Plant Lore-Iris

Plant Lore-Iris
IRIS.—The Iris of "all hues" derives its name from the goddess Iris, one of the Oceanides, a messenger of the gods, and the especial attendant of Juno. As goddess of the rainbow, she is represented with its variegated colours glistening in her wings. Thus Virgil says:—

"Iris on saffron wings arrayed with dew
Of various colours through the sunbeams flew."

Iris is usually depicted as descending from the rainbow, and her glorious arch is said not to vary more in its colours than the flower which bears her name. Columella observes—

"Nor Iris with her glorious rainbow clothed
So fulgent as the cheerful gardens shine
With their bright offspring, when they're in their bloom."

The Greeks plant the Iris on tombs, possibly because the goddess Iris was believed to guide the souls of dead women to their last resting-place, as Mercury conducted the souls of men. The Iris was one of the flowers dedicated to Juno, and with the ancients was wont to be employed as the symbol of eloquence or power; hence the Egyptians placed this flower on the brow of the Sphinx, and on the sceptres of their monarchs. The three leaves of the blossom represent faith, wisdom, and valour. The Iris is supposed to be the flower which forms the terminating ornament of the

sceptre of the ancient kings of Babylon and Assyria. The Franks

of old had a custom, at the proclamation of a king, to elevate him upon a shield, or target, and place in his hand a reed of Flag in blossom, instead of a sceptre, and from thence the kings of the first and second race in France are represented with sceptres in their hands like the Flag with its flower, and which • flowers became the armorial figures of France. There is a legend that

Clotilda, the wife of the warlike king Clovis, had long prayed for the conversion of her husband, and at length Clovis, having led his army against the Huns, and being in imminent danger of defeat, recommended himself to the God of his sainted wife. The tide of battle turned, he obtained a complete victory, and was baptised by St. Remi. On this occasion, owing to a vision of St. Clotilda, the Lilies (Iris) were substituted in the arms of France for the three frogs or toads which Clovis had hitherto borne on his shield. In the pictures of St. Clotilda, she is generally represented attended by an angel holding a shield on which are the three Fleurs de Lys. This occurred early in the sixth century. Louis VII., in consequence of a dream, assumed it as his device in 1137, when engaged in the second expedition of the Crusaders, and the Iris-flower soon became celebrated in France as the Fleur de Louis, which was

2 c—2

first contracted into Fleur de Luce, and afterwards into Fleur de Lys, or Fleur de Lis (Lily-flower—although it has no affinity to the Lily), and was incorporated in the arms of France, and formed one of

the embellishments of the crown. Pope Leo III. presented

Charlemagne with a blue banner, semee of golden FUurs de Lys, and the banner coming from the Pope was supposed by the ignorant

to have descended from heaven. Other traditions respecting

this blue banner relate that an angel gave it to Charlemagne, that St. Denis gave it to the kings of France, and that an angel brought

it to Clovis after his baptism. The FUur de Lys appertains to

the Bourbon race, and was made the ornament of the northern radius of the compass in honour of Charles of Anjou, who was King of Sicily at the time of this great discovery. When Edward III. claimed the crown of France in 1340, he quartered the ancient shield of France with the lion of England. After many changes of position, the Fleur de Lys finally disappeared from the English shield in the first year of the present century. (See also Flower De Luce).
Plant lore, legends, and lyrics: Embracing the myths, traditions ...
By Richard Folkard


(1) Perdita. Lilies of all kinds,

The Flower-de-luce being one.

Winter's Tale, act iv, sc. 4 (126).

(2) K. Hpiry. What sayest thou, my fair Flower-de-luce?

Henry V, act v, sc. 2 (323)..

(3) Messenger. Cropped are the Flower-de-luces in your arms;

Of England's coat one half is cut away.

1st Henry VI, act i, sc. 1 (80).

(4) Pucelle. I am prepared ; here is my keen-edged sword

Deck'd with five Flower-de-luces on each side.

Ibid., act i, sc. 2 (98).

(5) York. A sceptre shall it have, have I a soul,

On which I'll toss the Flower-de-luce of France..

2nd Henry VI, act v, sc. 1 (10).

Out of these five passages four relate to the Fleur-de-luce as the cognizance of France, and much learned ink has been, spilled in the endeavour to find out what flower, if any, was. intended to be represented, so that Mr. Planche" says that "next to the origin of heraldry itself, perhaps nothing connected with it has given rise to so much controversy as the origin of this celebrated charge." It has been at various times asserted to be an Iris, a Lily, a sword-hilt, a spearhead, and a toad, or to be simply the Fleur de St Louis.

Adhuc sub judice lis est—and it is never likely to be satisfactorily settled. I need not therefore dwell on it, especially as my present business is to settle not what the Fleur-de-luce meant in the arms of France, but what it meant in Shakespeare's writings. But here the same difficulty at once meets us, some writers affirming stoutly that it is a Lily, others as stoutly that it is an Iris. For the Lily theory there are the facts that Shakespeare calls it one of the Lilies, and that the other way of spelling it is Fleur-de-lys. I find also a strong confirmation of this in the writings of St Francis de Sales (contemporary with Shakespeare). "Charity," he says, " comprehends the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and resembles a beautiful Flower-de-luce, which has six leaves whiter than snow, and in the middle the pretty little golden hammers" ("Philo," book xi., Mulholland's translation). This description will in no way fit the Iris, but it may very well be applied to the White Lily. Chaucer, too, seems to connect the Fleur-de-luce with the Lily—

"Her nekke was white as the Flour de Lis."

