Iris lactea is a species in the genus Iris, it is also in the subgenus of Limniris. It is also in the Iris series Ensatae, it is the only species in the series. The Japanese water iris, Iris ensata, is actually in Iris series Laevigatae. It is a rhizomatous perennial, from central Asia, with pale blue or violet flowers. It is cultivated as an ornamental plant in temperate regions.
It has 2–4 flowers per stem, blooming between April and June, or May and August in the UK. The violet scented flowers, can last for 2–3 weeks, and measure about 5–7.5 cm in diameter.
The flowers come in a range of shades from pale blue to violet, white or yellow. It has dark standards, delicate white falls, which are striated with blue, red-purple or violet.
It fruits (makes seeds) between June and September (after flowering), the seed capsule is narrow and cylindrical in shape, with 6 ribs running along the side of the capsule, which ends in a beak-like point. The capsule measures 6.5–7.5 × 1–1.4 cm. The fruiting stems are unequal, ranging from 4–10 cm. Inside the capsule, are maroon-brown seeds which are pyriform (pear shaped).
In 2008, a study was carried out on the anatomical structure of the leaf and drought resistance of 4 different species of Iris (Iris songarica, Iris potaninii, Iris loczyi and Iris lactea) from Qinghai, China. It showed that all the species were strongly adaptable to drought conditions.
It was first published and described by Pallas in 'Reise Russ. Reich' (Reise durch Verschiedene Provinzen des Russischen Reichs – translated as 'Travel through various provinces of the Russian Empire') in 1776.
The taxonomy of this species has been very confused. It was originally named Iris ensata lactea (Thunberg) in 'Transactions of the Linnean Society of London' (page 328) on 1 May 1794 but later Iris ensata was re-classified as Iris kaempferi. Which is now a synonym of Iris ensata (within Iris series Laevigatae). Even Dykes in his books 'Iris Genus'(1913) and 'Handbook of Iris'(19 ) got the name incorrect and recorded it as 'Iris ensata'. Later, writers have tried to rectify the mistake. Fritz Kohlein in his book 'Iris'(1987) called it 'Iris ensata auct. non Thunberg.'
Distribution and habitat
Iris lactea comes from wide range of areas. It is native to temperate and tropical regions of Asia.
It is found in Afghanistan, Kashmir (including Guraiz and Himachal Pradesh), Kazakhstan, Central Asia, India (including Ladakh), Pakistan, Russia (in Siberia, and Primorye,), Tibet, China, Mongolia to Korea. In China, it is found within the Chinese provinces of Anhui, Gansu, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Jilin, Liaoning, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Xi-zang(Chinese Tibet).
It is listed with Iris bloudowii,Iris humilis, Iris ruthenica, Iris sibirica, Iris tenuifolia and Iris tigridia as being found in the Altai-Sayan region (where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together).
Iris lactea grows in a wide range of habitats. Including steppe meadows, turf slopes, heavily grazed river shore within desert steppe, grasslands, roadsides, grassy slopes and hillsides.
It flowers as late as late summer in the wild.
Since Iris lactea, is one of the most common wild irises across all of China, living it a diverse range of habitats. It is very tolerant of most garden conditions.
It is very tolerant plant, growing in a variety of soils (including those that dry out in summer), salty areas and can be used as a soil improver. Such as being cultivated on slopes (to conserve water|), on high salty soils (to remove the salt) and desertification control. It prefers sunny places, but can grow successfully in shady places. It has a strong resistance to water logging, salinity, trampling, poor, pest and disease.
It has been planted in mass on high leaded soils to reduce the lead contamination.
It is suitable for cultivation in rock gardens and group planting.
It can be propagated by seed and by division.
Hybrids and cultivars
Many of the synonyms may represent distinct varieties of lactea. The following is a list of named variations botanical and horticultural;
- 'Biglumis' (Robert Sweet, 1835, Siberia) – now called 'Iris lactea Pallas var. biglumis' Koidz.)
- 'Chinensis' (which grows in Korea, Russia and India),
- 'Chrysantha' (yellow flowers)
- 'Ensata Chinensis'
- 'Ensata Grandiflora' (Dykes 1913)
- 'Ensata Grandiflora Alba' (White form of 'Ensata Grandiflora', found at Ohio State University Bot. Garden 1933)
- 'Hyacinthiana' (Collected by Reginald Farrer, 1914–1915, Tibet or W. China-Kansu)
- 'Iliensis' (Poljakov, From near the Ili River, Kazakhstan)
- 'Illini Fountain' (1993, Budapest, Hungary)
- 'Mani' (1935, Tibet)
- 'Moorcroftiana' (Wallich 1828)
- 'Pabularia' (1888, Kashmir)
- 'Redundant' (2002, Denver Botanic Garden)
- var. lactea (white flowers, with purple veins and pale violet inner segments,)
Iris lactea has been used in hybridization for the selection of dwarf bearded irises.
- 'Calsata Hybrids' (Tomas Tamberg, 1979, cross of Iris douglasiana X Iris ensata)
- 'Chrysata Charme' (Tamberg, 2001, cross of Sino-sibirica X I. lactea)
- 'Hamadryad' (1931, Iris 'Watsoniana' X Iris ensata)
It is widely grown throughout China, where it is often used as an ingredient in a herbal contraceptive. It has also been used in the anti-cancer drug 'Irisquinone', which comes from a herbal remedy. The rhizomes are also used in traditional oriental medicine, including Tibet. The flowers and seeds can also be used in medicines. The dried flowers can by used an ingredient to remedy diuretic laxative. The seeds are used to treat many ailments including; fever, jaundice, menorrhagia, heat pain, nausea, sore throats, vomiting, urination, carbuncles and boil problems.
The leaves are used as fodder for animals, and for thatching, matting and basket work, and its leaf fibres are also used in paper making and for brushes. The flowers contain the pigment – anthocyanin.
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