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History and Meaning of Iris

by Samantha Green

Primary Significance: With history dating back to Greek mythology, irises come in a rainbow of colors, the most popular being the deep blue variety. Their primary meanings include faith, hope, wisdom, courage, and admiration.

With striking uniqueness and beauty, irises have rich meanings, and when given as gifts, they can convey deep sentiments. With over 200 varieties in a wide spectrum of colors, the iris, which fittingly takes its name from the Greek word for "rainbow," can be found in virtually every part of the world, growing both naturally and in farms. While garden irises can come in any of these many varieties, the flower's cut versions are mostly blue (the most popular type), white, and yellow.

The iris's history is rich, dating back to Ancient Greek times when the Greek Goddess Iris, the messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow, acted as the link between heaven and earth. Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead in their journey. Ancient Egyptian kings marveled in the iris's exotic nature, and drawings have been found of the flower in a number of Egyptian palaces. During the Middle Ages, the meaning of irises became linked to the French monarchy, and the Fleur-de-lis eventually became the recognized national symbol of France. From their earliest years, irises were used to make perfume and as a medicinal remedy. Today, they are primarily seen in gardens, in bouquets, and in the wild all over the world.

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Through its intricate history, the meanings of the iris has come to include faith, hope, and wisdom. Depending on factors such as color and region, irises may bear additional meanings as well. In some parts of the world, the dark blue or purple iris can denote royalty, whereas the yellow iris can be a symbol of passion. Irises may also express courage and admiration. The many meanings of the iris makes the flower a great choice for an array of gift giving occasions: corporate, sympathy, get well, just because, and birthday are just some of the occasions for which irises might be the perfect choice.

Today, the iris is the state flower of Tennessee, and the Fleur-de-lis is the emblem for the city of New Orleans. Irises are cultivated all over the world, and they can be found naturally in Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa, Asia, and North America.

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