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Iris Meaning and Symbolism

blue-purple iris fields with a sunrise in the background

Whether you know them as irises, flags, or the flowers of summer, these beautiful blooms rarely disappoint. You can find them brightening mixed flower bouquets, blooming in cottage gardens, and growing wild alongside country roads. And with so many different iris colors and varieties available, there’s one of these flowers for every person and occasion.

Not only are irises beautiful, but they are also associated with powerful meanings and symbolism. While the exact meaning varies depending on the location and color of the iris, this flower is associated with many positive feelings. Some of these meanings include faith, wisdom, and positive change.

The Meaning of Iris

Iris is both the common name for these flowers as well as the name of the plant genus. So where does this name come from?

In Greek, iris means rainbow. Many people believe these flowers ended up with the name iris due to the color variation of their blooms.

These colorful flowers share their name with the Greek goddess Iris who acted as a messenger between gods and humans. You can say she was a bit like a rainbow that builds a bridge between heaven and earth. Many of the symbolism associated with iris flowers ties back to this goddess.

Iris Meanings

Outside of the literal translation, irises carry many meanings.

Faith and Hope

Irises are a symbol of enduring faith and hope. While their blooms wither when cold weather arrives, shoots and colorful flowers reemerge each spring. During the dark days of winter, irises are a reminder that bright days lie ahead.

Due to this meaning, irises are great gifts for anyone going through a rough time. By sending an iris bouquet to an injured or grieving loved one, you remind them to keep hope that things will improve. And when they receive an iris, they won’t be able to help but smile.


Due to the association with the Greek goddess Iris, these flowers are a symbol of wisdom and truth. They remind us to be patient and seek out the true and ethical path.

If someone is struggling with a big decision, go ahead and send them an iris to guide their choices.

Positive Change

Irises are always changing. They emerge each spring, bloom, and then die. And then they begin the cycle all over again. While dying may not seem like a good thing, irises are simply saving energy so they can re-emerge as beautiful flowers.

With this in mind, irises are a great way to remind someone that they can find something better. This means they’re a good gift for someone who went through a breakup or is seeking a new job.

Iris Symbolism Around the World

The iris is a popular flower in many different countries. Both native irises and newly developed cultivars are grown throughout the world. While people throughout the world love these blooms, the iris meaning differs depending on location. Many times the symbolism and meaning of flowers come from mythology.

Ancient Greek

Ancient Greeks tied this flower to the goddess Iris. Since Iris acted as a messenger between heaven and earth, one of her jobs was to guide the dead to their final resting place and forever home. Therefore, Greeks often used iris flowers at funerals and gravesites. By planting irises around a grave, people hoped to summon the goddess so she could help guide their loved ones to heaven.

The Greeks also viewed the iris flower as a symbol of clear and sophisticated communication.


In China, the iris is a symbol of spring, vitality, and change. Due to the large, delicate petals that resemble butterfly wings, Chinese people sometimes refer to the iris as a butterfly.

In Ancient China, people believed that placing irises around a door or inside a home would keep negative energies away. To this day, people still view the iris as a protector and positive influence.


The Japanese people view the iris as a symbol of strength, clarity, and kindness. With so many positive meanings wrapped into one flower, it’s no surprise the iris is a popular gift. People often give irises to those who need a bit more positive energy, such as a sick loved one or a family moving into a new home.

Victorian England

According to the language of flowers, the iris has multiple meanings. In the Victorian era, people viewed it as a symbol of faith, courage, and admiration.


If you speak any French, you know that the famous fleur-de-lis translates into lily flower. However, the inspiration for this design may not have been a lily at all.

Many historians believe that the yellow iris inspired the fleur-de-lis. This checks out when you look at some historical details.

“What gives some colour of truth to this hypothesis that we already put forth, is the fact that the French or Franks, before entering Gaul itself, lived for a long time around the river named Lys in the Flanders. Nowadays, this river is still bordered with an exceptional number of irises —as many plants grow for centuries in the same places—: these irises have yellow flowers, which is not a typical feature of lilies but fleurs-de-lis. It was thus understandable that our kings, having to choose a symbolic image for what later became a coat of arms, set their minds on the iris, a flower that was common around their homes, and is also as beautiful as it was remarkable. They called it, in short, the fleur-de-lis, instead of the flower of the river of lis.” -French naturalist and lexicographer Pierre-Augustin Boissier de Sauvages

The fleur-de-lis has long been associated with French royalty. People also used it as a religious symbol, coat of arms, and simple decoration.


Like in other parts of the world, Egyptians view the iris as a symbol of protection and power. People placed these flowers on the tombs of pharaohs to pay respects and protect them as they entered into the afterlife.

Iris Meanings By Flower Color

Like many flowers, the flower color plays a role in an iris’s meaning. And with so many colors to choose from, there’s a lot to examine!


Purple flowers, including irises, have long been tied to royalty and respect. If you admire someone, a purple iris is a great way to let them know.


Like many white flowers, white irises are symbols of purity, innocence, and sympathy. They’re popular wedding flowers as well as sympathy flowers.


Bright yellow irises are symbols of friendship and deep relationships. They can also represent romantic love and commitment. A yellow iris is a perfect way to let someone in your life know you care about them, whether that’s a romantic partner or close friend.


Blue irises are symbols of faith and hope. If someone is going through a rough patch, these flowers remind them that better times are on the horizon.

What Does the Name Iris Mean?

Iris is one of the most popular floral names out there, and it’s no surprise why! The meaning behind the name Iris is similar to that tied to the flower.

Iris translates to “rainbow.” The name also means strength, brightness, and hope.

Art and Irises

Both famous and amateur artists alike have taken inspiration from the iris. Some of the artists who have featured this flower in their works include Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gough, Claude Monet, and Albrecht Durer.

Types of Irises

Just like there are many different iris meanings, there are also many different iris types! With over 200 species in the Iris genus and thousands of cultivars, you can find a type that is perfect for your garden or vase.

All of these different species fall within one of two categories: perennial irises and bulb irises. Perennial irises grow from thick underground stems known as rhizomes, and bulb irises sprout from bulbs.

Bearded Iris

All it takes is one look at this iris to see why it got its name. The wrinkled petals form the look of a shaggy beard, but don’t think these flowers are unrefined!

There are both tall and dwarf versions of bearded irises. The flowers are also available in just about every color. Some cultivars even have flowers that include multiple shades on one bloom.

Siberian Iris

Siberian irises are beardless varieties with long, thin leaves and medium-sized flowers.

Japanese Iris

These irises have large, beardless blooms that have a bit of a flattened look. They can survive in moist areas, so they are a popular choice near water gardens and ponds.

Dutch Iris

These irises have a classic iris shape with three thin upright petals and three larger downturned petals. They come in classic iris colors including yellow, purple, and white.

Harlequin Blueflag Iris

This blue iris is native to the Northeastern United States. It’s commonly found in wetlands, but it can grow in drier areas as well.

More Flower Meanings

Now that you know all about the meaning behind the iris, go ahead and check out some of the symbolism of other flowers. Fall is the perfect time to learn about chrysanthemum meanings and there’s never a wrong time to learn about hydrangea symbolism. Next time you’re looking for a happy birthday bouquet or want to send a flower arrangement just because, the beautiful iris deserves consideration.

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