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■ (SPEC) Iris lactea Pallas

about 1771, Botanical author Peter Simon Pallas

Iris lactea Pallas (Peter Simon Pallas, 1776, Asia); 2 1/2-16" (6-40 cm); Blue, bluish-violet, purple or white; originally called Iris ensata Thunberg by many references including the 1939 checklist and Dykes' The Genus Iris, but now the American Iris Society and many other authors recognize Iris ensata Thunberg to be the valid name for the Japanese Iris previously known as _I. kaempferi_. Mathew in The Iris gives as a synonym "Iris ensata Dykes and many others but not of Thunberg". Kohlein in Iris, aware of this confusion but preferring the older name writes it as Iris ensata auct. non Thunberg. Presently the earlier name, Iris lactea Pallas is the name preferred in this manual and should create little confusion.--R Pries Iris Encyclopedia

Fragrance: Scent of violets--39 checklist See below:

2017-05-25 031Iris lactea   Milky Iris (2).jpg325614.jpgI. lacteaJB17.JPGI.lactea01.jpgI lactea-white Ken Walker.jpgIlactea.jpgILactea01.jpgILACTEA01.jpgirislactea10.jpgirislactea11.jpgirislactea12.jpgIrslactea.jpglactea.jpglactea01.jpglactea010.JPGlactea05.jpglactea08.JPGlactea09.jpglactea090.JPGlactea091.JPGlactea094.jpglactea12.jpglactea2JB16.JPGlactea4.jpglactea5.jpglactea9.jpgLactea99JD.jpglactea - Moran.jpglactea plotner.jpglactea seed.jpgLacteafromBulletin.jpglacteaJB16.jpglacteawhitefalls01.JPGlacteawhitefalls02.JPGSpecLacteaNH.jpg


Iris lactea Pall., Reise Russ. Reich. 3: 713 (1776).
Transactions of the Linnean Society 2: 328. 1794;
Flora Of China, page , Iris lactea Pallas, Reise Russ. Reich. 3: 713. 1776.

白花马蔺 bai hua ma lin

Rhizomes sheathed with reddish purple fibers, creeping, thick. Leaves basal, grayish green, linear, 14--70 cm × 3--7 mm, tough, drying prominently ribbed, midvein absent. Flowering stems 3--30 cm; spathes green, lanceolate, 4.5--10 × 0.8--1.6 cm, 2--4-flowered, apex acuminate. Flowers pale violet, or partly milky white or yellow, 5--7.5 cm in diam.; pedicel 4--7 cm. Perianth tube very short, ca. 3 mm; outer segments oblanceolate, 4.5--6.5 × 0.8--1.2 cm, apex obtuse or mucronate; inner segments erect, narrowly oblanceolate, 4.2--4.5 cm × 5--7 mm. Stamens 2.5--3.2 cm; anthers yellow. Ovary narrowly fusiform, very long, 3--4.5 cm, grooved. Capsule narrowly cylindric, 6.5--7.5 × 1--1.4 cm, 6-ribbed, apex shortly beaked; fruiting pedicels unequal, 4--10 cm. Seeds maroon-brown, pyriform. Fl. Apr--Jun, fr. Jun--Sep.

Hillsides, grasslands, roadsides; 600--3800 m. Anhui, Gansu, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Jilin, Liaoning, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Xizang [Afghanistan, N India, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia].

Outer perianth segments pale violet, or milky white with purple veins, inner segments pale violet 21a var. lactea

Outer perianth segments pale violet, inner segments yellow 21b var. chrysantha
Jacques, 1833, Iris Triflora, Annales de Flore et de Pomone, 1833, pp. 274-275.
Iris ensata Thunb. var. pabularia, Gartenflora [E. von Regel], vol. 47: t. 1452 (1898) [W. Heinecke]
Thomas S. Ware, Hale Farm Nurseries, Tottenham, London, Eng. 1877; Dammann & Co., San Giovanni a Teduccio, Nr. Naples, Italy, 1899; Macoun 1908, Perry 1933,
Dykes in The Genus Iris, 1913, under the name I. ensata;

This widely distributed Asiatic species seems to stand so entirely alone as to demand separate treatment. Its peculiarities will be found in The Observations at the end of the account of the species. The most striking features are the long, narrow ovary and capsule, and the extremely short perianth tube.

