The lady resides in a sunny leaf dappled alcove part way up a hill on our Two Hundred Acre Wood, and her sumptuous robes can be seen from quite a distance. Surrounding her is a dense thicket of armored Prickly Ash which protects the colony from being consumed by deer. I usually avoid the area and its wicked thorns (although I'm wearing the marks of an encounter this morning), and local white-tails give a wide berth to Zanthoxylum americanum too. Nevertheless, the thicket is the favored nesting place of indigo buntings, and they flit merrily in and out of the place in summer, lighting up the hill with plumage in another fetching shade of my favorite color.
In Greek, the word iris means "eye of heaven", and it's the name of a goddess - our sumptuous early summer bloom takes her name from Iris, goddess of the rainbow. A messenger of the gods on Mount Olympus, Iris carried messages between heaven and earth along the confetti colored arch of the rainbow. Another of her sacred tasks was carrying the souls of deceased women to the Elysian fields, the final resting place of those heroic and virtuous in life.
There has always been something alluring and powerful about the number three. One form of the three-petaled iris or another form grows in almost every corner of island earth, and the flower has been associated with individual cultures for time out of mind.
In its purple form, the flower symbolizes royalty and divine protection, and it was cherished by Merovingian monarchs (e.g. Clovis) who used it as a device on military banners and painted it on their walls. Is there not an element of incongruity in something as lovely as the iris being used as a heraldic device by a legendary confederation of bellicose Frankish tribes? After the Merovingians came the combative Carolingian kings, and the iris became the "fleur-de-lis" still beloved of France. In ancient Middle Eastern and Indian cultures, the iris represented life, virtue and resurrection and was often found on Mesopotamian, Mycenean, Gaulish and Mameluk artifacts. Whatever her historic associations, the wild iris (along with the Showy Lady's-slipper) is emblematic of summer, and when it comes to purple, this lady has it all.