Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Eyes of Heaven

The irises reside in a sunny hillside alcove on the Two Hundred Acre Wood, surrounded by a dense thicket of armored Prickly Ash. Because of the wicked thorns, I usually avoid the area, and local deer also give a wide berth to Zanthoxylum americanum. The thicket is a secure nesting place for indigo buntings, and they flit merrily in and out in summer, lighting up the hill with plumage in a fetching variation of my favorite color.

In Greek, the word iris means "eye of heaven" as well as "messenger", and our sumptuous summer blooms take their name from Iris, goddess of the rainbow. As messenger of the gods, she carried their missives between heaven and earth along the prismatic trail, and another of her sacred tasks was escorting the souls of deceased women along the same path to the Elysian fields, the final resting place of those who were heroic and virtuous in life.

There has always been something alluring and powerful about irises and the number three.  One form or another of the three-petaled iris grows in almost every tropical or temperate corner of island earth, and the flower has been cherished by individual cultures for time out of mind. In its regal purple form, the iris symbolizes royalty and divine protection, and it was venerated by Merovingian monarchs like Clovis who used it as a device on their military banners and painted it on the walls of their dwelling places.  I've always found it incongruous that the iris was used as a heraldic device by a legendary confederation of bellicose Frankish tribes. After the Merovingians, along came the combative Carolingian kings, and the iris became the "fleur-de-lis" beloved of France today.  

For ancient cultures, the iris represented life, virtue and resurrection.  For us, it is the essence of summer, and when it comes to purple, the irises have it all.


Barbara Rogers said...

I love the art of an iris...alure of shape and color. Don't think they're fragrant though. But they also have been cultivated like tulips into many variations. Rainbows indeed.

littlemancat said...

Sublime. Thank you.

christinalfrutiger said...

I have these in my garden and like yours, are blooming now. I have always called this variety the Japanese Iris! I love the raindrops on that beautiful purple iris.

Jennifer said...

This was a beautiful post to go back and read from the day my 90 year old grandmother passed away. I hope she's walking those Elysian fields as I write this. Thank you, Cate.