Rocky Mountain Iris
Iris missouriensis Nutt.
General: perennial, widely spreading from thick rhizomes.
Flowering stems clumped, shorter to slightly longer than
the leaves, 20-50 cm tall, simple, leafless except at the
base, often with bluish, waxy coating.
Leaves: mainly basal, linear, sword-shaped, 20-40 cm
long, mostly 5-10 mm broad. The involucral (spathe) leaves
at the flower base are contiguous, rather inflated, often
Flowers: usually 2, sometimes 3 or 4, showy, rather
pale blue, the individual stalks stout and up to 6 cm long.
The 3 sepals oblanceolate, backward-curved, mostly 5-6
cm long, whitish to light blue, strongly purple-lined, joined
at the base to a perianth tube 5-8 mm long. The 3 petals
light blue with paler lining, erect, slightly shorter than the
sepals. The 3 style branches 20-25 mm long, the crests
scarcely half as long.
Flowering time: May-early July.
Fruits: capsules, 3-5 cm long, with 3 compartments
containing dark brown seeds.
Meadows and streambanks, often where apparently very
dry, but always where moisture is abundant until flowering
time, in w. and c. parts of MT. Also from B.C. to s. CA, e.
of the Cascades in WA, e. to SD, ND and s. to n. Mexico.
Edible, Medicinal, Poisonous.
(click on image for full size)
(click on images for full size)
The roasted seeds of Rocky Mountain iris can be used as a coffee substitute.
The roots are poisonous. An arrow poison was made from the ground-up roots. Plants can cause skin irritations and allergies in some people.
Rocky Mountain iris was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it
to treat various complaints, but especially as an external application for skin problems. The root has
agents that induce vomiting, and that treat toothache temporarily, and other problems of the teeth and
gums. An infusion was used in the treatment of kidney and bladder complaints, stomach aches etc. by the
Nevada Indians. The pulped root was placed in the tooth cavity or on the gum in order to bring relief
from toothache by the The Great Basin Indians. The Paiute Indians made a paste of ripe seeds and applied
it to sores. They also made a decoction of the root to be used as ear drops to treat earaches. A poultice
of the mashed roots was applied by the Shoshoni Indians to rheumatic joints and was also used as a salve
on venereal sores. Caution is advised in the use of this plant, see the notes above on toxicity. A paste
of the ripe seeds was used as a dressing on burns by the Shoshoni Indians.
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