Rootstock , a compact, close-tufted rhizome, covered with coarse remnants of old leaves, resembling those of I. spuria and I. longipetala.
Leaves , linear, ¼-½ in. broad, length varying from a few inches at flowering time to 18-24 in. eventually, finely ribbed, of a glaucous grey.
Stem , 2-12 in. long, flattened so as to be lozenge shape in section, bearing a single terminal head.
Spathes , narrow, acuminate, green, usually 2-3 in. long, but sometimes much longer.
Pedicels , of varying length even in the same spathe, ½-4 in.
Ovary , 1-2 in. long, narrow, more or less trigonal, with two furrows on each face, usually twisted and passing gradually into the pedicel.
Tube , very short and easily detached from the top of the)>Vary when the flower withers.
Falls . The oblanceolate blade is separated by a slight and gradual constriction from the slightly panduriform haft. The colour varies considerably, from pure white with a few slight greenish veins to dark blue- or red-purple. In some cases the veining is very delicate and beautiful. On the haft the low central greenish-yellow ridge is often dotted with small purplish dots.
Standards , oblanceolate unguiculate with canaliculate haft; the colour is usually darker than that of the falls and the back of the haft is greenish.
Styles , narrow, rounded, not sharply keeled.
Crests , triangular, overlapping.
Stigma , a small, pendant triangular tongue.
Filaments , white, short.
Anthers , cream, longer than the filaments.
Pollen , cream.
Capsule , 2-3 in. long, narrowly oblong, with six ribs at equal intervals and a short sharp beak (see Fig. 11).
Seeds , globose, dark brown, smooth-skmned; somewhat resemblmg those of the longipetala group.


This Iris extends from the Altai region to Shantung and Corea, and appears to have several local forms. Any attempt to arrive at a clear and complete classification of these forms is made the more difficult by several facts. In the first place, the slender rhizomes will not survive complete desiccation, and almost invariably succumb during the long journey to England from Central Asia. The surest method of introducing the various forms is therefore by means of seeds, which are freely produced and germinate readily. Unfortunately the plants do not begin to flower until, after three or four years, they have grown into clumps of some size.

Another difficulty lies in the fact that the specimens found in herbarium collections have usually been gathered either at the flowering time or when the capsules of seed had developed. Between these two periods the foliage grows considerably, with the result that the plants appear quite different.

The task of endeavouring to assign definite localities to the different forms of this Iris is probably further complicated by the fact that it has in Central Asia some importance as an economic plant. In Kashmir, for instance, the foliage is used as fodder (cf.' Gartenflora, 1898, p. 370), while in the neighbourhood of Kashgar it is woven into cord, and bunches of vegetables and of grapes are mostly tied with it. We are bound to admit therefore that the Iris may now have become naturalised in many places where it was not originally indigenous. In this connection it may be noted that Maximowicz, who endeavoured (vide I.e.) to distinguish three varieties, was obliged to state that all three were collected by Regel at Kuldscha.

The economic value of I. ensata is doubtless increased by the fact that, owing to its deep rooting character, it is less affected by long periods of drought than any other Iris. This was very noticeable in September 1911, when the foliage of nearly all other Irises had withered away. The clumps of I. ensata remained quite green until they were cut down by frost. This peculiarity allows the plant to flourish where other vegetation fails, and I have seen photographs taken near Kashgar of a district where the ground is covered with great clumps of I. ensata many feet in circumference, and where the bare, deeply fissured hills afford abundant testimony to the aridity of the climate.

Although it is impossible to come to any definite conclusion as to the number of really distinct forms of this species that may exist, there are at least three which should not be confused with one another, but which, at the same time, cannot be separated into distinct species. Of these three forms, by far the commonest is that which has flowers with narrow oblanceolate (alls and foliage which at length attains nearly, if not quite, to two feet in length. The flower stems are of variable length even on the same plant, and the relative proportions of the stem and of the leaves are not constant under different climatic conditions. Of this a striking illustration was afforded by the difference between Wilson's specimen from the Min valley in Szechuan (No. n81) and a plant raised from seed brought home from that locality by Wilson himself. In China the flowers appear when the leaves are very short', and this actually occurred in some plants of I. ensata, which came into flower soon after Christmas 1911, during a spell of mild weather following on the thorough ripening that the summer's drought had given the plants. In England, the plants usually do not flower until May or June, when the foliage has already grown to 12-18 inches, and when the stems are consequently much overtopped by the leaves. This variety of I. ensata, which I take to be the typical form, has grown in my garden in the form either of imported plants or of seedlings raised from seeds from the following localities :-Japan, Szechuan (Wilson no. 1181, 1908), Shantung, Kashmir.

