Douglas Iris: Gallery One

Here is the first of two or three iris galleries I’ll post through the spring, this for Inverness Ridge. Later, I may do a purely coastal one, and in a few weeks another, for the resplendent variety of color and form that will be exploding inland.

2-16-10 Grass Iris on the Dwarf Oak Trail at Mt Burdell. Not Douglas Iris at all, but a relative that's contributed its genes to Marin's hybrid swarm. Grass Iris has slender leaves, blossoms snuggled close to the ground, and an ineffable scent, worth getting on hands and knees for: 'orris,' a fragrance unique to a handful of iris species.

Iris is Greek for rainbow. Of the 300 kinds of iris in Old World and New, none is more a rainbow than Iris douglasiana—every color in the genus displays itself in this single species. Even better, Marin’s inland populations of Douglas Iris are by far the most rainbow-like of any from its range, Santa Barbara northward to central Oregon. The Douglas Iris of the Marin Peninsula (not including Point Reyes) have even been honored with their own name: Marin Iris.

Why the rainbow locally? Until suburbanization, Marin’s forests and woodlands were a biological island, cut off northward by broad grasslands that stretched into Sonoma. (Did you know we even had our own unique subspecies of chickadee, now swamped and lost in just a few decades as chickadees from the north colonized tree plantings southward?)

Botanists think Marin Iris are a ‘hybrid swarm,’ mostly Doug Iris, like the ones in this gallery from Inverness Ridge, but with abundant genes from Grass Iris (Iris macrosiphon), and, in central Marin, from another species now, curiously, found only far north and east of us, Iris fernaldii. Not much influenced genetically by the swarm, Douglas Iris on the headlands and the Point Reyes coastal plain are nearly uniform deep purples and blues.

Iris terminology: The three upright petals, called the standards, are actually the flower’s three petals. The three falls—usually marked with lovely white or black venation as a signal to pollinators—are the flower’s sepals, and not petals at all.

A dewy Douglas Iris on Point Reyes' Bayview Trail, showing standards and falls.



  1. Irene Brady said,

    February 19, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Bill, what a wonderful assortment. And I must say, these are great photos to have been taken from an i-phone — the depth of field is amazing. Any tricks to getting that? It strikes me that you might (just possibly!) have nipped off the flower and nestled it amongst its foliage so they would be closer to each other as regards depth of field….

  2. Sara said,

    February 24, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I love “standards” and “falls” – either a poem, or an attorney’s office. Jessie and I spotted wild iris on Pine Mountain last Wednesday, along with spottings of daffodils, strangely. Thank you thank you for the wildflower blog.

    • billnoble said,

      February 25, 2010 at 1:18 am

      For whatever reasons, there’s been a longstanding tradition of planting daffodils and narcissus out in the wild in Marin, more so than other places I’ve poked my nose in the Bay Area. The spectacular show is Gerbode Valley in the Marin Headlands — years ago someone planted many hundreds, perhaps thousands of what I believe are Chinese Sacred Lilies along fireroads all through the valley and up the ridges. They thrive there in the cool, moist climate: some of the clumps are now three feet across, with three or four dozen flowerheads. There are other significant plantings on Terra Linda Ridge and near the Environmental Ed Center at Point Reyes.

      What’s the impulse? That the ‘wild’ is incomplete without adornment? An urge to the familiar? A form of conquest or assertion of ego? The man who made the ecocidal introduction of starlings to North America felt he should grace us with every bird mentioned in Shakespeare!

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