Iris, Lactea: Heritage Perennial

iris lactea

New creations of hybrid perennials are bombarding gardeners with their shorter statures and longer-blooming, raucous colors, but often they are not as hardy when growing in the challenging climate of western gardens. There is so much stability in the old-fashioned perennials that add a quiet elegance and permanence to gardens. The rare, hard to find heritage perennial, Iris lactea is one of the finest

My first Iris lactea starts came from my beloved Aunt Fern. She lived in the Salt Lake City, Utah, Days of 47 Centennial Home that had been landscaped with pioneer-era, historically correct perennials. When I visited, we would stroll around her gardens and she would allow me to dig perennials to haul and plant in my Bear Lake gardens. This is how I became fortunate enough to have this superb perennial in my garden.

white iris lactea heritage perennial

The above picture shows how the Iris has developed over the years. The initial starts now form a thick, six-foot long, three-foot wide, thirty-inch tall clump of rich, green, sword-like spikes. They are more attractive than the annual Dracaenas spikes gardeners like to plant in container pots but this Iris is a “live forever” perennial that can survive winter cold, even in pots. They never require division to stay looking great, and often stay evergreen in warmer winters. The leaves are sturdier and thicker and never flop or require any care. Iris lactea, unlike other Iris, grows in shade or partial shade and thrives in arid, clay, alkaline and even salty or sandy soils.

The early spring foliage of this heritage perennial shows a striping of light and dark green colors. Iris lacteal, like all Iris, grows from a typical bulb that provides its winter food storage and forms off-sets that can be pulled easily apart. However, this perennial resents division and will take several years before blooming and looking up-to-par again. Slow-growing perennials are known to be the longest- lived garden plants.

Like most natives and specie perennials, Iris lactea has no pest or disease problems and is tough, adaptable and dependable. The plant never needs dividing and will grow in the same spot successfully as long as the gardener chooses to leave it there. It is superior in every way to hybrid Irises and the only thing it doesn’t have are the huge gaudy, over-blown flowers of the Bearded Iris.

iris lactea container garden
Iris lactea grows successfully in a container pot with other perennials like the shade-loving Hosta and Heuchera, “Purple Place” and will return season after season by being wintered on a north wall and covered with leaves from a fall clean-up!

Iris lactea, often called Milky Iris or Japnese Water Iris, grows everywhere in Chin–even in the coldness of Tibet and Mongolia. However, it is rare in the United States. Iris lactea is a favorite in Afganistan and Pakistan as it grows beautifully in the dry, arid desert regions. This also makes it a perfect plant for Rocky Mountain gardens.

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