The second form, which I propose to call var. grandijlora, has much larger flowers, the falls being obovate rather than oblanceolate. The ground colour is a pale creamy primrose, delicately veined with pale violet. At the edge the veins become diffuse and spread over the whole surface. The standards are also broad and of the same pale violet colour. For some reason this Iris is often known in catalogues and in gardens as the variety oxypetala, to which name it has, of course, less claim than any other known form of I. ensata. The only specimens of this Iris that I have obtained from a known locality are a batch of plants raised from seeds sent from Gyantze in Thibet and handed on to me by the generosity of the late W. E. Gumbleton.

The third form of this Iris is one which I have raised from seeds sent to me by Mons. H. Correvon, but without any guarantee of their exact provenance. All the plants that I raised agree in having short, stiff leaves, with a distinct corkscrew twist, which differentiates them at once from the leaves of the other forms, when all are grown side by side. The flowers of this third form closely resemble those of the typical plant, except that the veining extends further over the blade of the falls, which expand rather more suddenly and then narrows to a pointed tip. I am inclined to think that this may be the variety chinensis, which grows abundantly on the plains round Pekin. As herbarium specimens it is impossible to separate this variety from the typical plant, and it is only occasionally that the variety grandijlora displays its flowers sufficiently well in the dried state to allow of its being separated from the other varieties. Pallas' specimens (BM) appear to belong to this variety.

Specimens of I. ensata are very common in herbarium collections, often erroneously identified. The stems are so variable in length, both absolutely and in proportion to the leaves, and the appearance of the plant at flowering time is so totally different to that which it has assumed by the time the capsules of seed are mature, that such confusions are almost unavoidable until we, are acquainted with the peculiarities of the living plant.

In the dry state, the distinguishing features are the narrow finely-ribbed leaves, often flushed at the base with purple, which becomes a deep brown in the course of time, the sl~er rhizome closely covered with coarse, but not fibrous, remains of old leaves and not unlike the rhizome of I. spuria, the long, narrow, obscurely-ribbed and usually slightly twisted ovary, and the long, narrow, six-ribbed capsule, supported on a long pedicel (see Fig. 11, p. 87). These characters are common to all the known forms, and serve to distinguish them from any other species.

In cultivation the plant presents no great difficulty. I. ensata will grow in any soil, either in sand or m heavy clay, and is moreover unlike some other apogons, in that it has no dislike to lime in the soil. Not only is this true in England, but I have found that the soil still remaining attached to the roots of plants that have reached me from Central Asia is often strongly impregnated with lime.

When growth begins in spring, the young leaves appear of a pale yellow, as though they had been blanched and only gradually turn to the somewhat grey shade of green that they subsequently assume.

After flowering, the leaves still grow considerably. In some cases they are stiff and upright and grow with a curious spiral twist ; in others the length is greater and the leaves droop until their tips almost touch the ground. They remain green until quite late in the autumn, in fact until they are cut down by sharp frosts, when they turn to a peculiarly dirty, brownish black, wholly -unlike the various shades of yellow or red-brown found among the withered leaves of other species.

The only species to which I. ensata seems to show any affinity, are the Western American I. longipetala and its relatives I. missouriensis and I. montana. With these it agrees in the characters of the rhizome and, to some extent, of the foliage and capsule (the latter being, however, much narrower in I. ensata ). The seeds, also, are all of the same type, although those of I. ensata are so much smaller and more spherical as to be readily distinguishable from those of the American species.

It is possible that the Chinese I. Grijsi is also allied to I. ensata, but our ignorance of the seeds and capsules of the former makes it impossible to ascertain whether there is any real relationship between the two species.
New Paly Introductions 1914-15; Descriptions of Imported Seeds and Plants which will be sent to Experimenters, Fourth Annual List, Bureau of Plant Industry, Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D. C.; 36765. IRIS ENSATA.
Bulletin of The American Iris Society 57: 2 Apr.1935 , Iris ensata Thunb. (See page 2)

It is very difficult to know just what to say about this Asiatic iris that will suggest the proper middle ground of attention. Certainly it does not merit a description that would commend it as one 'of the beauties of the genus and on the other hand, it must not be cast out with too faint praise.

As a beardless iris of great hardiness to cold, heat and drought, it has long been known and variously introduced. It is easily raised from seed and the seedlings themselves offer no particular difficulty in transplanting in the garden. It has been my experience, however, that it does not always behave as well when older plants are moved and even less well when they are shipped from nurseries at any distance.

