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Iris spp.—Iris; flag

FAMILY: Iridaceae—the Iris Family

In addition to the well known cultivated and native or naturalized species of Iris, other members of the family found in our range include the blackberry-lily, Belamcanda chinensis (L ) DC.; gladeolus, Gladeolus spp; and blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium spp. Owing to the familiarity of this group, especially the irises, no family description is given.

PHENOLOGY: The flowering time of irises varies, with early-flowering species producing showy blossoms in April and others blooming as late as July. Generally, most irises in our range flower in May.

DISTRIBUTION: Irises thrive in habitats ranging from sandy, open woods to swamps. Many types are garden cultivars, grown around the home for ornamental purposes.

PLANT CRARACTERISTICS: The petals and sepals are not readily distinguishable; outer tepals: spreading or reflexed; inner tepals: erect or arching; stamens: inserted at base of outer 3 tepals; ovary: 3-6 angled; style: divided distally into 3 petaloid branches arching over the stamens, each 2-lobed at the tip; perennial herbs with linear leaves growing from a horizontal rhizome.

POISONOUS PARTS: The roots, and to a lesser extent the leaves, are poisonous upon ingestion in quantity. The roots may produce dermatitis in sensitive individuals.

SYMPTOMS: Ingestion of iris leads to gastroenteritis, purgation, and dyspnea. Contact dermatitis and irritation may result.

POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The toxins are largely unknown. The irritant principle may be irone, a glycoside.

CONFUSED TAXA: The flowers of iris are unmistakable. The leaves may be confused with cat-tail (Typha spp ), sweet flag (Acorus spp ), or some larger sedges (Carex spp ).

SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Livestock and humans have been poisoned after eating large quantities of iris.

TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26) for ingestion; (23) for dermatitis

OF INTEREST: Toxic reports are rare, probably due to the large quantity of material needed for poisoning. Iris root has been used medicinally as a purgative. Chemical constituents include iridin (an oleoresin), isophthalic acid (an unknown camphoraccus substance), gum, tannin, sugars, and oils, The seeds of iris have been used as a coffee bean substitute, a practice not advised. The pulped raw rhizome of I. missouriensis was used to relieve tooth ache.

Gladeolus spp have been listed in older literature as poisonous, but this could not be substantiated in recent references to poisonous plants.

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