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What is that White Iris?

by Will Plotner

Or what is the difference between I. albicans, I. florentina, and I. germanica ‘Alba’? This is a question that has come to me several times over the last few years and has produced a lot of visual surveying of these plants on my part. It has been the topic of many discussions and it has tended to be a problem for gardeners to tell the difference between them and to identify a particular clone in the garden. I hope this small treatise will help in that endeavor.

i. albicans

I. albicans is really an intermediate bearded species (IB) standing from 12 to 24 inches in height. It is found throughout the Mediterranean but considered to have originated in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is sometimes noted that the falls are slightly pointed and often have a notch at the point of the standards and falls. Branches are shorter than that of I. florentina or I. germanica ‘Alba’.


i. albicans

I. florentina was originaly found in Italy. It is typically grayish-white or faintly bluish rather than pure white. There is some greenish-yellow veining at the haft and bronzing on the inner haft or throat behind the deep yellow beard. A few hairs are often present on the inside base or claw of the standards. Branching is much wider or longer on I. florentina than on I. albicans.


i. albicans

I. germanica ‘Alba’ can be distinguished from both the previous entries by the fact that the standards are shorter and narrower than the falls which are white and often faintly lined or edged lavender blue. The falls are more tucked or recurved, and the hafts are white and yellow towards the edge and greenish on the reverse side. The beard is white and tipped yellow but becomes orange in the throat, and it is often slightly yellowish around the beard. I. germanica ‘Alba’ is generally taller than the other two.

Originally published in SIGNA Bullitin No. 74, Spring 2005.
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