Iris Meaning and Symbolism

Iris Story & Origins

The iris is represented in Greek mythology. Iris was the goddess of the rainbow and a messenger for Zeus and Hera, and many believe that the flower is named after her. She carried messages from heaven to earth on the arc of the rainbow, and was a companion to female souls on the way to heaven. To this day, Greeks plant purple irises on women’s graves so that Iris will guide them to their resting place in heaven.

Iris Meanings

  • The iris commonly means wisdom, hope, trust, and valor. It can be found in a variety of temperate zones around the world, as such, its meanings have been adapted to fit various cultures.
  • During the 16th century BC, irises were introduced to Egypt from Syria, and stylized versions of these flowers began to decorate the scepters of pharaohs as representations of victory and power.
  • The iris inspired the fleur-de-lis, a decorative symbol used by French royalty. It originated in the Middle Ages. During this time the fleur-de-lis became tied to the French Monarchy, and appeared on their coat of arms, coins, and shields. Some believe that the three petals represented the three social orders: nobility, clergy, and peasants.


Iris Symbolism & Colors

Associating irises to the goddess of the rainbow, like the Ancient Greeks did, is fitting because there are over 200 species of irises that come in a wide variety of colors. Specific iris symbolism depends on the flower color:

  • Purple irises symbolize royalty and wisdom.
  • Yellow irises symbolize passion.
  • Blue irises symbolize faith and hope.
  • White irises symbolize purity.

Iris Cultural Significance

The beauty of irises inspired many artists. One of the most notable works on irises is Van Gogh’s Irises. In this piece, he carefully studied the flowers to capture their unique twisting and curving lines.

Iris Facts

  • The iris is the state flower of Tennessee, and is also the February birth flower and the 25th wedding anniversary flower.
  • Most iris varieties bloom in early summer.
  • Irises have three large outer petals called falls, and three inner upright petals called standards.


Iris Uses

Around the nineteenth century, especially in Italy, orris roots, the roots of germanica and pallida species, became an integral part of the perfume industry. These roots, when left out to dry, develop a violet-like scent, which improves over time. Because of its pleasant smell, orris roots were used in many cosmetics until people noticed that it caused allergic reactions. Today, the roots are often used in potpourris and sachets.

Orris roots were also used for medicinal purposes as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and for teeth and skin health.

With its great diversity of colors and meanings, irises are great gifts for all types of people in your life. You can give purple irises to a parent or mentor, yellow irises to a significant other, and blue irises to someone who needs a little extra encouragement.




Image Sources

Middle image: top right CC Image courtesy of François Philipp on Flickr

Bottom image: top CC Image courtesy of Bill Reynolds on Flickr; bottom middle right CC Image courtesy of ✈ amade_a ✈ on Flickr; bottom right CC Image courtesy of Manu on Flickr