Tuesday, May 26, 2009
There are many rewards to a riverside life, not the least of which are those small gifts the river occasionally washes up and deposits along its banks seemingly for no better reason than your consideration and pleasure. The latest offering is a beautiful purple-blue iris…and both it’s origin and name are currently something of a mystery. The little iris is located on a portion of riverbank near the downstream end of the property. The stone-littered bank here is underlined with a mix of sand and mud. It’s shaded by a clump of sycamore with four separate boles—each trunk being a couple feet in diameter. Throughout the winter and spring, the location where the wildflower is growing is often flooded under several feet of water for days at a time. Moreover, the river keeps this portion of bank below the sycamores fairly scoured out—which is why there’s nothing much in the way of greenery growing there other than an aquatic weed or two and a couple of tiny willows trying to gain a foothold. I often carefully negotiate my way down the rocky near-vertical bankside to where the angle flattens out, providing a narrow, rocky shelf smack at the water’s edge where I can stand comfortably and cast to the waist-deep channel for rock bass and smallmouth. That’s what I was doing a few days ago—fishing—when I first saw the iris. At that time, the plant's showy blooms hadn’t yet opened. The iris finally bloomed today. The blossoms, which are smaller across than my hand, are a deep purple-blue; the leaves are quite narrow. The plant is not much over a foot tall. It is altogether striking, as pretty an iris as I’ve ever found. And therein lies the twofold mystery. First off, how did the plant get here? I’ve been here three years—having moved in during June of ’06. It’s possible that I would have been a little late to witness the plant’s blooming that first year…but not the following spring, nor last spring. As I said, I regularly use this area as a fishing spot. It’s inconceivable to me I could have frequented this rocky pocket that's so otherwise barren of plants—and certainly wildflowers—and not noticed something this eye-catching and lovely. Nope, I’m convinced the plant has never bloomed here in the time I’ve called this riverside home. The only thing I can think is that when it came time to bloom those other years, the iris might have been underwater during a periodic springtime flood, and simply didn’t put out flowers that spring. I don't even know if this is botanically possible, frankly. But if so, I suppose I might have overlooked the small, narrow leaves if it just came up and grew without blooming afterwards…though I have my doubts about even that oversight. The second puzzle is the plant’s exact identification. My best guess is Iris virginica, Southern Blue Flag, or Virginia Iris. And yet its markings and small size don’t seem quite right. So I've continued digging through books and online databases, trying to correlate the iris on my riverbank with a similar photo or description. That’s why I posted this today rather than wait—in the hope that someone might set me straight on the matter. I’d really like to know the correct identity. In the meantime, I don’t have to know the iris's name to appreciate the river’s gift.