Do Iris Flowers Change Color?

by updated 2011/06/04

I was recently asked both of the following questions:

“I have a bed of what was purple bearded iris.  All of them have become very light in color. Is there an amendment I need to add to the soil? Why this has happened?”

“I planted a new bed of different colors of bearded iris a few years ago and they were beautiful. But this year they are looking as if all have turned to a whitish blue.”

I have had the same experience, not only with iris, but also with gladiolus.  I did some research and confirmed what I was thinking.  The flowers are not changing color.  So why do beds of say, purple iris often become predominantly a less desirable color?  What most likely happened is that the purple irises were overtaken by much more vigorous colors such as the white or light blue iris.  Also the more vigorous white and blue irises will tend to bloom earlier than other colors, giving the impression that a whole garden bed of iris have changed color.  A few weeks later, when the other colors start blooming it is more apparent what has happened.

Also, you can’t change the color of an iris by changing the soil ph., or anything else in the soil. That sometimes works with hydrangeas, but not with any other plants that I know of.  The color of an iris, for example,  is a result of its genetics.  The rhizome of an iris that produces a purple flower will continue to produce that same color.

The best way to fix this problem if you want to return your bed of iris to the colors you prefer is to address the problem when they are blooming.  Dig out and discard the white and light blue iris that you don’t want while they are blooming and easy to tell from the other irises.  When the colors you prefer start to bloom, mark these with a wrap of green gardening tape, a twist tie, or some other method that will allow you to identify them after the blooms are gone.  Several weeks after blooming has finished, did up and divide the whole bed, saving and replanting the iris you marked as desirable.

For the next few years you should have the iris colors you prefer.  Bits and pieces of the more vigourous white and blue iris are sure to remain, however and after a few years you may need to repeat the process.

Will Sig
1 Tony McGurk

Nature sure can be tricky

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2 Binky

So I guess spray paint isn’t the way to go?
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3 Jess

I heard there’s an option changing the color of every single flower by watering the flowers with a special color before blooming. The color will be changed for the upcoming bloom.
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4 Steve

hi Will,
Thanks for dropping by.
Blue is my favorite color, and the iris is one of my favorite flowers (I also love the California poppy, among others).
Anyway, I just wanted to report that I used your highly recommended gopher trap for the first time this season last week. On the two attempts I caught dirt, but the third time was the charm… though the gopher turned out to be a mole! Anyway, I give the trap a big thumbs up! Steve
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5 Anna

Wow Will you are a real investigator when comes to gardening.
Unfortunately I don’t have any iris in my garden, lol, but I will keep that in mind for those who do have them. Thanks for sharing. Anna :)
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6 Ray

If iris get a sniff of roundup ,zero or any of the products derived from glyhosate they revert back to the original pale blue original colour.

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7 Will

Wow Ray – I would really be interested in reading more about that. Many of the people who asked me about their iris color do indeed use glyphosate around their yard. I’ll search for info on that but if you have a couple of links, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

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8 Elle

I have Bearded Iris that have certainly changed in their shade of colour. I have had to move all my bearded Iris to holding beds while some major garden renovations are going on and this year my pale pink iris has flowered apricot. My “Total Obsession” falls are more of a pinky/mauve hue rather than the dark mauve/purple. This is the first time I have seen this and it is quite puzzling as I am an organic gardner so there is no round up or zero used here and though I have only been growing Bearded Iris for 4- 5 years the colour changes have only happened since I moved the plants. It will be interesting to see if they flower in their original colour shades when they go back to their normal garden locations.

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9 Will

Hi Elle – My experience says that they probably will not go back to their original color. I would sure be interested in what you see in yours when you move them back though. It is interesting that the color mine seem to change to is the apricot or light blue. It may not be a coincidence that the color change occurred when you moved them. Perhaps when you dug them you instinctively saved the best looking rhizomes? In that case you would probably have been moving the more vigorous plants which would have been the default colors like apricot, light pink, and light blue.

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10 Tooty2shoes

Well I have a different puzzle with my dwarf purple Iris’s. I planted them in 2005. But the next year one flower stem bloomed with a bi-colored iris flower. It was purple and a light yellow beige in color on the beard. The next year the same thing happened. This year again I had more of the solid light blossom color on four blooming iris stalk. Then again another blossom stalk blooming with the bi-coloring of the purple and the lighter beige mixed together.
I was told Iris can not to this. But don’t tell mine that. It is so neat to see. Just wondering if anyone else has had that happen. Or why it is happening? I have pictures to verify it.

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11 Barbara Jan Butler

My Iris do change color. One year they are purple and the next yellow and this is every single year. jb

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12 Betsy

I am not sure I agree with the statements above. My iris, which should be white with purple trim, came up pure white this year after years of watching it fade from a vibrant purple trim to a light violet trim. Now, this year, totally white. I have not planted any other variety of iris in this particular bed so I know I did not mix any bulbs together. I have moved my iris in the past to find them bloom brighter after the move so I know they definately loose color over the years. I mulch but do not use any fertilizers or pesticides, so not sure what causes it but it does happen.

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13 Jim Wyatt

I have been growing iris for 30+ yrs. in 2 states. In OK all my iris stayed true to their original colors for 8 yrs. w/o any replanting. Here in MO the last 2 yrs. I’ve had established beds change to either white or light blue and I’ve had first- & second-yr. replants revert to the “old-fashioned” light purple standards with the dark purple falls. I would like to know the cause. Some of the “explanations” in this forum do not explain this phenomenon.

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14 Larry

Mine usually were lavender and now all white maybe with a tint of blue and one is totally black, But none were moved or separated,They just changed color and this year more blooms than ever! …lew
Portland OR.

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15 Molly Couch-Newcomb

Okay…I have read everything you have written but I (and my next door neighbor), both have the same problem. We live in Channahon, Illinois and we both have planted iris bulbs our mothers have given us when they thinned out their iris gardens. My mother lived in Millers Creek, North Carolina, my neighbors mother lives in Minooka, Illinois, approximately 30 miles away. My mother had 12 different colors/types of irises and she gave me bulbs from each of color/type. My neighbors mother gave her bulbs that were bright yellow. When my neighbors grew this year (the first time they have flowered since she planted the bulbs last year), the flower is light yellow on top with scarlet beards. ALL of the ones I planted from my mother’s 12 styles have bloomed with light purple on top with dark purple beards AND so have my brothers &he lives in Indianapolis. What should we do to get the original 12 colors back?

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16 Jamie Tuttle

I do not agree with your hypothesis on this subject. My reason is : I had planted only one white iris in a flower bed Last fall. I knew it was white it bloomed once before I planted it. In this flower bed I have an old iron headboard it is completely rusted. My iris came up and just bloomed , it is now a mix of golden champagne , yellow inside and hints on purple on the beard. I strongly believe the rust & iron in the soil had a great deal to do with the color change.

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17 Barb

I took slips of my fathers iris that were a light purple and planted them in my yard ( 2 hours north). They didn’t come up the same color they are deep dark purple. I called my dad and he said it was from the soil. My girlfriend pulled all her irises out and gave them to me ( different colors of them) I planted them in various spots in my yard and guess what color they came up….. Deep Purple too! It was funny when she dropped in last week and said I love the purple irises! I told her they were hers and she couldn’t believe it either and she lives about two minutes away

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18 Will

These are all very interesting stories. I think there is an opportunity for a horticulture grad student somewhere to design a study to try and find out what is really going on. Lots of theories, but all seem to have many exceptions.

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