Iris tectorum

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Iris tectorum
Iris tectorum 01.JPG
Wall Iris (Iris tectorum)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Iridaceae
Genus: Iris
Subgenus: Limniris
Section: Lophiris
Species: I. tectorum
Binomial name
Iris tectorum
  • Evansia tectorum (Maxim.) Klatt
  • Iris chinensis Bunge [Illegitimate]
  • Iris rosthornii Diels
  • Iris tectorum f. alba (Dykes) Makino
  • Iris tectorum var. alba Dykes
  • Iris tectorum f. tectorum (none known)
  • Iris tomiolopha Hance [1]

Iris tectorum (also known as roof iris, Japanese roof iris and wall iris) is a species in the genus Iris, it is also in the subgenus of Limniris. It is a rhizomatous perennial. It is native of China, Korea and Burma, with lavender-blue, bluish-violet, purple-blue, blue-lilac or sky blue flowers. There is a white form as well. It is a compact plant and is cultivated as an ornamental plant in temperate regions.


Iris tectorum in China

It has a thick,[2][3][4][5][6][7][8] (the size of a man's thumb),[9] creeping,[2][9][10][11] buff (coloured),[3] or greenish rhizome.[12][13] They are similar in form to a bearded iris rhizome.[5][6] It has slender, short roots (under the rhizomes),[2][3] and fibres on the top.[2] The creeping habit, creates spreading clumps of plants.[6][14][15][16][17][18][19][20] It does not produce stolons.[9]

It has basal fans,[2][5][7][13][16][17][21][22][23] that are yellowish green,[2] or pale green,[3][8][9][15][18][19][21][24][25][26] and sword-shaped (ensiform),[2][10][13][15][16] or lance-shaped.[3][7][18] They are also, glossy,[9][16][19] and ribbed,[3][5][6][7][8][12][15][16][17][23][27] and can grow up to between 15–60 cm (6–24 in) long and 1.5–5 cm (1–2 in) wide.[2][3][4][5][6][9][10][12][13][15][18][21][22][23][27][28][29] The leaves are floppy,[15][26] and described as semi-evergreen.[15][18][28]

It has terete (cylindrical),[10] stems that can grow up to between 20–45 cm (8–18 in) tall.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][12][13][14][15][17][19][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] It has 1-2 branches,[2][3][5][6][7][12][26][28] and 1-2 (reduced) stem leaves.[2][3][9][22]

The stems have 2-3 spathes (leaves of the flower bud), that are green,[10] lanceolate and 3.5–7.5 cm (1–3 in) long and 2–2.5 cm (1–1 in) wide.[2][9]

It has a 1 cm long pedicel (flower stalk),[2] which is shorter than the spathe,[9] but similar in size to the ovary.[10]

The stems (and the branches) hold between 1 and 3 flowers,[2][5][6][7][12][15][22][28][30] in late spring,[14][16][18][19][21][32] or early summer,[4][7][12][13][18][19][21][25][32] between April and May,[2][6][8][15][23][24][28][29][31][37] or June.[23][26][31] It flowers between September and October in Australia.[17] The flower display can last for 2 weeks.[15] The flowers are 7.6–10 cm (3–4 in) in diameter,[2][3][4][5][7][10][12][14][15][18][24][28][29][30][32][33][38] The flattened,[3][4][23][27][29][30] horizontal,[39] flowers are larger than Iris japonica flowers.[40]

The flowers come in shades of lavender blue,[5][6][14][15][19][29][30][31][32][36][39][39] or bluish violet,[2][6][16][19][19][20][24][36][40] or blue-lilac,[4][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][17][26][27][34][38] or purple-blue,[3][5][13][18][22][27] or sky blue.[23][33][35] There is also a white form.[8][14][15][17][19][22][25][26][27][29][30][31][32][34][36][39][39][40]

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'.[8][13] The falls are obovate (egg-like),[5][10] or ovate,[2] with darker (or brownish purple/violet).[13] mottling,[2][3][4][23][27] veining,[12][16][34] streaks,[10][13] or spots,[4][5][8][18] around a toothed or lacinated (fringed),[3][9] white crest.[2][4][6][7][8][9][12][16][18][26][27][30][33][34][38][40] They have a bi-coloured claw (part of the petal closest to the stem), white and violet or lilac.[9][10] The falls are 5–7 cm (2–3 in) long and 4 cm wide.[2][9][12][22] The elliptic standards spread horizontally (not erect),[4][9][10][12][26][27] and are 4.5–5 cm (2–2 in) long and 3 cm wide.[2][5] Both petals (falls and standards) can have wavy margins.[8][12][26][31]