The plant makes a constantly increasing, tussock-like mass of very narrow, grey-green, tough foliage, that persists well into the fall, but is not evergreen in this climate. The leaf fans start into growth promptly in the spring, but show a great variation in their rate of growth. The flower stalks push up through the leaves and appear hidden or free, depending more or less on the rate of growth of the leaves. Obviously those that grow slowly allow the greatest display of the flowers which though slight are beautifully made and quite charming when cut. In the many seedlings raised here from various sources the prevailing colors have been from a creamy white ground, showing chiefly on the falls, to delicate lavenders on bluish side rather than lilac side of that color. In no case have we been so lucky as to get seedlings showing on the falls the variation "to dark blue, or red purple" mentioned by Dykes (The Genus Iris, p. 87) but one quails before the task of raising more seedlings of this sort, which take up valuable space for some before flowering, in the hope that such a color may be found.

Dykes (ibid.) mentions that this is used as a fodder plant in Kashmir and in an old Chinese encyclopedia there is an interesting article describing the plant mostly from the point of view of the herbalist who once found virtues in most plants, but mentioning that it was used to make brushes, by cleaning the masses of roots. It is hoped that in time at least an abstract of this article may be given in the BULLETIN., Washington, D. C.
Berry 1938, Hocker 1938, Wayman 1938


Iris lactea is also listed in the seed exchanges under a variety of other synonyms; Iris biglumis Vahl; Iris fragrans Lindl.: Iris iliensis Pol.; Iris longifolia Royle; Iris longispatha Fischer; _ Iris moorcroftiana_ Wall. ex. Don; Iris oxpetala Bunge; Iris pallassii Fisch.; Iris triflora Balbis; The following entry is how Iris lactea appears in the 1939 Checklist. For more information; SIGNA 52: 1890-1895. Spring 1994; BIS 1994 Yearbook. To add to the confusion a cultivar 'Lactea' was registered in the 1939 checklist that was a form of Iris sibirica. Lactea is botanical Latin for milky color. One can see why Latin terms are no longer allowed in new cultivar names.

Chromosome counts

2n=40, Doronkin 1984. Iris lactea


Many of the synonyms may represent distinct varieties of lactea. The following is a list of named variations botanical and horticultural:
'Biglumis', 'Chinensis', 'Chrysantha', 'Ensata Chinensis', 'Ensata Grandiflora', 'Ensata Grandiflora Alba', 'Fragrans', 'Frank Kalich', 'Hyacinthiana', 'Iliensis', 'Illini Fountain', 'Kelaina', 'Mani', 'Moorcroftiana', 'Oxypetala', 'Pabularia', 'Pallassii', 'Pallasii Reichb', 'Redundant', 'Songarica', 'Wichita Farewell'.


The following are recorded crosses involving Iris lactea either in the first or second generation. 'Calsata Hybrids', 'Chrysata', 'Chrysata Charme', 'Hamadryad', 'Starting Chrysata'. Culture; See Culture of Iris lactea

