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Iris versicolor (Harlequin blueflag)
Bengston, Bennie

Iris versicolor

Iris versicolor L.

Harlequin Blueflag, Northern Blue Flag, Large Blue Iris

Iridaceae (Iris Family)


USDA Symbol: IRVE2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

A graceful, sword-leaved plant similar to the garden iris, with showy, down-curved, violet, boldly veined sepals. Several violet-blue flowers with attractively veined and yellow-based sepals are on a sturdy stalk among tall sword-like leaves that rise from a basal cluster. Flowers may be any shade of purple, but are always decorated with yellow on the falls. Grows 2-3 ft. tall.

This is a showy native iris of northeastern wetlands. Insects attracted to the sepals must crawl under the tip of a style and brush past a stigma and stamen, thus facilitating pollination. A similar southern wetland species, occurring from Virginia to Florida and Texas, is Southern Blueflag (I. virginica). It is a smaller plant, to 2' (60 cm) tall, with bright green leaves that often lie on the ground or water. A coastal, brackish-water species, Slender Blueflag (I. prismatica) has extremely narrow, grass-like leaves that are less than 1/4" (6 mm) wide; it occurs from Maine to Georgia and Tennessee. The name "flag" is from the middle English flagge, meaning "rush" or "reed."


From the Image Gallery

8 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Up to about 3 feet tall.
Fruit: Green, Brown

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Yellow , Blue , Purple , Violet
Bloom Time: May , Jun , Jul , Aug
Bloom Notes: Rarely white.


USA: CT , DC , DE , ID , IL , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , VA , VT , WI
Canada: MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC , SK
Native Distribution: S. Lab. to Man, s. to w. VA, n. OH, MI & MN
Native Habitat: Meadows; stream banks; marshes; swamps

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Wet
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Soil Description: Moist, rich soils.
Conditions Comments: Even though it can tolerate complete submergence, this iris can be easily grown in most gardens. It is not a demanding plant. Once established, it will spread by self-seeding and extension of its rhizomes.


Use Wildlife: Hummingbirds
Warning: Poisonous to livestock.
POISONOUS PARTS: Rhizomes (thickened roots) and rootstocks, fresh or dry. Minor skin irritation when touched, low toxicity if ingested. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, elevated temperature following ingestion; skin irritation upon contact with seeds, rootstock, or cell sap. Toxic Principle: Irisin, iridin, or irisine.
The rhizome of the Blue Flag is poisonous, but was used by colonists, with guidance from Indian people, for various healing purposes. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)

Through the years, iris flowers have symbolized power, with the three parts representing wisdom, faith and courage. (Kershaw)

Irises have been used medicinally in the past, but their rootstocks are dangerously poisonous. Some tribes used the two outermost fibres of the leaves to spin strong, very fine, highly esteemed twine. Powdered iris root, called orris, smells like violets and has been added to perfume and potpourri. (Kershaw)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds , Hummingbirds

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Native plants to stop pond bank erosion
June 04, 2008
I recently purchased a home with a small pond in which a nearby stream daylights. The former owner placed large field stone around the pond and the small stream; however, the area around the pond and...
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Iris versicolor in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Iris versicolor in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Iris versicolor


Record Modified: 2023-02-14
Research By: TWC Staff

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