The flowers are self-fertile,[3] but are pollinated by insects.[16]

It has a 2.5–3 cm long slender, perianth tube,[2][9][10][12] a 2.5 cm long stamen, bright yellow anthers and a cylindric, 1.8–2 cm long ovary.[2] It has a pale bluish-violet style branch, that is 3.5 cm long.[2] It has toothed lobes (at the tips), that are irregular.[10][12]

After the iris has flowered, between June and August,[2][24] it produces an ellipsoid or obovoid (oblong-ovoid),[2][3] light green,[19] seed capsule.[13][22] It is 4.5–6 cm (2–2 in) long and 2-2.5 cm wide,[2][3][22] and has 6 ribs.[3] When it ripens, (and goes brown),[16] it splits in three, along 2 or more seams, starting from the top.[3][22] Inside, are multiple,[16][22] black-brown seeds,[2][16] which are pyriform (pear shaped) and have a small cream (coloured) aril (appendage).[2][3]


Iris tectorum, seen in the Tyler Arboretum

In 1994, a study was carried out to isolate various chemical compounds from the seeds of Iris tectorum, it found an ester 'iristectorene B'.[41]

In 1999, a study was carried out Iris tectorum rhizomes, it found a triterpenoid chemical compound.[42]

In 2007, a study was carried out on cytotoxic properties of Iris tectorum, used to treat cancer.[43]

In May 2007, a study was carried out on the rhizomes of Iris tectorum, to find various chemical compounds.[44]

In 2009, a karyotype analysis was carried out on 10 Irises found in China, it found the chromosome counts. Iris tectorums were 2n=28.[45]

In 2011, Isoflavones such as Tectoridin, iristectorin B and iristectorin A (chemical compounds) have been found in the rhizomes of Iris tectorum. They were published in the Journal of Chromatography B, Vol. 879, Issue 13, pages 975-980.[46]

In 2012, a study was carried out on the leaves of Iris tectorum, to find the chemical compounds within the leaves. These compounds were tested for anti-ling cancer properties.[47]

In 2013, a study was carried on Iris tectorum to isolate various chemical compounds.[48]

In 2013, a Molecular phylogenetic (genetic evolution) study was carried out on 16 species of Iris found in Korea. It placed Iris mandshurica in a clade with other basal irises, including Iris dichotoma and Iris tectorum.[49]

In January 2014, a study was carried out on the neuro-protective activities of Iris tectorum.[50]

Several isoflavones have been found in Iris tectorum. Iris tectorigenin A is found in Iris florentina, Iris tectorum, Iris pseudacorus, Iris kumaonensis and Belamcanda chinensis (iris domestica). Iristectorin B (C23H24O12) can be found in the rhizomes of Iris tectorum, Iris-tectorigenin B found in Iris germanica and Iris tectorum and Iristectorin A (which is also found in Belamcanda chinensis).[51]

As most irises are diploid, having two sets of chromosomes, this can be used to identify hybrids and classification of groupings.[8] It has been counted several times; 2n=28, Simonet, 1932; 2n=32, Sharma, 1970; 2n=28, Chimphamba, 1973; 2n=28, Karihaloo,1978; 2n=28, Karihaloo,1984; 2n=28, Huiang, 1986; 2n=36, Mao & Xue, 1986; 2n=28, Huang 1989 and 2n=32, Dong et al., 1994.[10] It is normally counted as 2 n = 24, 28, 32.[2][3][34]


Iris tectorum, China

It is pronounced as (Iris) EYE-ris (tectorum) tek-TOR-um.[32][36]

It is written as 鸢尾 in Chinese script,[2] and known as yuan wei in Pidgin in China.[2][21][52][53]

It has several common names, including; roof iris,[3][5][11][14][17][22][24][26][31][32][35][36][52][53][54][55] Japanese roof iris,[4][7][8][11][15][16][25][33][36][39][54] wall iris (in America),[20][21][22][36][55][56][57] wall flag,[7][11] white root iris,[25][36] Ichihatu (In Japan – meaning first as the first iris to flower),[11][58][59] shenan,[52][53] and roof garden iris.[30]

