Iris foetidissima (Gladwin Iris) - A rhizomatous perennial that forms clumps of attractive evergreen foliage to 12 to 18 inches tall by 2 feet wide. It has fairly attractive light blue to brownish purple flowers that rise just above the foliage in mid spring, but it is for the foliage and showy fruit that this plant is particularly noted for. In the fall the clusters of 3-inch-long sausage-shaped fruit split open to reveal bright orange-red bead-like seeds, a sight which has given this plant the additional common name of Coral Iris.
Plant in full sun to light or moderate shade and give little to abundant irrigation (in other words, it is not fussy!) and in shade it is actually a very drought tolerant plant. It is also cold hardy to at least 15 degrees F and can recover from colder temperatures with just foliage burn that needs to be trimmed back. We have seen this plant listed as a pond margin plant but have not tried this ourselves. A great garden plant in the dry shade garden - our plants under established coast live oaks rarely if ever are watered and have spread slowly into large clumps. The seed retain their color and attachment together within the fruit as it dries and can be cut and used in dried arrangements that last for years.
Iris foetidissima is native to southern and western Europe and North Arica. The genus Iris gets its name from the Greek goddess Iris, who was goddess of the rainbow. In Greek mythology, Hera, who was Queen of Olympia, was impressed by Iris' purity and honored her with a flower that bloomed with all of the colors in her robe. This species was described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 using the specific epithet combining the Latin word 'foetid' meaning "stinking" or "bad smelling" with the superlative suffix ' issimus' meaning "the most so" or "to the greatest degree" which implies this must have been a plant Linnaeus thought really stunk, and other common names such as Stinking Iris, Roast-beef Plant and Stinking Gladwin all seem to back this up. But while the crushed foliage has a rich beef-like aroma, it is pretty mild and only present when the leaf is really crushed. Other common names using "Gladwin" in its various spellings, including Gladdon and Gladwyn, come from the word Gladen which meant sword-grass and was derived from the Latin word 'gladius' (think gladiator) in reference to the long linear leaves of the plant.
Gladwin Iris was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1994. We have grown this interesting and useful plant at our nursery since 1989.
Information about Iris foetidissima displayed on this page is based on our research about it conducted in our library and gathered from reliable online sources. We include observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery gardens and in other gardens that we have visited, as well as how the crops have performed in containers in our own nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others about this plant when we feel it adds information and particularly welcome hearing from anyone who has any additional cultural recommendations that would aid others in growing it.