Do Iris Flowers Change Color?

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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.

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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
Steve recently posted..Thinking Outside the Trade Show BoxMy Profile

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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 Suzy

This has happened to us as well. Same plant. Started at dark purple. One year later, it gave us bi-color blooms (yellow center petals, purple outer petals). And then in the fall in suddenly bloomed again, with a pale, almost-white solid yellow. Today it has given us our first blooms of the 2016 spring: original dark purple.

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12 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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13 Paula

For years I have had purple and purple with yellow mix irises. I moved them after a couple of years of not blooming well because they were too crowded. This year I have all yellow irises with the little purple spackle on the outside petals and a couple of the plain purple irises. I told my husband those irises have changed colors. He said no you must have had some yellow irises. I said no I have had these same purple irises for over 15 years. I am glad someone else experienced this too. They are pretty but they did change!

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14 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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15 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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16 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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17 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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18 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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19 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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20 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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21 becky

I selectively over many years now kept all the yellow iris my mom had passed on to me. A friend suggested I use a fertilizer (Milorganite) in my entire garden, which I did, 2 years ago. Last year ALL my yellow iris bloomed lavender. I added no more of that fertilizer and had hoped I would return to ALL yellow iris this year. Didn’t happen! I’m furious and can’t do a thing about recovering mom’s yellow iris now unless you have a solution!!!

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22 Terri Clark-Kveton

I’m wondering if there are several factors that may cause these colour changes, similar perhaps, to what happens to tulips when aphids cause colour break by transmitting viruses and then great variation shows up in subsequent years. My irises have had aphids however, and no colour change has occurred as of yet. Only time will tell, I guess. 🙂

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23 Trudi

I live in Canberra, Australia and have noticed a similar, intriguing thing happening to my bearded irises. I originally purchased just two corms, one deep purple and the other dark wine with cream and for the past couple of years, these were the only colours I had. Prior to planting them out, the corms were in a pot for a couple of years, where they suffered, but their corms had increased and I divided them. So I am puzzled that this year I have a light blue and a white iris in addition to the two that I purchased. I don’t mind at all, I am quite happy about it and it seems that this is a common occurrence.

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24 susandDunloppruet

I was given alot of beautiful green, white, yellow, black, red, pink, blue rust, & varigated varieties of iris. I planted them in separate beds to maintain their colors, The next year they all came in purple & during the span of ten yrs. they produced not one other color!!!! Soooooooo disappointed & hoped to find what to do!!!

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25 Patti Metzler

Hi Will: The Iris’s that I had mentioned in a previous post about changing color have continued to bloom the lighter tannish yellow with a very light lavender fall. The rest of the purple Iris’s that are the same variety are continuing to bloom their dark purple color. From other articles I have read some Iris will do that and there is a special name for that occurrence.

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26 Margaret

While doing some research about how bad weed killers are for people I found a page that stated that testing was done on rainwater. Of all the tests done over 70% of the water tested had Weed killer in it. So not only would this affect every ones overall heath but also that of our foods and out prescious flowers. I had purple irises in my yard years ago and allowed a pink one in from the yard behind me. Well those pink ones over took the yard yet this year I ended up with a small cluster of dark purple irises near where I pulled up all the pink ones. It surprised me. I had put all the pink ones (Or I should say most of them) in my container where I usually put stuff I plan to throw out. I never got around to transplanting them into the ground and the container ended up with a lot of rain water in it. Some of the irises decided to go to blooming and turned out to be a very pretty light purple. It looks like I may keep the good ones after all.

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27 Norman Andrews

My wife, daughter and I live on 11 acres on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. We have planted various colors of Iris flowers around the property, some near the house, some down the driveway, etc. This year every Iris has turned to a medium blue. In fact, just about everywhere I look around the area the color is the same as ours. The flowers are pretty, but there is no variety in color.

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28 Will

Thanks everyone for the interesting stories. I continue to see this happening. I continue to have some success with the small loop of that green plastic garden tape method. It is a lot of work but the iris benefit from the digging and dividing anyway. I have one large circle of iris in a less noticeable corner that I have ignored. They were once a good variety of colors, including some nice dark yellow and some great dark reddish purple. (Probably planted in 2012). Now in 2016 they are ALL the light purple and white color. Very uninteresting. I’ll try to remember to get a photo later today and post it.

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29 Lynn

I lived in Okla. for a couple of years and when we left I dug up all colors of Iris except purple and white, to bring to Oregon. Had no place to plant them for a year so finally planted and they were all white!!! Interesting

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30 Chris

I am in Victoria Australia. Lasr year i planted only purple irises. I didn’t split this year and they have all flowered yellow and pale purple. Wonder if there is any genetic moderfications creating this..

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