It is known as Dach-Schwertlilie in German and takiris in Swedish.[52][53]

The Latin specific epithet tectorum refers to Latin word for roof or covering.[11][26][60]

Iris tectorum is native to China, but was first discovered in the 1860s, growing in Japan on the roofs, hence the common name.[15]

It was first published and described by Karl Maximovich in the 'Bulletin of Acad. Imp. Sci. Saint-Pétersbourg' Volume15 page380 in 1871.[2][9][10][52][61]

It was published in Flor. Serres Vol.22 page23 in1874, with a colour illustration,[10] then published by Hooker in Curtis's Botanical Magazine table 6118 in September, 1874,[9][10] and in the 'Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society' Vol88 page116 in 1963.[12]

It was introduced to England and European cultivation in 1874,[8][10] by Philipp Franz von Siebold, who sent plants to St Petersburg.[3] It was also introduced to US cultivation by Mr William Bull in 1874.[9][30]

It was verified by United States Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service on 2 April 1996 and updated on 1 December 2004.[52]

Iris tectorum is an accepted name by the RHS.[54]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

It is native to temperate and tropical regions of Asia.[6][52][53]


It is found in (central and south western),[3][4][62]China,[6][9][10][19][20][22][30][31][38][53][54] within the Chinese provinces, of Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan, Xizang, Yunnan and Zhejiang.[2][52]

Also found in Korea,[2][16][19][34][52][62] and within (the tropical region) of Myanmar (Burma).[2][3][11][18][24][28][34][52][57][62]

It is often cited as native to Japan,[2][6][9][13][16][19][24][30][55] but it may just be naturalized.[4][5][18][18][28]

It has naturalized in Bhutan and India.[20] It has also naturalized in regions of America, including New Hampshire.[56]


It grows on forest margins, on sunny banks, in meadows, in damp places and beside water.[2][16][20][24] It can also be found growing along roadsides and on steep hillsides, in China.[8][28]

They can be found at an altitude of 500–3,500 m (1,600–11,500 ft) above sea level.[2][6][20]

In New Hampshire, as a wild flower, it is found on the edges of lawns and fields, beside roadsides and in compost heaps.[56]


Iris tectorum is very similar to that of Iris japonica and Iris milesii.[30]

It is hardy to between USDA Zone 4 and Zone 9.[13][14][18][19][25][29][31][32][36][55]

It is hardy to European Zone H2,[12] it can tolerate temperatures as low as -10,[6] but needs protection from hard frosts.[33]

Older plants can survive some frosts but young plants need protection in the spring.[38]

It prefers a dry and cold winter, with a warm and wet summer.[9][18][28][38]

Both the blue and white forms of the iris, are perfectly hardy.[9][30]

It is hardy in the UK,[7] but it does not flower very well, due to the summers not being hot enough to bake the roots.[37]

It prefers to grow in humus, rich,[5][6][13][16][17][18][24][27][28][29][32][33][57] moist soil,[5][6][13][14][16][29][32][55][57] with good drainage.[3][8][14][16][18][19][25][28][29][38][57]

It can tolerate neutral or acidic soils (PH levels between 6.1 – 7.8).[13][16][18][19][25][29][32]

It can tolerate positions between full sun and partial shade,[5][8][13][14][15][19][25][28][29][32][35][36][39][55][57][62] but prefers light shade,[5][16][18][24][40][55] In full sun, the leaves can bleach.[5] (similar to woodland conditions).[17]

Although, a few sources say it prefers a sunny, sheltered site.[3][4][7][38][57]

It has average water needs during the growing season.[17][19][25][32][36]

If the summer conditions become exceedingly hot and dry, the iris will go into early dormancy.[16]

It can be grown in a mixed flower border,[19][25][29] rock garden,[16][19][25][26][29][31] and in a woodland garden.[13][16][29] If you are growing in a rockery, the soil needs new soil or fertiliser every year.[38]

It can be also grown in containers and large (15 cm) pots,[3][19][25][39] but it needs to be re-potted frequently.[8] In the UK, the pot can survive the winter in a cold greenhouse.[3]

It suffers from a virus disease that causes leaf discolouration,[3][4][6] yellowing and streaking.[5]

