Japanese Roof Iris – A Plant With A History!

Iris tectorum 'Alba'

Iris tectorum ‘Alba’ with Carex ‘Evergold’

The days are becoming warmer, and the white Japanese roof iris are beginning to bloom. A charming iris, it spreads slowly in part sun and the fresh green iris fans are lovely as a counterpoint to other plant forms in the garden.

Iris tectorum ‘Alba’ is the one shown here in my garden…and the one we carry, grown by a local supplier and available now.

Iris tectorum 'Alba' with 'Blue Mouse Ears' hosta and violas

Iris tectorum ‘Alba’ with ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ hosta and violas





Though its common name is Japanese roof iris, it’s actually native to China. Botanist
Carl Maximowicz (1827-1891) discovered it growing on roofs in Japan in the early 1860s. In an earlier dynasty, an emperor, during a period of war, decreed that only food (rice and vegetables) would be grown in the ground – no flowers. So, the resourceful Japanese grew these flowers on the edges of their thatched roofs. They were the original roof gardens and must have been quite a sight to come upon!

Pretty fans of Iris tectorum 'Alba'

Pretty fans of Iris tectorum ‘Alba’


In addition to providing beauty in a time of war, the ground roots were the source of the white powder used to whiten geishas’ faces. I must say researching plants is not boring at all; the tidbits learned can be fascinating.

When in bloom, this pretty iris is about a foot tall and the fans droop a bit, so the groundcover effect is quite lovely. The bloom period lasts 2-3 weeks late April into May.

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