Monday, July 4, 2022

Savannah Iris - Iris tridentata

 Savannah iris (Iris tridentata) is a little-known member of this widely cultivated genus.  It is native to boggy freshwater wetlands in eight counties in the central Florida panhandle as well as Duval County in northeastern Florida. It also has been documented in the coastal counties of Georgia, the two Carolinas as well as one county in extreme southwestern Mississippi.  Records occur from Tennessee. It is common in the few regions it occurs in naturally as it suckers aggressively by its underground rhizomes. It prefers the semi-shade of boggy areas at the edge of more forested habitats.

Savannah iris is a perennial species that dies completely back to the ground each winter. It reemerges in the spring and reaches a mature height of about 2 feet. Unlike some close relatives, it continues to grow a bit during the heat of summer. The foliage and general aspect are similar to other more common native members of this genus. 

Flowering occurs in late spring to summer on stalks that rise nearly 1 foot above the basal leaves. Like our other native irises, its petal-like sepals are lavender blue with a bright yellow marking near their base.  The three petals are significantly reduced in size making them almost hidden. This gives it its Latin name meaning "three teeth".

Savannah iris would make a wonderful addition to a boggy landscape near the edge of a lake or pond. It is reported that it can withstand some drought if not placed in a sufficiently wet area, but it won't perform properly in that environment.  In a small bog garden, it may spread too aggressively so it is probably best used by itself or confined to a pot. I have never seen it offered for sale in Florida by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries,  but it is sometimes available through native nurseries in other states within its range. 

These photos, including the amazing shot of a male ruby-throated hummingbird resting on a flower, were taken by my friend, Lily Byrd, and are used by permission.

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