Distribution and Cultivation

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-- Main.RPries - 2009-09-25
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
2017-05-25 031Iris lactea _ Milky Iris (2).jpgjpg 2017-05-25 031Iris lactea _ Milky Iris (2).jpg manage 583 K 31 Jul 2017 - 15:20 HollyJohnson2017-04-01 I. lactea at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, zone 4b. In bloom approximately May 25th - June 9th, 2017. Photo by Holly Johnson
325614.jpgjpg 325614.jpg manage 169 K 14 Jul 2016 - 12:22 BobPries  
I._lacteaJB17.JPGJPG I._lacteaJB17.JPG manage 43 K 15 Apr 2017 - 12:56 Main.Betsy881 Photo by John Baumfalk
I.lactea01.jpgjpg I.lactea01.jpg manage 71 K 22 Sep 2014 - 02:14 Main.TLaurin Photo scanned from the John Weiler slide collection
ILACTEA01.jpgjpg ILACTEA01.jpg manage 122 K 13 Jul 2017 - 18:43 Main.TLaurin Photo by Alla Chernoguz-Kiev-Ukraine
ILactea01.jpgjpg ILactea01.jpg manage 66 K 20 Oct 2014 - 02:06 Main.TLaurin Photo by Jean Claude Jacob-Iris de la Baie-France
I_lactea-white_Ken_Walker.jpgjpg I_lactea-white_Ken_Walker.jpg manage 24 K 25 Sep 2009 - 00:21 UnknownUser A white Iris lactea, Ken Walker photo
Ilactea.jpgjpg Ilactea.jpg manage 59 K 04 Jan 2010 - 23:01 EleanorHutchison Photo by El Hutchison, near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Z3
Irslactea.jpgjpg Irslactea.jpg manage 14 K 11 Jan 2010 - 20:50 Main.vaughnsayles Iris lactea, zone 4, Vaughn Sayles
Lactea99JD.jpgjpg Lactea99JD.jpg manage 65 K 29 Mar 2012 - 17:34 Main.Betsy881 Photo by Joe Daugherty
LacteafromBulletin.jpgjpg LacteafromBulletin.jpg manage 123 K 12 Jul 2016 - 15:55 BobPries  
SpecLacteaNH.jpgjpg SpecLacteaNH.jpg manage 343 K 23 Jun 2013 - 13:32 Main.Betsy881 Photo by Nyla Hughes
irislactea10.jpgjpg irislactea10.jpg manage 127 K 10 Oct 2013 - 19:00 Main.TLaurin Photo by Alla Chernoguz-Kiev-Ukraine
irislactea11.jpgjpg irislactea11.jpg manage 45 K 10 Oct 2013 - 19:11 Main.TLaurin Photo by Alla Chernoguz-Kiev-Ukraine
irislactea12.jpgjpg irislactea12.jpg manage 314 K 06 Feb 2023 - 21:27 Main.TLaurin Photo by Alla Chernoguz-Kiev-Ukraine
lactea.jpgjpg lactea.jpg manage 59 K 16 Jan 2010 - 19:56 Main.shanatse I. lactea
lactea01.jpgjpg lactea01.jpg manage 143 K 01 Jun 2018 - 20:29 Main.TLaurin Photo by Barbara-Jean Jackson-Manitoba,Canada
lactea010.JPGJPG lactea010.JPG manage 168 K 11 Jun 2023 - 02:04 Main.TLaurin Photo by Barbara-Jean Jackson-Manitoba-Canada
lactea05.jpgjpg lactea05.jpg manage 126 K 05 Jul 2020 - 01:30 Main.TLaurin Photo by Holly Johnson
lactea08.JPGJPG lactea08.JPG manage 35 K 15 Feb 2020 - 15:05 Main.TLaurin Photo by Tom Waters-Telperion Oasis- Taken at the Albuqueque Garden Center 2012
lactea09.jpgjpg lactea09.jpg manage 77 K 26 Apr 2020 - 21:05 Main.TLaurin Photo by Tom Waters-Telperion Oasis
lactea090.JPGJPG lactea090.JPG manage 179 K 12 May 2022 - 21:37 Main.TLaurin Photo by Tom Waters-Telperion Oasis
lactea091.JPGJPG lactea091.JPG manage 101 K 12 May 2022 - 21:38 Main.TLaurin Photo by Tom Waters-Telperion Oasis
lactea094.jpgjpg lactea094.jpg manage 52 K 12 May 2022 - 22:01 Main.TLaurin Photo by Tom Waters-Telperion Oasis
lactea12.jpgjpg lactea12.jpg manage 54 K 10 Jan 2014 - 15:26 Main.TLaurin Photo by Darius Gusas-Lithuania
lactea2JB16.JPGJPG lactea2JB16.JPG manage 38 K 24 Apr 2016 - 18:11 Main.Betsy881 Photo by John Baumfalk
lactea4.jpgjpg lactea4.jpg manage 34 K 22 Jun 2017 - 03:25 Main.TLaurin Photo by Sandy Gessner Eggertson-Merlebleu Iris Garden-Manitoba,Canada
lactea5.jpgjpg lactea5.jpg manage 299 K 06 Jun 2018 - 03:13 Main.TLaurin Photo by Sandy Gessner Eggertson-Merlebleu Iris Garden-Manitoba,Canada
lactea9.jpgjpg lactea9.jpg manage 159 K 02 Nov 2020 - 16:58 Main.TLaurin Photo by Holly Johnson
lacteaJB16.jpgjpg lacteaJB16.jpg manage 58 K 24 Apr 2016 - 18:11 Main.Betsy881 Photo by John Baumfalk
lactea_-_Moran.jpgjpg lactea_-_Moran.jpg manage 34 K 06 Feb 2010 - 21:34 Main.Betsy881 Photo by Moran
lactea_plotner.jpgjpg lactea_plotner.jpg manage 41 K 25 Sep 2009 - 00:23 UnknownUser Iris lactea, Will Plotner photo
lactea_seed.jpgjpg lactea_seed.jpg manage 34 K 29 Sep 2010 - 18:01 UnknownUser  
lacteawhitefalls01.JPGJPG lacteawhitefalls01.JPG manage 75 K 21 Oct 2014 - 13:41 Main.TLaurin Photo by Joe Pye Weed's Garden
lacteawhitefalls02.JPGJPG lacteawhitefalls02.JPG manage 86 K 21 Oct 2014 - 13:44 Main.TLaurin Photo by Joe Pye Weed's Garden
Topic revision: r56 - 11 Jun 2023, TLaurin
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