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Iris versicolor

harlequin blueflag add to wishlist

Plant types and subtypes: Perennials, Bulbs

Light Requirements: sun, part-sun

Water Use: medium, high

Soil Moisture: moist, wet

Soil Description: acid, rich, loam

Height: 2'-3'

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August

Bloom Color: yellow, violet, purple, blue

Leaf Color: green

Hardiness Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Additional Tags: attracts birds, attracts hummingbirds, bog plant, clumping, colonizing, emergent, medicinal, naturalizing, ornamental foliage, poisonous, pond margin plant, stream margin plant, swamp plant, water garden plant, wetland plant

Iris versicolor (harlequin blueflag)
  • Iris versicolor (harlequin blueflag)
  • Iris versicolor (harlequin blueflag)
  • Iris versicolor (harlequin blueflag)
  • Iris versicolor (harlequin blueflag)

Pricing & Availability


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Iris versicolor

Also known as:

harlequin blueflag


Northern blue flag


blue flag


American blue flag


dagger flower


dragon flower


flag lily


liver lily


poison flag


snake lily


water flag


water Iris

Scientific Synonyms:


Iris versicolor is an extremely attractive emergent (its base can remain under permanent inundation) perennial. The decorative, thin, sword-like leaves can grow to 3' and are typically folded mid-rib. Each plant will bear several large flowers atop erect stems that extend above the foliage. Bloom color will vary within shades of blue, purple or violet, with deeply veined sepals which are yellow at their base. It owes its genus modifier "versicolor", and common name "harlequin", to this multi-color characteristic. It produces large seeds, densely packed in 1 1/2" long capsules.


A moisture loving, cold climate iris that is found in wetlands, marshes, stream banks and bogs, south to Virginia and as far north as Newfoundland. The base of the plant can remain permanently submerged up to a depth of 6". It prefers rich, loamy, acidic, wet soil, but is an easy plant to grow in most gardens, provided the soil remains consistently moist. Tolerates part-shade but will produce more spectacular flowers in full sun. Iris versicolor has a clumping habit and will slowly spread by means of fibrous rhizomes. Bloom times are from May to August. A very hardy iris: zones 3-7.


May be propagated from fresh seeds. For higher germination rates, seeds should be collected and cold-moist stratified for 3 months at 0-36° F. Vegetative propagation is achieved by separating or cutting the tubers in late spring to early summer.

Additional Notes

Iris versicolor is similar to, but should not be confused with, Iris virginica which has a native range that extends south to Florida. The rhizomes produce dense mats that are useful in preventing soil erosion. A powerful extract is produced from the roots and used medicinally to treat liver disorders amongst other ailments. These roots should not be consumed. Confusing them with edible varieties has been known to have dire consequences, including serious liver damage; hence the common names "liver lily" and "poison flag".

Native Range & Classification

Recorded County Distribution: USDA data

Native Range:


Kingdom Plantae Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta Flowering plants
Class Liliopsida Monocotyledons
Subclass Liliidae
Order Liliales
Family Iridaceae Iris family
Genus Iris iris
Species Iris versicolor harlequin blueflag