An iris by any other name: Iris japonica

Wrongly-named plants really annoy me. I am annoyed when bulbs are not what I bought them as and I am annoyed when dormant herbaceous plants are not true to name. If growing plants are not correctly named I may be able to know the difference but not everyone does and I hate other people being misled or ripped off. Now some plants might be wrongly named by accident – it happens, and sometimes the name has recently been changed. I am not going to blame anyone who sells me a Hebe ‘Autumn Glory’ even  though hebes have now been renamed and they are veronicas now. There is a delicious irony to this and I remember my great aunt with her veronicas in the garden that I knew were actually hebes – not any more they aint!

Iris japonica 'Variegata' NOT Iris tectorum 'Variegatum'

Iris japonica ‘Variegata’ NOT Iris tectorum ‘Variegatum’

But some plants go around under the wrong name and no one seems to bother. It may not matter in some cases but is it really much more effort to give them the correct name? Two that bother me are variegated nepeta and bacopa. Now I accept that long use of a name makes it a bit more acceptable to get it wrong but who grew bacopa 20 years ago? When it was first introduced to us I thought it was as attractive as chickweed: a vigorous, sprawling plant with tiny white flowers  – that’s the bacopa (and the chickweed). But the plant breeders have been busy and now some have ‘huge’ flowers 1cm across and in pink and mauve as well as white as well as scruffy doubles, which are a bit pointless really. But the thing is they are not bacopas at all – they are suteras, a completely different plant. What I don’t understand is why we were sold them as bacopas because it is not a plant most of us knew.

pink-flowered sutera - not bacopa

pink-flowered sutera – not bacopa

And then there is that variegated, creeping foliage plant we are sold for hanging baskets as nepeta. It is as much a nepeta as I am. It is a variegated form of Glechoma hederacea, the common lawn weed. I don’t think that is the reason for misnaming it because most people don’t worry about the names of their lawn weeds, they just want them dead.

But the plant that really puzzles me is this one.

iris jaonica

I bought this as Iris tectorum ‘Variegatum’ although I knew it wasn’t. I love Iris tectorum and it is a beautiful garden plant with creeping, green rhizomes and relatively large, crested flowers about 8cm across in a lovely slightly purple blue although there is also a pure white which is a real beauty. Iris japonica is a bigger plant with thinner, wiry rhizomes and a creeping habit. It is evergreen and this variegated form (above) is showy all year round. It needs well-drained but moist soil and will cope with half sun/shade and brighter conditions if there is enough moisture. It benefits from being in a sheltered spot because severe winter cold will damage it. It is sometimes called the butterfly iris (something that could be applied to all these Evansia or crested iris including I. confusa and I. milesii) and you can see why when the small flowers are held so perfectly on the branched stems. The flowers open in succession over many weeks and are white with yellow and blue markings.


Why call this Iris tectorum? I just don’t understand it – the two plants are related but very different and I am not even sure if there is a variegated Iris tectorum. If you do see one for sale and really want a variegated ‘tectorum’ buy it in flower – don’t trust the label.

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  1. Irises | Find Me A Cure - April 29, 2014

    […] An iris by any other name: Iris japonica […]

  2. Glechoma hederacea | Find Me A Cure - May 1, 2014

    […] An iris by any other name: Iris japonica […]

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