tinged with pale mauve, attached to the base of the central ridge of the falls.
Anthers, cream.
Pollen cream
Capsule , small, not much more than ½ in. long, the outline being a pointed oval, the section trigonal with three sharp angles ; it dehisces completely while still somewhat green and while still hidden in the persistent spathe-valves.
Seeds , small, brown, smooth, oval or globular, with curious, transparent, almost gelatinous appendages, often longer than the circumference of the seeds and twined round them. These appendages quickly shrivel on exposure to the atmosphere.Observations.

This very distinct Iris has been known since the middle of the eighteenth century. There exists at the British Museum a specimen from Bartram's Herbarium, dated 1764 and described as "a sweetscented plant, growing 5 in. high, which spreads much and differs from the Carolina dwarf Iris."The "Carolina dwarf Iris" is probably a reference to I. verna, with which I. cristata was at first confused, e.g. among Pallas' specimens (BM) which are labelled either verna or even pumila.
This confusion is hardly a matter for surprise in view of the fact that in Kentucky, at any rate, cristata and verna are sometimes found in company, though verna is usually found at a greater elevation than cristata (cf. note on Short's specimen (K)).

The points of agreement between I. cristata and I. lacustris are so many and they are both separated by so many characters from all other Irises, that it seems impossible to give both specific rank. It is true that I. lacustris is usually smaller than I. cristata but this character tends to disappear when seedlings are raised, though even in seedlings the closer growth of the more slender rhizomes is still apparent. However, there is no difference except size in the growth of the two plants and size alone is often a matter of soil and climate. Moreover, as the smaller plant comes from the colder, northern region, we are surely justified in looking upon I. lacustris as a mere local form of I. cristata.

As garden plants, both do well in moist soil composed of humus and gravel, in the kind of soil, in fact, in which they grow in their native home on the banks of streams. Both are quite hardy and I. lacustris has, or, at any rate, some plants of it have, a curious habit of flowering at odd times from May until October.

Propagation is easy and is best carried out by cutting away the side-growths soon after the flowering season. The points of the new roots will then be apparent and each of these stolon-like growths is capable of becoming a flowering plant by the next year. Each rhizome that has flowered withers and dies and may therefore be at once discarded, for no fresh lateral growths will make their appearance from it. The plants benefit greatly by this annual remaking of the plantations, and the opportunity should be taken of adding fresh supplies of well-decayed leaf-soil.

I. cristata does not produce seed very readily in cultivation in this country. Even when a few capsules are obtained as the result of artificial pollination, the seeds in each are not numerous. Moreover, germination appears to be difficult, for though I have regularly sown seeds of I. cristata for several seasons past, none have ever germinated except a few from one pod of the variety lacustris. An albino form of this Iris has recently appeared in commerce. It is uncertain whether I. cristata alba was found wild or whether it is of garden origin, although there is reason to believe that it has been found among collected plants.


The following are named cultivars:
'Abbey's Violet'; 'Alba'; 'Azure'; 'Baby Blue'; 'Celestial Gem'; 'Crested Fairy'; 'Crested Gem'; 'Crested Ivory'; 'Crest Of Hope'; 'Cristata Alba'; 'Cristata Major'; 'McDonald'; 'Cumberland Gap'; 'Dash It All'; 'Dick Butler'; 'Eco Little Bluebird'; 'Eco Orchid Giant'; 'Eco Purple Pomp'; 'Eco Royal Ruffles'; 'Eco White Angel'; 'Edgar Anderson'; 'Eyed Form'; 'Little Jay'; 'Major'; 'Millard'; 'Mountain Girl', 'Navy Blue Gem'; 'Pearl White'; 'Pink'; 'Powder Blue Giant'; 'Shenandoah Sky'; 'Scio County'; 'Skylands'; 'Stormy Sky'; 'Summer Storm'; 'Vein Mountain'; 'Whisper'; 'White Pearl'.>


No recorded crosses to date, 2016, with other species


Iris odorata Pers. Syn. PI. 1: 53. 1805.
Neuheckia cristata Alefeld, Bot. Zeit. 21: 297. 1863.

Chromosome counts

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: Central & Eastern U.S.A. within the following states and provinces: Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington DC

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)]
Cristata is usually found in woodlands and is an excellent plant for shade gardens. It has been grown in almost full sun as long as adequate moisture is provided and under those conditions it will grow more rapidly and be more floriferous

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Your Observations Are Valued. Please make note of bud count, branching, purple based foliage and bloom time, etc. Because these are affected by climate, note date, year and geographic location and write these and other comments in the comment box below.


