Iris humilis

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Iris humilis
Iris humilis (Sand-Schwertlilie) IMG 8456.JPG
Scientific classification
Iris humilis
Binomial name
Iris humilis
  • Iris dahurica Herb. ex Klatt
  • Iris flavissima Pall.
  • Iris flavissima subsp. transuralensis Ugr.
  • Iris humilis f. foliata Kuntze
  • Iris rupestris Salisb.
  • Joniris humilis (Georgi) Klatt [1]

Iris humilis is a species in the genus Iris, it is also in the subgenus of Iris and in the Psammiris section. It is a rhizomatous perennial, with a wide distribution range from Europe to Russia to China, via Mongolia and Kazakhstan. It has sword-shaped leaves, a short stem and yellow flowers with an orange beard. It is cultivated as an ornamental plant in temperate regions.

It once had Iris arenaria as a synonym or as a subspecies. It is a yellow dwarf iris only from central Europe. In some sources it is still listed as a subspecies of Iris humilis.


Iris humilis is very similar in form to Iris mandshurica (another Psammiris species), which leaves curve to one side, but it is a shorter plant.[2]

It has thick creeping rhizome,[3][4][5] which is branched,[4] and about 1 cm in diameter.[6] The rhizome has the remains of last seasons leaves on the top.[2]

It has bluish-green,[2][4] gray-green,[7][8] or light glaucous green,[9][10] sword shaped or lanceolate,[3] basal leaves.[6][7] They can grow up to 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long,[8][9][10] and 0.2–0.7 cm wide,[9][11][12] They have incurving tips,[9][12] and they disappear in summer, after flowering.[10]

It has a simple dwarf (or short stem),[13][14] that can grow up to between 5–25 cm (2–10 in) tall.[15][16][17]

The stems have 2–3 spathes (leaves of the flower bud), which are lanceolate and are (scarious) membranous at the top of the leaf.[4][9] They have short,[4] 7.5mm long pedicels (flower stalks).[9]

The stems hold between 1 and 3 flowers,[18][19][11] in late spring,[4][12][14] between April and June.[9][13][19] The flowers only last for a day,[19] but they sometimes repeat the display.[13]

The vanilla scented,[19] flowers are 3–4 cm (1–2 in) in diameter,[10][12][19] come in shades of yellow,[17][19][20] including bright yellow.[9][16][18]

The flower buds are normally green, that have a slight tinge of bronze.[9]

It has 2 pairs of petals, 3 large sepals (outer petals), known as the 'falls' and 3 inner, smaller petals (or tepals), known as the 'standards'.[6][21] The falls are oblong shaped, and 35 mm (1 in) long and 1.2 cm wide.[9] They are veined brown or purple brown.[7][10][20] They have a central orange beard.[12][15][18] The shorter,[9][11] standards are 30 mm (1 in) long and 0.3 cm wide.[9] The standards are not erect and this gives the flower a flattish appearance.[11]

It has a 1 cm long ovary and a 0.5 cm long, funnel shaped perianth tube.[9]

It has styles that are shorter than the petals,[11] about 2.5 cm long, which have short narrow crests.[9]

The anthers are cream with green-black edging and the pollen is greenish coloured.[9]

After the iris has flowered, in August,[4] it produces an elliptical seed capsule,[2] which is about 3 cm long.[9] The capsules dehisce (split open), below the apex.[9] Inside the capsules, are wrinkled, light brown,[2] or brown,[4] pyriform (pear-shaped) seeds.[9] They have flat creamy-white aril (or appendage).[9]


As most irises are diploid, having two sets of chromosomes, this can be used to identify hybrids and classification of groupings.[21] It is normally published as 2n=22.[10][11][17]

There has been several counts, over the years including 2n=27, Krogulevich 1978, 2n-24, Sokolovskya & Probatova, 1986, 2n=28, Starobudtsev & Mironova, 1990, 2n=28, Malakhova, 1990, 2n=28 Malakhova & Markova, 1994. As Iris flavissima 2n=22, Doronkin.[15] This shows two separate entities.[15]

Since Iris arenaria has a count of 2n=22,[22] this means that Iris flavissima is a synonym of Iris arenaria and 2n=27 or 2n=28 are the true counts of Iris humilis.


