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The term "Japanese iris" encompasses three species of Irises cultivated in gardens or growing wild in Japan: hanashōbu (Iris ensata), kakitsubata (Iris laevigata) and ayame (Iris sanguinea). Of these three species, I. ensata is the one most commonly referred to as "Japanese iris" outside of Japan.

The bluish purple color of the flowers of the Japanese garden iris is an example of the copigmentation phenomenon.[1]

Hanashōbu at Meigetsu-in
Iris ensata (including Iris kaempferi


The Hanashōbu (ハナショウブ, 花菖蒲?, Iris ensata var. ensata, syn. I. ensata var. hortensis I. kaempferi) grows in the wet land and is the most extensively cultivated variety in Japanese gardens. According to the place where it was cultivated, it is classified into the Edo (Tokyo), Higo (Kumamoto Prefecture), Ise (Mie Prefecture), American (U.S.A.) and other series. It is extensively grown in gardens throughout the temperate zones. Several cultivars have been selected, of which 'Rose Queen'[2] and 'Variegata'[3] have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.


The Kakitsubata (link to article in Japanese) (カキツバタ, 杜若?, Iris laevigata) grows in the semi-wet land and is less popular, but is also cultivated extensively.

It is a prefectural flower of Aichi Prefecture due to the famous tanka poem which is said to have been written in this area during the Heian period, as it appears in The Tales of Ise by Ariwara no Narihira (note that the beginning syllables are "ka-ki-tsu-ha (ba)-ta"):

Original text Pronunciation Meaning







Kitsutsu narenishi

Tsuma shi areba,

Harubaru kinuru

Tabi o shizo omou

I have come so far away on this trip this time and think of my wife that I left in Kyoto

Kakitsubata at Ōta Shrine, Kyoto, is a National Natural Treasure. It was already recorded in a tanka by Fujiwara Toshinari also in the Heian period:

Original text Pronunciation Meaning



Kamiyama ya ōta no sawa no kakitsubata

Fukaki tanomi wa iro ni miyu ramu

Like the kakitsubata at Ōta Wetland, a God-sent heaven, my trust in you can be seen in the color of their flowers.


The Ayame (アヤメ, 菖蒲, 文目?, Iris sanguinea) is the iris typically growing wild on the dry land in Japan.


Classification Color of flower Leaf Feature of flower Location Flowering time
Hanashōbu Red purple, purple, etc. Distinct artery Shows no net Wet land Early June - late June
Kakitsubata Blue, purple, white, etc. Small artery Shows no net In water or wet land mid-May - late May
Ayame Purple, rarely white Main artery not clear Shows net Dry land Early May - Mid-June

Note: Sweet flag, called Shōbu (ショウブ, 菖蒲) in Japanese, is a plant belonging to the family Acoraceae, genus Acorus, known for its fragrant roots, rather than its flowers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anthocyanin-flavone copigmentation in bluish purple flowers of Japanese garden iris (Iris ensata Thunb.) T. Yabuya, M. Nakamura, T. Iwashina, M. Yamaguchi and T. Takehara, EUPHYTICA, Volume 98, Number 3, 163-167, doi:10.1023/A:1003152813333
  2. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Iris ensata 'Rose Queen'". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 2013-05-20. 
  3. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Iris ensata 'Variegata'". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 2013-05-20. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_iris — Please support Wikipedia.
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