These are certainly strong authorities for saying that the Flower-de-luce is the Lily. But there are as strong or stronger on the other side. Spenser separates the Lilies from the Flower-de-luces in his pretty lines—

"Strow mee the grounde with Daffadown-Dillies,
And Cowslips, and Kingcups, and lovdd Lillies;
The Pretty Pawnce
And the Chevisaunce
Shall match with the fayre Floure Delice."

Shepherd's Calendar.

"Ben Jonson separates them in the same way—

"Bring rich Carnations, Flower-de-luces, Lillies."

\Lord Bacon also separates them: "In April follow the double White Violet, the Wall-flower, the Stock-Gilliflower, the Cowslip, the Flower-de-luces, and Lilies of all Natures;" and so does Drayton—

"The Lily and the Flower de Lis
For colours much contenting."

NympJial V.

In heraldry also the Fleur-de-lis and the Lily are two distinct bearings. Then, from the time of Turner in 1568, through Gerard and Parkinson to Miller, all the botanical writers identify the Iris as the plant named, and with this judgment most of our modern writers agree.1 We may, therefore, assume that Shakespeare meant the Iris as the flower given by Perdita, and we need not be surprised at his classing it among the Lilies. Botanical classification was not very accurate in his day, and long after his time two such celebrated men as Redoute" and De Candolle did not hesitate to include in the "Liliacse," not only Irises, but Daffodils, Tulips, Fritillaries, and even Orchids.

What Iris Shakespeare especially alluded to it is useless to inquire. We have two in England that are indigenous—one the rich golden-yellow (I. pseudacorus), which in some favourable positions, with its roots in the water of a brook, is one of the very handsomest of the tribe; the other the Gladwyn (/. foetidissima), with dull flowers and strongsmelling leaves, but with most handsome scarlet fruit, which remain on the plant and show themselves boldly all through the winter and early spring. Of other sorts there is a large number, so that the whole family, according to the latest account by Mr. Baker, of Kew, contains ninety-six distinct species besides varieties. They come from all parts of the world, from the Arctic Circle to the South of China; they are of all colours, from the pure white Iris Florentina to the almost black I. Susiana; and of all sizes, from a few inches to four feet or more. They are mostly easy of cultivation and increase readily, so that there are few plants better suited for the hardy garden or more ornamental

1 G. Fletcher's Flower-de-luce was certainly the Iris—

"The Flower-de-Luce and the round specks of dew
That hung upon the azure leaves did shew
Like twinkling stars that sparkle in the evening blue."

The " leaves " here must be the petals.
The plant-lore & garden-craft of Shakespeare
By Henry Nicholson Ellacombe

The common purple iris which adorns our gardens is the fleur-de-luce, a corruption of fleur de Louis. It is now generally spelt either fleur-de-lys or fleurde-lis. It derives its name from Louis vn, king of France, who chose this flower as his heraldic emblem when setting forth on his crusade to the Holy Land. It had already been used by the other French kings, and by the Emperors of Constantinople, but it is still a matter of dispute among antiquarians as to what it was originally intended to represent. Some say a flower, some a toad, some a halbert-head.f Some doubt, too, exists as to what plant is referred to by Shakespeare when he alludes to the flower-de-luce. Thus in Second Henry vi. (Act v. sc. 1) he says—

"A sceptre will I have, have I a soul,
Oh which I'll toss the flower-do-luce of France."

Some think the lily is meant, others the iris. Chaucer seems to connect it with the lily—

"Her neck was white as the flour-dc-lis."

The fleur-de-lis was not in former times confined to royalty as a badge. Thus in the Square of La Pucelle, in Rouen, there is a statue of Jeanne d'Arc with fleur-de-lys sculptured upon it, and an inscription as follows:

"The maiden's sword protects the royal crown;
Beneath the maiden's sword the lilies safely blow."

St. Louis conferred upon the Chateaubriands the device of a fleur-de-lis, and the motto, "Mon sang teint les bannieres de France." When Edward in claimed the crown of France, in the year 1340, he quartered the lions of England with the ancient shield of France. It disappeared, however, from the English shield in the first year of the present century. A common English name for the iris is the " Roastbeef plant," because its leaves, when bruised, yield a very disagreeable smell, which some curiously have compared to roast beef. The iris is supposed to have been named after Juno's attendant, because its colours are not unlike those bestowed on the messenger of that goddess by poets and mythological writers. Iris is generally represented as descending from a rainbow. Thus Virgil says:

"Iris on saffron wings arrayed with dew
Of various colours, through the sunbeams flow."

* "Plant Lore," p. 83.

t &:e "Notes and Queries," 29th March, 1859.

Before leaving our notice of this interesting plant, we would mention that in ancient times it was considered sacred to the Virgin Mary, as illustrated in the following old legend: A certain knight, who was not gifted with a very good memory, could never retain in his mind more than two words of a prayer to the Virgin Mary, which were Ave Maria. These, both night and day, he was continually uttering, until at last he died, and was buried in the chapelyard of the convent. As a proof of the good intention of his prayer a plant of fleur-de-lis sprang up on his grave, displaying on every flower in golden letters the words Ave Maria. The monks, moved with curiosity at this strange sight, determined to open his grave, and there, much to their astonishment, they found the root of the plant resting on the lips of the dead knight, as his body lay mouldering in. the dust.
The Leisure hour, Issue 1
By William Haig Miller, James Macaulay, William Stevens