Friends and Neighbors

by Enola Gay Mathews

My Mom the Iris Hunter

Iris blooms are showing up all over the place! No matter the color, iris blossoms always bring me happy thoughts of my mom and her perennial green thumb. Wherever she lived, there would be flowers! And her iris, as an easy transplanter, always went with her. She’d often stop and ask a neighbor or even a stranger with a prize patch if she could have one or two roots (actually rhizomes) of a particularly pleasing two-tone or variegated iris flower. Some of my fondest childhood memories include helping her raid iris plants out in the country from some abandoned property or old homestead, because she’d spotted a color or variety she didn’t already have. Of course, we always took just a few, never all of the plants. And actually, we were providing a free thinning service for whomever the owners were, leading to a longer life for beholders to enjoy.

Whether on a hillside or on the sunlit edge of a stretch of woods, harvesting those irises with her always made me wonder who had originally planted them there, and what their life had been like. I will add that hunting iris was not the only outdoor time I spent with her because my mom also hunted and fished, and she picked plums, blackberries and poke salad! Leaving nothing to waste, she not only cooked the leaves of the wild plant (through three waters, of course) but she battered and fried the stems! Delicious!

This week, some of Mother’s irises are a-bloom in my backyard garden. We brought them from her last home near Ben Wheeler, Texas. In fact, she dug them as I loaded up her furniture and fishing gear. At that time, she moved into the only apartment she had ever lived in, and spent her final years there in Sulphur Springs just around the corner from my house. It was my privilege to visit her daily, far more often than during the years we’d lived miles apart.

The most common variety in Texas Zone 8B where we live is the hardy bearded iris. With six varieties from miniature dwarf to tall, all you need is well-drained soil and full sun to grow prize-quality irises. And if I can, you can! Some people call them Flags. Myth has it the colorful plants were named after a Greek goddess who rode rainbows. They truly do bloom in a rainbow of colors, with an ever-growing catalog of shades of blue, orange, pink, purple, red, white, yellow and multicolor, in almost every variation of hue.

There are close to 300 species of the plant in the world. Did you know the iris bloom may have inspired the French Fleur de Lis pattern or symbol? Iris flowers are said to symbolize power, with the three parts representing wisdom, faith and courage. From a distance and appearing to have three petals, the iris blossom is actually six-petaled.

Love irises too? Attend the East Texas Iris Show by the East Texas Iris Society in Tyler on Rose Park Drive from noon until 5pm. And there’s the annual Iris Society of Dallas. Show at 11425 Marsh Lane at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church from noon until 4pm. It’s too bad both shows are set for the very same day, April 23, 2022!