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flag, the flower

An aquatic plant, with long, ensiform (having the shape of a sword) leaves belonging to the genus Iris or Acorus. Iris. A genus of bulbous or tuberous rooted plants, of which the flower-de-luce (fleur-de-lis), orris, and other species of flag, are examples. — Webster, 1882

noteThe Larger Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) is a perennial blue-purple flowered native iris which grows in shallow water and wet soils; it is a familiar plant throughout Minnesota. Stems rise from woody tuberous rootstocks. Blooming in May through July – depending on location – the large blue flowers are on tall stems with long pointed leaves.

The Larger Blue Flag of swamps and meadows is one of the most brilliant irises. It is native from Maine to Florida, and from the east coast to the Midwest. It grows two or three feet high in places, often in combination with rushes, another Little House plant.

In On the Banks of Plum Creek (Chapter 3, “Rushes and Flags”), Laura Ingalls Wilder described in detail the three “velvet” petals (one is bearded) that turned down like a “lady’s dress over hoops,” with three “silky” petals standing up in the center and curving together. The flowers are so designed that they are pollinated by pollen brought from other flowers; a drop of nectar at the center attracts insects via the “velvet” petals. Darker blue lines on the petals guide bumblebees and other insects down into the pollen chamber.


The name flag is from the middle English flagge, meaning rush or reed. The iris is named after the Greek goddess Iris, goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods. Many poems have been written about the iris, including the one above, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in 1866. It first appeared in print the year Laura Ingalls was born.note

While the Ingallses were living in Walnut Grove, a patent medicine called Irisin was sold as “The Great Vegetable Blood Purifier.” It was said to act directly upon the blood, cleansing and purifying it. By “invigorating and stimulating the digestive organs,” it was touted as a preventative and cure for rheumatism, gout, dyspepsia, and diseases of women.

The advertisement shown is from the Hagerstown, Maryland Herald and Torchlight, 1869. The root of the Blue Flag has long been used as a medicine: the dried root is a powerful purgative and can be dangerous in large doses.


flag, flower (BPC 3, 5; PG)