This perennial wildflower has basal leaves that
are 1½-3' long and
½-1" across; they are arranged in erect fan-like clusters of 3-10,
although they may become floppy or arch.
Basal leaves are linear-ensiform (narrowly sword-shaped) and their
margins are entire (smooth). Both surfaces of the basal leaves are
medium green and glabrous; their venation is parallel. Occasionally,
erect flowering stalks are produced from the root system that are 2-3½'
high; they are medium green, terete, glabrous, occasionally glaucous,
and either branched or unbranched. Along each flowering stalk, there
are 1-3 alternate leaves that are very similar to the basal leaves. The
alternate leaves are ½-2' long and ½-¾" across, becoming
progressively smaller as they ascend the flowering stalk. From the axil
of each alternate leaf, there develops 1-2 flowers that are more or
less copper-colored (reddish orange to brownish orange); on rare
occasions, these flowers are predominantly yellow. These flowers
develop on pedicels about ¾-3" long that are medium green,
glabrous, and terete. The pedicel(s) is surrounded on two sides by a
spathes. These spathes are leafy to chaffy, linear-ensiform (narrowly
sword-shaped), glabrous, and variable in length (1-5" long).
flower is 2¾–3½" across, consisting of 3 coppery sepals, 3 coppery
petals, 3 coppery style branches, 3 stamens, and a 3-celled ovary. The
petaloid sepals are slightly larger than the petals; they are both
widely spreading and somewhat recurved. The sepals are obovate, while
the petals are oblanceolate; they both have spreading dark red veins.
The petaloid style branches are slightly ascending and oblong in shape;
they are located above the sepals and their upper surfaces are convex.
The stigmata and anthers are located along the lower surfaces of
the style branches. The base of each flower is tubular and often
yellowish. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer,
lasting about 3 weeks. The flowers are slightly fragrant; individual
flowers are short-lived (lasting about 1-4 days). Afterwards, the
flowers are replaced by seed capsules that become 2-3" long
across at maturity; they are broadly ellipsoid in shape and 6-sided.
corky seeds are arranged in 2 rows within each cell of a capsule. These
seeds can float on water, by which means they can spread to new
locations. The root system consists of stout rhizomes with coarse
underneath. Clonal offsets
are often produced from the
The preference is full sun to light
shade, wet conditions (including standing shallow water less than 6"
deep), and poorly drained clay-muck with some decaying organic
material. This wildflower can adapt to soil that is consistently moist,
and it can be successfully cultivated in areas that are north of its
native range (to Zone 4 or 5).
Copper Iris occurs in southern Illinois, where it is rare and
state-listed as 'threatened.' Illinois lies along the northern-range
limit of this species. It is found primarily in the lower- to
mid-Mississippi valley of the United States. Habitats include
swamps (including Bald Cypress swamps), soggy areas of bottomland and
floodplain woodlands, low areas along ponds and
along roads and railroads, and banks of drainage canals. Because of its
attractive foliage and flowers, the Copper Iris is cultivated
throughout the state. Native populations of this species have declined
result of habitat destruction.
are cross-pollinated by the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and bumblebees.
The floral reward of these visitors is nectar; some bumblebees may also
collect pollen. Insects that feed on the rhizomes of Iris spp.
the larvae of Eumerus
(Onion Bulb Fly) and Eumerus
(Lesser Bulb Fly), Dysaphis tulipae
(Tulip Bulb Aphid),
(Ground Mealybug), and the larvae of Macronoctua
(Iris Borer Moth). Larvae of the moths, Ctenucha virginica
(Virginia Ctenucha) and Spilosoma
(Agreeable Tiger Moth), feed
on the foliage, while larvae of a polyphagous moth, Endothenia hebesana
bore into the seed capsules. Other insect feeders of Iris spp.
of a picture-winged fly (Chaetopsis
feed on the flower buds, and a thrips that feeds on the flowers,
(Western Flower Thrips). Because both the
foliage and rhizomes are toxic, mammalian herbivores usually
although the Muskrat occasionally feeds on their
rhizomes and lower stems. The webmaster also observed some cropped
leaves while photographing the Copper Iris, suggesting possible grazing
by White-Tailed Deer.
A floodplain woodland in
where this species was introduced.
This beautiful iris is worthy of cultivation in gardens.
Because of the
unique coloration of its flowers, the Copper Iris is very easy to
identify when it is in bloom. Like other native Iris spp.
the flowers of the Copper Iris lack tufts of hair on its petaloid
sepals. It can form a naturally occurring hybrid with another native
iris, Iris breviscaulis
(Zigzag Iris); this hybrid has been named Iris
. It has reddish purple sepals.