The Small Spurias
Many people are familiar with the large hybrid spurias. These plants are
quite tall, sometimes to five or six feet, and are very stiff upright
plants. They are excellent at the back of a large border. In many
gardens however they are just too tall to fit into the landscape. There
are several spuria species that are quite different from the more
familiar hybrids and the large species from which they were derived.
These small more graceful species fit into smaller gardens quite well.
Below is a brief description of these smaller species.
is the most commonly encountered one of these species. It
grows eight to fifteen inches tall with narrow grassy upright leaves as
the name indicates (gramineae
being the name of the grass family). The
standards are purple blue and the falls are white heavily lined with
blue violet. As in most spurias the falls consist of a long horizontal
haft culminating in a small round blade. The hafts are concealed by
rather showy styles of very pale blue violet with a dark almost purple
center stripe. This iris is commonly called the "Plum Scented Iris"
because of it's strong fragrance of ripe plums. I. graminea
bloom in the leaves but is still a garden worthy plant. One or two stems
in a bud vase makes a lovely bouquet, this is one iris I recommend for
Two other closely related irises are I. colchica
is fairly universally considered to be a form of I. graminea
but I. pseudocyperus
on the other hand has been the base of much
botanical discussion. I think the new species book by the British Iris
Society makes more sense than anyone. They state that I. pseudocyperus
may be just a form of I. graminea
but they feel that from the gardeners
standpoint there is a big difference. The flowers of the two plants have
the same form but in I. pseudocyperus
the color is brighter and it is a
much larger bloom and is not scented of ripe plums. The plant of I.
has much wider leaves which are quite lax. The whole plant
tends to arch over and is more suitable for the top of a wall or the
edge of a border. The flowers of I. pseudocyperus
are on short stems but
show well above and among the leaves.
is another of the small spurias that you may encounter.
This is smaller in all it's parts than I. graminea
generally growing no
more than six to ten inches tall. The plant has short rhizomes and forms
a tight clump of narrow arching leaves which are evergreen, quite thick
and almost leathery. The flowers have the same form as I. graminea
flowers are a deep rather bright blue. Again the falls are
white heavily veined with the same deep blue.
Like I. graminea, I. sintenisii
has a closely related variety and one
subspecies. Iris sintenisii var. urumovii
is not generally in
cultivation so is of little concern to us here. It's chief differences
from the species being that it is an upright plant with very glaucous
leaves that are deciduous. However I.sintenisii subspecies brandzae
garden worthy plant. It has very narrow 1/8 inch wide leaves that are
quite bluish in color and makes a dainty little plant. The form of I.
grown by Jean Witt has wonderful terra‑cotta colored pods that
are every bit as showy in the fall as the flowers are in the spring.
Another of the small spurias that is rarely found in cultivation is I.
. From the descriptions I have read a rather muddy blue purple
flower on short stems surrounded by tufts of much longer leaves that
effectively conceal the flowers. Not something well recommended in most
of the books. At least if you run across the name you will know what it
The last of the small spurias we will discuss is I. kerneriana
slender species is the only one of the small spurias that is yellow. I.
kerneriana grows about eight to twelve inches tall. The flowers are
typical of other spurias in form but are quite large for such a small
plant. The color is a pale primrose yellow with a deeper spot on the
blade of the falls. the foliage is quite narrow and of a bluish green
color. I. kerneriana
is a very neat little iris that is an asset to the
rock garden or border. One problem with I. kerneriana
is that it seems
to be a bit difficult to establish. Once growing for you it is fairly
The culture of all these small spurias seems to be similar. They all
seem to prefer neutral to slightly acid soil. Most need plenty of water
in spring but will not tolerate soggy soil so good drainage is
necessary. Later in the summer some drying is acceptable but the shallow
rooted ones like I. sintenisii
will not tolerate a total drying out or
baking. Most are fairly heavy feeders. The culture of these small
spurias is not difficult if you pay attention to watering, feeding and
especially good drainage.
Most of these small spuria species are available from time to time
through specialty nurseries such as Heronswood or Reflective Gardens. An
inexpensive and easy way to start with them is by seed. Several of the
seed exchanges have seed for them and SIGNA seed exchange almost always
has a selection.
Contributed to the KCIS Newsletter by Carla Lankow, October 1997