It seems immune to insect pests,[15][18] but can be prone to slugs or snails.[6][29] Aphid Aulacorthum solani and can be found on the plant.[63]

After flowering, it is best to remove the old stems from Iris confusa, Iris japonica and Iris tectorum, as this helps the plant survive the winter.[6][64]

During spring or autumn, a top dressing of well rotted compost (or well rotted manure),[5] should be added,[3][38] a feed of fertilizer can also be added.[5][17][29] A mulch can also be applied (at the same time) to retain the moisture.[33][57]

Since the roots can quickly take all the nutrients of the soil, division and re-planting is needed every other year,[3][18] or every 3–5 years when clumps become over-crowded.[8][14][17][38] Although, it can be left undisturbed for many years, but flowering will decrease.[40]

Like most rhizomatous irises, it should be planted with the top of rhizome just at the surface of the soil.[14][15][18][27][38][57]

They should be spaced 20–30 cm (8–12 in) apart.[14][32][36]


Iris tectorum from Munsiyari, India

Iris tectorum can be propagated by division or by seed growing.[15][18][36][38] It is easy to raise from seed.[3][18][39]

Plants grown from its seeds will re-produce a true form, including white plants.[38]

Division is best done in the spring,[13][38] or fall (after flowering).[6][13][29][38] Transplanting should be carried out soon after division.[27]

Hybrids and Cultivars[edit]

Iris tectorum has many cultivars including;

  • 'Alba' (Dykes,[2][20] has white flowers with yellow markings,[16][30] yellow veins,[3][12] and 30 cm tall,[24]),[4]
  • 'Adamgrove Strain',[10]
  • 'Atrocaeruleum',[10]
  • 'Burma Form' (from Australia, mid-green leaves, height 40 cm. blooms in May, dark violet flowers flecked and veined with purple, and has white crests[8]),[10]
  • 'Freckletec',[10]
  • 'Japan Form',[10]
  • 'Lilacina',[10]
  • 'Middleton Blue',[10]
  • 'Moon Gold',[10]
  • 'Norris Strain',[10]
  • 'Oliver Twist',[10]
  • 'Taiwan Form',[10]
  • 'Tectorum Alba',[10]
  • 'Tectorum album semi plenum',[10]
  • 'Tectorum Sir Arthur Hort's variety,[10]
  • 'Tetratec', 'Variegated tectorum',[10]
  • 'Variegata' (foliage is striped and streaked creamy-white,[18] with purple flowers,[3]),
  • 'Wolong' (from Wolong in Sichuan, blooms mid-April, 20inches tall, lavender flowers with small dark purple flecks,[65]).[10]


Like many other irises, most parts of the plant are poisonous (rhizome and leaves), if mistakenly ingested, it can cause stomach pains and vomiting. Also handling the plant may cause a skin irritation (like dermatitis or an allergic reaction.[6][11][13][36]


Despite its toxicity, it is used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat hepatitis and wind damp pains.[66]

The Kam eat fish that have been given fresh Iris tectorum, as medicine to treat stomach aches.[67]


Iris tectorum, detail of flower

Iris tectorum is commonly called the 'roof iris' because it was grown in the thatch of Chinese and Japanese houses.[3][4][8][9][22][27][28][31][33][40] There are several theories as to why.

The most common theory, was due to a period of wartime,[15] or great famine in Japan, all land was then decreed by the emperor to be cultivated, for rice and other food crops.[11][15][17][29][37][38][40] Also, it was illegal for land to be used for growing flowers.[5][15][29][38][39][55] But women wanted the iris roots for hair dye,[40] face powder and corn plasters.[40] The rhizomes were ground down,[11][15][55] to make a white powder used for whitening the skin,[5][6][15][17][24][26][32][37][38][39][55] similar in look to Geisha girls.[15][29] Although, EA bowles did not believe this theory.[40]

Another theory, was that it was grown in the wet clay and was used to bind the straw thatch together, to stop a roof coming apart.[5][16][17] It also acted as a decoration, creating a purple flowering roof-ridge.[11][16]

A final reason known, was that it was planted to avert the 'evil spirits' and a superstition that they prevent disease from affecting the householders.[5][11][37]

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ 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 ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak British Iris Society (1997) pL6uPLo7l2gC &pg=PA117 A Guide to Species Irises: Their Identification and Cultivation, p. 117, at Google Books
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