Blooms of a Somber Shade

Iris sambucina
Iris sambucina


This iris with its dark velvety purple falls is another of my rescue plants from a Duluth, Minnesota garden and was given to me in 1987. Known as Iris sambucina, it is a species with many cultivated forms. The date of its first cultivation is before 1832. The taxonomy of I. sambucina, as is the case with many bearded iris whether wild or cultivated, is confused.

One cultivated form of I. sambucina is Gypsy Queen (Salter, before 1859). Gypsy Queen has more reticulations in the maroon-brown falls and honey yellow standards. I. sambucina falls are velvety purple with fewer reticulations and standards that are pale purple. What variety my iris is will remain unknown, it seems, for little longer.

The Cornell Extension Bulletin from 1925 describes Iris sambucina thus:

“Color effect a pale purplish drab and Chinese violet blended and veined bicolor. S. pale purple drab, bronzed at base, occasionally creped and mottled. F. Chinese violet, veined and Matthew’s purple to red-brown on the haft.

The beard is fine, dense, projecting and conspicuously orange-tipped. This plant is of rampant growth and has stiff, medium foliage, tinged at the base. The erect flowering stalks are freely produced, and are well and high branched. The fair sized flowers are firm in texture and heavily elder scented.”

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