-- Main.RPries - 2009-12-01
  • Iris cristata bloomed at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, zone 4b, approximately May 6-19, in 2017. -- HollyJohnson2017 -04-01 - 05 Oct 2017
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
Dykes_plate_XLVIII_cristata.jpgjpg Dykes_plate_XLVIII_cristata.jpg manage 57 K 04 Jan 2011 - 15:42 UnknownUser From Dykes plate
EO-I-CRISTATA_CLUMP.jpgjpg EO-I-CRISTATA_CLUMP.jpg manage 38 K 17 Sep 2010 - 19:46 UnknownUser Lorena Reid photo
EP-I-CRISTATA_ALBA.jpgjpg EP-I-CRISTATA_ALBA.jpg manage 44 K 18 Sep 2010 - 11:23 UnknownUser Lorena Reid photo
EQ-I-CRISTATA_BRIGHT_BLUE_CLOSE-UP.jpgjpg EQ-I-CRISTATA_BRIGHT_BLUE_CLOSE-UP.jpg manage 25 K 18 Sep 2010 - 11:26 UnknownUser Lorena Reid photo
ER-I-CRISTATA_LATE_DARK_BLUE.jpgjpg ER-I-CRISTATA_LATE_DARK_BLUE.jpg manage 37 K 18 Sep 2010 - 11:28 UnknownUser Lorena Reid photo
Iris Cristata Dwarf Crested Iris in Rock Garden (RS).jpgjpg Iris Cristata Dwarf Crested Iris in Rock Garden (RS).jpg manage 662 K 05 Oct 2017 - 18:41 HollyJohnson2017-04-01 A drift of I. cristata at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, zone 4b, on May 10, 2017. Photo taken by Holly Johnson.
Iris Cristata in Perennial Garden  (2RS).jpgjpg Iris Cristata in Perennial Garden (2RS).jpg manage 392 K 05 Oct 2017 - 18:44 HollyJohnson2017-04-01 A clump of Iris cristata. Photo taken by Holly Johnson at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, zone 4b, 5/10/2017.
Iris_cristata_Doubly_Stylish_overheadView_05-23-2022rs125a.jpgjpg Iris_cristata_Doubly_Stylish_overheadView_05-23-2022rs125a.jpg manage 604 K 14 Oct 2022 - 20:14 MarkMcD Unique form of Iris cristata 'Doubly Stylish', 6 falls and with the style arms doubled. (Schmieder, R. 2009)
Iris_cristata_Powder_Blue_Giant.jpgjpg Iris_cristata_Powder_Blue_Giant.jpg manage 63 K 13 Feb 2015 - 03:58 Main.KWalker Photo by Ken Walker; Powder Blue Giant
Iris_cristata_Sams_mini_KWW_1.JPGJPG Iris_cristata_Sams_mini_KWW_1.JPG manage 53 K 13 Feb 2015 - 14:35 Main.KWalker Photo by Ken Walker; Sam's Mini
Iriscristata02.jpgjpg Iriscristata02.jpg manage 80 K 18 Sep 2014 - 03:12 Main.TLaurin Photo scanned from the Adele and Lewis Lawyer slide collection
Iriscristata03.jpgjpg Iriscristata03.jpg manage 81 K 18 Sep 2014 - 03:14 Main.TLaurin Photo scanned from the Adele and Lewis Lawyer slide collection
Iriscristata04.jpgjpg Iriscristata04.jpg manage 66 K 18 Sep 2014 - 03:16 Main.TLaurin Photo scanned from the Adele and Lewis Lawyer slide collection
Iriscristata05.jpgjpg Iriscristata05.jpg manage 58 K 18 Sep 2014 - 03:18 Main.TLaurin Photo scanned from the Adele and Lewis Lawyer slide collection
Iriscristatakp9.jpgjpg Iriscristatakp9.jpg manage 58 K 05 Aug 2010 - 16:22 KentPfeiffer Taken in my garden, zone 5b, on May 8, 2009
PdBlGiant.jpgjpg PdBlGiant.jpg manage 58 K 16 Jan 2010 - 19:39 Main.shanatse I. cristata 'Powder Blue Giant'
SIGNA_09CR020_cristata.jpgjpg SIGNA_09CR020_cristata.jpg manage 50 K 20 Jan 2012 - 14:51 UnknownUser Pries photo
SIGNA_09CR020_cristata_enlarged.jpgjpg SIGNA_09CR020_cristata_enlarged.jpg manage 21 K 20 Jan 2012 - 14:53 UnknownUser Pries photo
convention_spring_2014_001.JPGJPG convention_spring_2014_001.JPG manage 1 MB 26 Jul 2016 - 17:51 BobPries Pries photo