Iris humilis

It is pronounced as (Iris) EYE-ris (humilis) HEW-mil-is.[16]

It has the common name of sand iris.[7][16][23] Although this name normally refers to Iris arenaria, which was formerly once thought to be a subspecies of Iris humilis, it is now a separate species in its own right.[22] Iris humilis is also known as low iris,[2][24] and yellow iris.[3][13][24] Note, that Iris pseudacorus is also commonly known as the 'yellow flag' or 'yellow iris' as well.

It is known as Sand-Schwertlilie (meaning sand iris) in Germany.[25]

The Latin specific epithet humilis refers to low growing or dwarfish.[8][26]

It was first published and described by Johann Gottlieb Georgi in 'Bemerkungen einer Reise im Russischen Reich' (Bemerk. Reise Russ. Reich) Vol.1 page196 in 1775.[23][27][28]

Georgi described from specimen plants from near to Lake Baikal, (it was called originally Iris flavissima).[28] This is now classified as a synonym of Iris humilis.[1]

It was also published by Karl H. Ugrinsky in 'Fedde's Report. Spec. Nov., Beihefte' Vol.14 in 1922.[15]

In 1808, Bieberstein called a plant (from the Caucasus mountains) Iris humilis, in 'Fl. Taur.-Caucas' Vol.1 on page 33. It was later changed (due to Georgi's earlier publishing) and re-classified as a synonym of Iris pontica Zapal.[15]

It was verified by United States Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service on 4 April 2003, then updated 2 December 2004.[23] It is an accepted name by the RHS.[29]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

It is native to a wide distribution area, including temperate regions of Asia and Europe.[6][10][23]


It is found in Europe,[19][20][29] within the countries of Austria,[9][10][11] Czechoslovakia,[10][11] Hungary,[10][11][18] and Romania.[10][11][23] However, some or most of these plants could be Iris arenaria, which also has a distribution area in central and eastern Europe.

It is found within the Siberian region,[17][18][23] of the Russian Federation,[13][17][20] in the states of Buryatia, Chita, Irkutsk, Magadan, Primorye and Tuva.[23] It is also found in Kazakhstan (formerly part of Russia).[23]

Within Asia, it found in China,[4][5][29] within the Chinese provinces, of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Nei Monggol, Ningxia and Xinjiang,[23] It is also found in Mongolia,[13][17][23] and Japan.[2][4][29]

It is listed with Iris glaucescens, Iris lactea, Iris ruthenica, Iris sibirica, Iris tenuifolia and Iris tigridia being found in the Altai-Sayan region (where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together).[30]


It grows in calcareous sandy and stony (or rocky) areas,[7][9] including (mountain and hill) slopes,[5][6] meadows,[5][6] steppes,[3][5] and on the edges of birch forests,[3][5] or pine forests,[2] and beside river banks.[3]

They can be found at an altitude of 200–1,500 ft (61–457 m) above sea level.[9]


The iris is rare in various regions,[5][7][11] especially in European Russia and Ukraine.[11]

It is listed in the Red Book of Omsk and Tyumen regions (of Siberia).[2][4][5]

Many populations of Iris humilis exist in protected reserves including, Azas, Baikal-Lensky, Baikal, Barguzinsky, Sokhondinsky and Ubsunur.[2][5]


It is hardy to between USDA Zone 1 and Zone 6.[11][16] It survives in Siberia, so is cold resistant.[2]

It prefers to grow in well drained soils,[8][18] it prefers soils containing sand.[7][19]

It can tolerate mildly acidic or mildly alkaline soils (PH levels between 6.1 and 7.8),[16] including those with lime.[19]

It can tolerate positions in full sun or partial shade.[16][19]

It has average water needs during the growing season,[16]

The leaves can be damaged by rust fungi.[4]

It can be grown in rock gardens,[2][8] including rock screes,[18] but needs plenty of space.[9]

It is rarely grown in the UK.[14] To grow in the UK, William Rickatson Dykes recommends to plant the iris, on a 5 cm layer of sand, over garden soil with added leaf mould (or compost).[9]

In 1812, it was grown in gardens near Moscow.[28] It was then tested at botanic gardens in St. Petersburg, Barnaul, Novosibirsk and Chita.[2]


