Iris (Family Iridaceae)

 

The Iris Family or Iridaceae is a family of perennial, herbaceous and

bulbous plants included in the monocot Order Asparagales, taking its

name from the Genus Iris. Almost worldwide in distribution and one

of the most important families in horticulture, it includes more than

2000 species. Genera such as Crocus and Iris are significant compo-

nents of the floras of parts of Eurasia, and Iris also is well-represent-

ed in North America. Gladiolus and Morea are large genera and ma-

jor constituents of the flora of sub-Saharan and southern Africa while

Sisyrinchium, with more than 140 species, is the most diversified

Iridaceae genus in the Americas, where several other genera occur

(many of them important in tropical horticulture).

 

Family Iridaceae is almost cosmopolitan, ranging for temperate to

tropical zones, but lacking from frigid zones and northern Eurasia.

 

Several cultures have used species of Iridaceae as food, ornamenta-

tion, condiment or medicinal plants. The Navajo, the largest Native

American tribe of North America, used decoctions of Iris missou-

riensis as an emetic. Pieces of the rhizome of the same species were

used to relieve toothaches, or ear aches. The mashed roots of Iris

versicolor were applied to wounds, presumably as an antiseptic, and

the infusions of dry roots of the same species were used to calm pain. Sisyrinchium acre was used in Hawaii in different ways. Leaves or

leaf-sap were used as a dye, to give the blue color to tattoos. The use

of the leaves, macerated with salt, sugar and other spices was recom-

mended to clean the skin and cure skin diseases. Iris ensata was used

in India as anthelmintic and diuretic, and, mixed with other species,

to treat venereal diseases. Belamcanda chinensis has a long history

of use as medicinal plant in China. Apparently, it was very effective

in controlling bacterial, viral and fungal diseases, and in reducing

fever and inflammations. Another popular member of the family is

Crocus sativus; the spice saffron – obtained from the stigma – has

been used for centuries in folk medicine as an antispasmodic, aphro-

disiac, expectorant, narcotic and sedative. Iridaceae are of consider-

able economic importance in ornamental horticulture and the cut-

flower industry, especially Iris, Gladiolus, and Freesia. Several other

genera (e.g., Crocus, Dietes, Sparaxis, Tritonia, Watsonia) are culti-

vated in gardens in both tropical and temperate areas.

 

 

Back to Inventory of Herb/Forb Families and Species

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