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Iris fulva

Copper Iris

Native to North America


FIRST IMPRESSIONS:  Iris fulva is an upright clumping perennial wildflower.  A network of underground rhizomes produces distinctive narrow pointed leaves. The foliage is reminiscent of cat tails and is as lovely when reflected in the water. In spring, plants are topped by unique reddish or terra-cotta colored irises. This wild red iris makes quite a statement in sunny moist or wet sites.

HABITAT & HARDINESS:  Iris fulva is native from Ohio to Georgia and west to Missouri and Texas.  The greatest distribution is in the Mississippi River valley from Louisiana to Ohio.

This distinctive iris is indigenous to freshwater marshes, bayous, creek banks, pine savannas, cypress swamps, soggy pastures, ditches and wetlands. 

Plants are hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:  Iris fulva originates from slender greenish rhizomes. The rhizomes are shallow and they quickly branch to form 2’ clumps. 

Foliage is 18-30” tall and about 1” wide.  Leaves overlap at the base and fold around the adjacent leaf to form a flat fan-like arrangement. The blade tips bend in a delicate arch.

Plants defoliate during summer and produce a new crop of leaves at the end of the season.  The leaves are usually evergreen.    

In spring plants produce irises that are the color of reduced copper.  The blooms are 3-4” across and can be tinted in shades of terra-cotta, deep red or bronze. 

The blooms are beardless and crestless and are slightly fragrant.  Each flower has 3 drooping falls and 3 drooping standards. 

Six angled capsules form after flowering.  The seeds are covered in a corky deposit that allows them to distribute by floating in water.

Plants are 2-3’ tall with a 1-2’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS:  Iris fulva grows best in sites with 6 or more hours of sun a day.  Plants thrive in moist or wet acidic soils that are high in organic matter.

This versatile wildflower prospers in clay and mucky soils, thrives in up to 6” of standing water and tolerates short periods of drought. 

Plants appreciate a layer of mulch to keep the shallow rhizomes from sunburning.  An application of organic fertilizer is welcome as growth begins in fall and spring.

This species is pest resistant and foliage is unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.

LANDSCAPE USES:  Iris fulva is an excellent Accent for a Water Garden or Stormwater Detention Basin.  Small Groups or Masses of plants can provide Attractive Foliage, showy Spring Flowers, Cut Flowers and Erosion Control to wet sunny sites.  This species is a valuable component of Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders, Rain Gardens and Wildlife Gardens

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS:  Iris fulva mingles cheerfully with Asclepias incarnata, Carex muskingumensis, Hibiscus moscheutos or Eupatorium coelestinum,

Iris virginica could be substituted in some wet garden situations.

TRIVIA:  This is one of the 5 Louisiana iris species that “parent” multitudes of Louisiana iris cultivars.  Iris fulva is the most cold hardy of the 5 but it flowers poorly and generally declines in areas with cool summers.

In 2004, Iris fulva received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Flowers are visited by butterflies and are pollinated by hummingbirds.

Iris fulva was first collected in 1811 on the banks of the Mississippi River near New Orleans.


2-3 Feet

USDA Hardiness Zone:


Bloom Color:


Iris fulva Characteristics

Attracts Wildlife

  • Butterflies
  • Pollinators
  • Hummingbirds


  • