Iris Flower History
The word iris originates from Greece and it means rainbow. The name is very fitting considering there are over 200 varieties of irises that come in an array of different colors. Irises have played an integral role in ancient Greek history. The Greek goddess Iris was a messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow. One of her main tasks was to lead the souls of the dead women to the Elysian Fields. Apparently as a way of summoning the goddess to guide the dead in their journey, purple irises were planted over the graves of women.
In Egyptian times many drawings were found with pictures of irises in the Egyptian palaces. Egyptian Kings have been thought to marvel over their unique appearance. The iris has also been a very important part in French history. In 1147 Louis VII took the purple iris as his device and it became known as the Fleur-de-lis, a symbol very strongly tied to the kings of France. During the French revolution, the revolutionaries set out to destroy the Flue-de-lis as a way of marking their resentment against the monarchy. People were guillotined for wearing symbols of the Fleur-de-lis on their clothes. So strong was the rebellion that this Fleur-de-lis is now just a memory.
Irises have been cultivated in Italy as well. In 19th century Italy it was thought that three people could plant 5000 irises on a daily basis. Three years after they were planted, the rhizomes were harvested, skinned and dried in the sun and they became a major part of the perfume industry. While there was a large portion of these manufactured in Italy, there was a huge portion exported for manufacturing. In 1876 alone, there was about 10,000 tons of rhizomes exported to many places including the United States. Today irises are found all over the world, and irises are found naturally in Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa, Asia, and North America. Today, the iris is the state flower of Tennessee.