Thursday, 6 January 2011

Stinking Iris...

Colour is always welcome in the winter garden at a time when flowers are scarce, the light low and the days are short. Bright barked dogwoods and willows may bring something to the picture and evergreens, especially the golden or variegated forms may brighten the scene. Long lasting berries however can sometimes be the most dependable and satisfying elements...


The unfortunately named ‘Stinking Iris’, is certainly one of the best performers in this respect. Its fat green seed pods burst open from late autumn to reveal the pressed lines of its extraordinarily vibrant orange fruits. Each seed a shiny, waxy capsule which fortunately proves much more attractive to our eyes than to the hungry birds. They can sit like glittering jewels amongst the tough evergreen spears of foliage for months before finally fading from sight as spring’s fresher gems emerge.
This is actually a not so common British native plant, and an immensely useful garden plant. It can however be overlooked during its early summer flowering time, as its typical iris flowers although pleasant are a dullish grey-blue and are held rather low amongst the foliage. It is certainly a versatile ‘good-doer’ however. Unlike most of the showier iris, its deep green sword like leaves are held throughout the year and it slowly builds into large ground-covering clumps. Best of all, it will thrive virtually anywhere, including those desperately difficult to fill dry shady areas at the bases of trees.
So where does the stink in the name of these ‘Stinking Iris’ come from? It is not from the flowers, which if they have an aroma of any kind, is just a feint but pleasant perfume. Neither is it from the plant itself, unless and until you go to some trouble to extract it... Crush a leaf and have a sniff, and the distinctive, slightly artificial and over-strong flavour of roast beef crisps comes across. It is so particular an aroma that one alternative name for it is ‘The Roast Beef Plant’.
‘Gladwyn," “Gladden”, “Gladdon”, or “Gladwin” are yet more alternative names for this remarkable plant, described in some ancient herbals as "of a lothsome smell or stinke, almost like unto the stinking worme”. Don’t be put off though, a kinder name for this beauty is the “Coral Iris” and it is well worth seeking out...

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