Stinking Iris; Iris foetidissima

Well first of all it does not stink, it has a bit of a smell but only if you crush the leaves and it is not as bad as many other flowers. The flower which is the worst to my mind is the introduced species American Skunk Cabbage, that really fills the air with a disgusting smell and it can be smelt at some distance from where the plants are growing. The reason why some flowers  smell bad is to attract pollinators in the form of flies which think it is a dead animal. In fact many plants smell when you bruise their leaves, Elder has a really unpleasant smell.

Anyway Stinking Iris is not that bad, some say it is a bit reminiscent of roast beef, I don’t agree, well it is not like the delicious roast beef which is served in our house. The flower is a typical Iris design with three sections, however it is a pale cream colour blending into a  pinky purple colour and not as attractive as the  Yellow Flag Iris, however when freshly in bloom it does have it subtleties as you can see.

The photograph above was taken in late June. There is a nice big clump growing at Symonds Yat just by the path from the car park up to the viewing point and I have been watching that plant with an intention to get some nice shots and when I visited recently ( early June) it was way off flowering, the buds had not even pushed their way out from between the leaves, the only indication that they would eventually produce flowers was a slight swelling lower down the leaf area.  A few weeks earlier I had photographed some flowers which were all but over, these were growing beside the road near to Chepstow.


This illustrates the point that the flowering season extends from late May through to at least July.

It is a native species but is also often grown in gardens, it is quite tolerant of shade and  wet conditions, it also often grows in hedge banks. However it is not evenly distributed, being more southerly and western, although it is also fairly common in Suffolk.

Below is a slide show from the photos I took at Symonds Yat, in one photo you can see the visitors centre in the background.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I do like collecting and reading some of the older wild  flower and nature books and in these I have seen it called Gladdon and Stinking Gladwin, though no explantions as to the derivation of these similar names.

I recall seeing it growing many years ago when I first took some students to Braunton Burrows a reserve in North Devon, this is a sand dune habitat.  My recollection was that they were growing in the dune slacks. However I looked up Braunton Burrows and this is what I found in a description of their Crow Point nature trail.

Returning to the beach, notice the increase in
pebbles here. On top of the dune bank, clumps
of stinking iris or roast beef plant grow. The
flowers are as large as a garden iris but their
colour is a rather pale purple. Later on the
capsules open to expose lovely orange seeds,
which persist all winter. If you break a leaf and
rub it between your fingers, you will get an
appetising smell of cold roast beef! 

So they think the smell is appetising!  Also whilst being shade tolerant it obviously will also grow completely out in the open…. no shade on sand dunes and shingle beaches.

Later in the year they produce very attractive red berries, I would say the berries out perform the flowers.

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4 thoughts on “Stinking Iris; Iris foetidissima

  1. Correction: The article mistakenly says that Braunton Burrows is in Wales. It is in North Devon in the Taw Torridge estuary.


    1. Thanks I am getting muddled up with Ynys-hir, but have corrected it now.


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