Skip to main content
Reservations recommended. Reserve tickets here.
Skip to main content

Rocky Mountain Iris

Scientific Name:
Iris missouriensis
Family:
Native Name(s):
  1. Klamath: Ghä'-gum läk'-ō (Coville 1897)
Description:

Plant

Iris missouriensis is a rhizomatous perennial herb that grows 3 to 6 cm tall and its stem rarely branches. Its leaves are basal, grasslike, and extend to about the height of the flowers. The flowers are about 4 in. across with 3 widely oblanceolate petals. The perianth can be pale lilac to white and veined lilac-purple. The species blooms from May to July. 

Identification Tips

Iris missouriensis is distinguished by the blue-purple flower. The sepals are blue or purple and drooping, while the 3 blue-purple petals are broad and erect. Three blue-purple narrow pistils arch over the stamens as well. The ovary is inferior which distinguishes it from all lilies.

Starch granules

Starch granules from I. missouriensis rhizomes are generally circular with irregular margins. They occur singly or in conglomerates. On average, they are 4 to 5 microns in length and can be up to 8 microns across. They have a centric to slightly eccentric hilum. No starch granules were observed from seeds. 

Habitat:

Iris missouriensis grows at elevations from 900 to 3400 m, mainly in grazed pastures and vernally moist grassy or rocky areas. 

Distribution:

This species grows throughout the western United States.

Ethnography:

Many Native American tribes used Iris missourensis rhizomes to cure toothache, gonorrhea, and stomach aches.

As medicine

Northern Paiute: "The most extensive use for this plant is as a toothache remedy being so reported from most of the Paiute and Shoshone communities.  The usual procedure was merely to insert entire piece, or a portion of the pulped, raw root directly in the tooth cavitiy, but some of the people said that the pulped root would serve just as well if placed against the gum...Information secured during the first year of this work included statement from several Indians that the root decoction was a specific remedy for gonorrhea...For bladder trouble the roots were boiled to produce a whiskey-colored liquid, with a bitter taste, but no dosage was indicated...The only other internal remedy employing the decoction, was for stomach-aches, less than a half-cupful being drunk as a warm tea...To cure earaches a little of the boiled root solution was dropped, a small quantity at a time, into the ear.  The liquid was applied luke warm...The seed though generally considered to be poisonous, were administered as a paste to sores...In both cases ripe seed were specified." (Train et al. 1957:60)

Klamath: "Ghä'-gum läk'-ō.- The blue flag Iris of the region, common in most meadows, especially those in which the soil becomes dry later in the season.  The dried rootstocks are sometimes used by medicine man as a smoking material, mixed with white camas, Zygadenus venenosus, and a little tobacco, to give a person severe nausea, in order to secure a heavy fee for making him well again." (Coville 1897:93)

Other

Northern Paiute: "Wild iris and wild parsnip (ha'kinopu) were known as poisonous." (Kelly 1932:104)

Distribution Map: