Flowers of the Iridaceae family(アヤメ科の花々)

Ayame (Iris sanguinea) bloomed in the garden of my parents’ house and Dutch iris (Iris hollandica) bloomed in my garden in early May. Both were so beautiful that I drew and painted them. They are very similar but I could find the difference because I sketched them carefully.

I remembered a Japanese proverb “Izure Ayame ka Kakitsubata?” This proverb means that Ayame and kakitsubata are so similar that it is difficult to distinguish between them, meaning that both are excellent and difficult to be compared. Ayame (iris sanguinea) blooms purple flowers in early May. It is characterized by a yellow and white mesh pattern at the base of the outer petal. They grow in colonies in dry places like fields and meadows.

On the other hand, Kakitsubata (iris laevigata) is characterized by a white streak at the base of the outer petal. The color of their petals is deep purple and they grow in colonies in wetlands in mid-May. I didn’t see them in my neighborhood so I looked for a picture on the Internet. I could see the difference, but indeed they are both incomparably beautiful.

The Ayame festival is held in every region of the country in June every year in Japan. That Ayame usually refers to Hanashoubu (Iris ensata). It is said that the name “Hanashoubu” comes from the resemblance of its leaves to those of Shoubu (sweet flag) and it blooms flowers. Hanashoubu is a horticultural variety of Nohanashoubu (Iris ensata var. spontanea) that grows wild in the fields and marshlands of Japan. Since the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868), breeding has been actively carried out. Hanashoubu is very similar to Ayame and Kakitsubata, but it comes in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes of flowers. They bloom from early to mid-June.

Close to me, I often see Kishoubu (Iris pseudacorus) blooming along a small stream while I take a walk in my neighborhood in this season. They are a very eye-catching bright yellow. Kishoubu is the same type of Hanashoubu, but it is a foreign species that comes from Europe, so it is common that we call it Kishoubu separately.   

Ichihatsu (Iris tectorum) is also similar to Ayame. Ichihatsu is native to China and came to Japan in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). It is said that they were called Ichihatsu because they bloom first among flowers of the Iridaceae family around April. It is characterized by the presence of a crest-like white projection at the base of the outer petal.

Dutch iris (Iris hollandica) is bulbous iris improved in the Netherlands. It is possible to grow it comparatively easily though it likes slightly dry places, it is strong in the cold. It is often grown in Japan. So they grow in my garden.

German iris (Iris germanica) was made by complex mating on the basis of natural hybrid, Guernica, which is native to Europe. They have been made in Germany and France from the 1800s and their breeding have been advanced in America now. They are the most gorgeous flowers of the Iridaceae family and have so many varieties. It is characterized by the hair that is dense like a brush at the base of the outer petal.

Speaking of Shoubu (sweet flag), it is a fragrant grass which is used for Shobuyu for Tango-no-sekku. Shobuyu is the bathwater heated with sweet flag roots and leaves in it. The flower of Shoubu is in the shape of an ear and they grow in colonies in the waterside such as swamps and ponds. Shoubu is a member of the Araceae family.

In the old days, people used to call Shoubu “Ayame” or “Ayamegusa.” And they used to call Ayame “Hanaayame” because Ayame has similar leaves as Shoubu. All flowers I introduced this time are a member of the Iridaceae family and different from Shoubu of the Araceae family, but Hanashoubu of the Iridaceae family is called Shoubu. If you write “Ayame” and “Shoubu” in kanji, you can write the same kanji “菖蒲.” It is so confusing.

My interest in Ayame and Dutch iris led me to learn many things about flowers of the Iridaceae family. If I see a flower of the Iridaceae family, just knowing what it is seems to add to my enjoyment.