It can be propagated by division (of the rhizome), or by seed growing.[9][16]

In the wild, some habitats generate poor seed and vegetative propagation.[4]

The plant needs to be hand pollinated (in the UK) to create seed.[9]

Seeds are collected from the dry pods/capsules, when the seeds are ripe.[16]

Seeds need cold stratification, to germinate. They germinate very slowly. In the lab, seeds do not exceed a germination rate of 30%.[4]

Seeds should be sown in trays, in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.[16]

Germinated seedlings, can produce flowers in the second year of growth.[9]

Hybrids and cultivars[edit]

Iris humilis cultivars include; 'Borzeana', 'Dahurica', 'Flavissima', 'Flavissima Orientalis', 'Flavissima Phylospatha', 'Stolonifera' 'Transuralensis' and 'Umbrosa'.[15]


Like many other irises, most parts of the plant are poisonous (rhizome and leaves), if mistakenly ingested can cause stomach pains and vomiting. Also handling the plant may cause a skin irritation or an allergic reaction.[16]

Traditional medicine[edit]

The rhizomes can be used as part of a Tibetan herbal medicine to regulate menstruation. A powdered form of the rhizome can be used for sepsis and infections.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Iris humilis Georgi is an accepted name". (The Plant List). 23 March 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Irises PSAMMIRIS". Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Yellow iris". Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Amel'chenko, VP. "Iris Low". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Petrovna, Khaltanova Helena (2013). "Ontogenetic Structure Cenopopulations Iris Humilis Georgi Under Vitim Plateau And Eastern Sayan". Herald (4). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Lat. Iris". Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Iris humilis". Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Iris humilis". Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa British Iris Society (1997) A Guide to Species Irises: Their Identification and Cultivation at Google Books
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Chapter I (Part 6) Psammiris". Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Kramb, D. (21 September 2004). "Iris humilis". (Species Iris Group of North America). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  12. ^ a b c d e "Iris humilis". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Eberhart, Katie. "Yellow Iris". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  14. ^ a b c Stebbings, Geoff (1997). The Gardener's Guide to Growing Irises. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. p. 16. ISBN 978-0715305393.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Walker, Kenneth (23 January 2015). "(SPEC) Iris humilis Georgi". (American Iris Society). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Sand Iris". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  17. ^ a b c d e f "Iris summary" (PDF). 14 April 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Cassidy, George E.; Linnegar, Sidney (1987). Growing Irises (Revised ed.). Bromley: Christopher Helm. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-88192-089-5.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Elizabeth Lawrence, Nancy Sanders Goodwin and Allen Lacy A Rock Garden in the South, p. 216, at Google Books
  20. ^ a b c d "Arill Irises". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  21. ^ a b Austin, Claire (2005). Irises; A Garden Encyclopedia. Timber Press. ISBN 978-0881927306.
  22. ^ a b "The genus Iris in Germany (Gregor Stolley)". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Iris humilis". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  24. ^ a b "Yellow Iris". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  25. ^ "Sand Schwertlilie". Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  26. ^ Smith, A.W.; Stearn, William T. (1972). A Gardener's Dictionary of Plant Names (Revised ed.). Cassell and Company (published 1963). p. 173. ISBN 978-0304937219.
  27. ^ "Iridaceae Iris humilis Georgi". (International Plant Names Index). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  28. ^ a b c Alekseeva, N.B. "Proceedings of Botanical Institute Komarov Academy of Sciences St Petersburg, The history of the introduction of wild species of Iris (Iridaceae) flora Russia" (PDF). Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  29. ^ a b c d "Iris humilis". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  30. ^ "Biodiversity of Altai-Sayan Ecoregion". Retrieved 15 August 2015.


  • Aldén, B., S. Ryman & M. Hjertson. 2009. Våra kulturväxters namn – ursprung och användning. Formas, Stockholm (Handbook on Swedish cultivated and utility plants, their names and origin).
  • Czerepanov, S. K. 1995. Vascular plants of Russia and adjacent states (the former USSR).
  • Mathew, B. 1981. The Iris. 39–40.
  • Tutin, T. G. et al., eds. 1964–1980. Flora europaea.
  • Wu Zheng-yi & P. H. Raven et al., eds. 1994–. Flora of China (English edition).

External links[edit]