Cemetery White Iris

by Anthonyfamilyinfo@gmail.com

Irises are a large and diverse group of flowering perennials with thousands of varieties. There is
one in particular – Iris x albicans, that has made itself at home in Texas. It is one of Texas’ most
established heirloom plants and has a long history in my family.

This white iris, also known as Cemetery White Iris, has been in my family’s gardens for over 100
years. It grew along the fence in my grandmother’s yard and my parents grew hundreds of
them in their garden. They passed them along to family and friends, so I continue that tradition.

The white flowers – more rarely purple or yellow – can often be found in spring in Texas 
cemeteries, at old home sites, in pastures and along the roadside. A long-lived iris, it is
believed to have originated in Saudi Arabia and associated with Yemen, where since the Middle
Ages, it has been cultivated and frequently planted in graveyards.

Identification

Iris blooms are dramatic – large, showy and easily recognized by their form. The three inner segments or standards, are petals and typically stand erect. The three outer segments – the falls are sepals that look more like petals that droop. Cemetery whites are in the category of bearded iris that have a hairlike fuzzy yellow tuft on the lower petals. Other types of iris are “beardless” and “crested”.

Known also as “white flags,” Iris albican’s sweet-scented white blooms sit on top of 1 to 2 foot stems. The foliage persists through the winter. Because cemetery whites do not set seed, the plants are passed along from one gardener to the other or may be found at nurseries specializing in heirloom plant varieties.

How to grow bearded iris

This iris is generally an easy to grow cottage garden flower. The best place to plant it is in full sun and well-drained soil. It is also an excellent plant for dry areas of a garden and if planted in partial shade, expect fewer flowers. Drought and the summer heat in Texas hardly bother this sturdy perennial. That is perhaps due in part to anatomy. The iris rhizomes, a fleshy underground stem, store food produced by the sword shaped, semi-evergreen leaves.

How to plant bearded iris

The rhizomes sometimes call tubers, grow best when planted at or barely below the soil surface. If the tops of the rhizome shows on the surface of the ground, that is okay. For a mass of color, plant at least three rhizomes in a grouping, spaced 8 to 10 inches apart.

What month do you plant iris?​

The recommended time to plant bearded iris is July through October. However, I have successfully transplanted cemetery whites while in bloom and almost every other time of year. Like other irises, the spiky foliage makes a nice contrast in a border of mixed perennials.

How to take care of bearded iris

Division of irises improves the vigor of plants and is a simple propagation method. If they get overgrown, the rhizomes may develop a soft spongy rot that can be managed by separating parts of the root. If left undivided, the root systems deteriorate and grow smaller resulting in fewer flowers and leaves.

When to divide iris

After about three years, irises usually become crowded and should be divided. Late summer to fall is the time to do that, but plants can be divided a month or so after flowering. Prepare the area for new divisions before dividing. Water plants a few days before. Tools you will need are a garden spade or a rounded shovel and a sharp knife.

How to divide iris

Dig rhizome tubers carefully with a spade and lift them out of the soil. Trim off older portions of the rhizomes and cut the leaves back to one-third of their length. A good division has rhizomes with 2 or more leaf-growing points. At this time, rhizomes may be re-planted and gently watered in or stored in a cool, dry place for a few weeks before replanting.

What hardiness zone is Iris albicans?

Iris albicans is usually rated as hardy to USDA Zones 7-9, but some resources indicate up to Zone 4-5. However, it is highly likely that extreme cold temperatures would damage flower buds in colder zones and flowering would be reduced.

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