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Crested iris were first discovered in the deserts of North America. I love all plants that fight their environments and often, it’s the invasive species like these that people find most inspiring. Like a moth to a flame, they are fascinating and a little scary. My hope is that these dormant in-between-life stages will inspire an in-between-life stage of our readership and our industry.This plant grows best in partial sun to partial shade, preferring rich, well-drained soil. A too rich soil will encourage foliage growth and no blooms. It can tolerate full sun but needs more moisture. Use this plant for a ground cover in partly shady areas of rock gardens, woodland sites or in a perennial border. It is resistant to damage by deer.
Iris cristata (also known as dwarf crested iris and crested iris) is a species in the genus Iris, it is also in the subgenus of Limniris. It is a rhizomatous perennial plant, endemic to the eastern United States. It has pale lavender flowers with a white patch and orange or yellow crest. It is a close relative to Iris lacustris (Dwarf lake iris), the only other crested iris native to North America. It is cultivated as an ornamental plant in temperate regions.In 2000, a study was carried out on the genetic diversity of Iris cristata and Iris lacustris. It was found that Iris cristata, is a widespread species of unglaciated regions of eastern North America, it would have a wide genetic diversity similar to other known widespread plant species, compared to the threatened Iris lacustris, which only occupies glaciated habitats on Great Lakes shorelines, (therefore smaller range) would display little genetic variation.
Some might contend that a garden of native plants will have permanence, but natives too are quickly lost without the gardener keeping the relentless creep of nature at bay. I developed a rock garden a few years ago with a heavy reliance on native plants. But within a year of moving on, the garden changed from what I considered a beautiful planting to a barren pile of rocks when the new owners failed to take an active interest in the garden.Fleeting though its flower display may be, the crested iris is still a worthy garden plant. It’s foliage makes it a beautiful groundcover in the shade garden. It does especially well at the base of large trees where it will colonize an area within a few years. Give it a well drained site rich in organic matter, and it should prosper for years. Division can be done at almost any time, but late summer or early fall is probably preferable.This map shows the native and introduced (adventive) range of this species. Given appropriate habitat and climate, native plants can be grown outside their range.