cristata.jpgjpg cristata.jpg manage 35 K 16 Jan 2010 - 19:37 Main.shanatse I. cristata
cristata01.JPGJPG cristata01.JPG manage 98 K 22 Oct 2014 - 23:46 Main.TLaurin Photo by Joe Pye Weed's Garden
cristata02.jpgjpg cristata02.jpg manage 64 K 20 Jun 2015 - 03:08 Main.TLaurin Photo by Barry Blyth-Australia
cristata03.jpgjpg cristata03.jpg manage 102 K 17 Jul 2015 - 02:21 Main.TLaurin Photo by Barry Blyth-Australia
cristata04.jpgjpg cristata04.jpg manage 130 K 17 Jul 2015 - 02:23 Main.TLaurin Photo by Barry Blyth-Australia
cristata1.jpgjpg cristata1.jpg manage 263 K 14 Jun 2016 - 23:37 Main.TLaurin Photo by Marty Shafer/Jan Sacks-Joe Pye Weed's Garden
cristata2.jpgjpg cristata2.jpg manage 120 K 05 Jun 2018 - 01:15 Main.TLaurin Photo by Holly Johnson at the Minnesota Landscape Aboretum-Zone4B
cristata3.jpgjpg cristata3.jpg manage 105 K 05 Jun 2018 - 01:17 Main.TLaurin Photo by Holly Johnson at the Minnesota Landscape Aboretum-Zone4B
cristata33.jpgjpg cristata33.jpg manage 99 K 05 Jul 2020 - 01:46 Main.TLaurin Photo by Holly Johnson
cristata34.jpgjpg cristata34.jpg manage 166 K 02 Nov 2020 - 16:33 Main.TLaurin Photo by Holly Johnson
cristata4.jpgjpg cristata4.jpg manage 30 K 16 Jan 2010 - 19:38 Main.shanatse I. cristata
cristata5.JPGJPG cristata5.JPG manage 1 MB 13 Dec 2017 - 18:41 Main.TLaurin Photo by Cascadia Iris Gardens
cristata6.JPGJPG cristata6.JPG manage 941 K 13 Dec 2017 - 18:43 Main.TLaurin Photo by Cascadia Iris Gardens
cristata7.JPGJPG cristata7.JPG manage 135 K 24 Jun 2023 - 15:11 Main.TLaurin Photo by Verna Laurin-Willowdale-ON-Canada
cristata8.JPGJPG cristata8.JPG manage 34 K 29 Sep 2023 - 20:36 Main.TLaurin Photo by John Jearrard -Jearrad's Herbal-United Kingdom
cristata80.JPGJPG cristata80.JPG manage 67 K 29 Sep 2023 - 20:37 Main.TLaurin Photo by John Jearrard -Jearrad's Herbal-United Kingdom
cristata81.JPGJPG cristata81.JPG manage 31 K 29 Sep 2023 - 20:37 Main.TLaurin Photo by John Jearrard -Jearrad's Herbal-United Kingdom
cristata82.JPGJPG cristata82.JPG manage 34 K 29 Sep 2023 - 20:37 Main.TLaurin Photo by John Jearrard -Jearrad's Herbal-United Kingdom
cristata83.JPGJPG cristata83.JPG manage 30 K 29 Sep 2023 - 20:38 Main.TLaurin Photo by John Jearrard -Jearrad's Herbal-United Kingdom
cristata84.JPGJPG cristata84.JPG manage 20 K 29 Sep 2023 - 20:38 Main.TLaurin Photo by John Jearrard -Jearrad's Herbal-United Kingdom
cristata9.jpegjpeg cristata9.jpeg manage 112 K 02 Feb 2023 - 21:19 Main.TLaurin Photo by Wild Ginger Farm
cristata_edited-1.jpgjpg cristata_edited-1.jpg manage 44 K 01 Dec 2009 - 21:01 UnknownUser Plate from Dykes' Genus Iris
cristata_flower_variations.jpgjpg cristata_flower_variations.jpg manage 53 K 20 Sep 2010 - 20:29 UnknownUser Pries photo
cristataalba.jpgjpg cristataalba.jpg manage 25 K 10 Feb 2012 - 17:44 Main.htb ©2003 Laurie Frazer
cristatabudkp9.jpgjpg cristatabudkp9.jpg manage 71 K 05 Aug 2010 - 16:21 KentPfeiffer Taken in my garden, zone 5b, on May 8, 2009
iriscristataalba01.jpgjpg iriscristataalba01.jpg manage 60 K 07 Oct 2014 - 02:44 Main.TLaurin Photo by Kirsten
iriscristatabl01.jpgjpg iriscristatabl01.jpg manage 80 K 07 Oct 2014 - 02:47 Main.TLaurin Photo by Kirsten
Topic revision: r58 - 10 Dec 2023, BrewItt
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