A Fantasia on Irises

by Bill Benzon

When I was a child I sought out the first blossoms of spring. The forsythia bushes were first. Then tulips perhaps? I don’t really remember. I’m guessing, though the guess is not groundless. Daffodils, yes daffodils, yellow and white.

But I DO remember the irises. Not vividly, for it was a long time ago and, as I sit here running through memories while typing these lines, none of them are vivid. But distinct. I even remember bowing down to see them more clearly. This memory is kinesthetic.

David Anstiss, 2015, CCA BY-SA 4.0

And I remember my mother kneeling in front of the flower bed. Brown slacks. Heavy gloves. She was breaking up the ground and weeding the bed. Her flowers.

She loved the irises. At least I think she did. I know I did. Why? They were tall flowers, the tallest in the bed. Was that it? Perhaps, in part, height brought the blossoms closer to the yes. Was it the color? They were colorful. It was only much later that I would learn how many different colors and colorways found homes on irises. These irises were what I have come to think of as “canonical” or “standard” irises – light blue, deep purple, white, flecks of yellow on the beards.

Yes, that’s what they’re called,  at least colloquially, those fuzzy yellow things radiating from the center – beards. The more or less vertical petals are called standards; the droopy ones are called falls. And that complicated stuff in the center – anther, crests, stigmatic lips (stigmatic!?). It’s all so complicated. Read more »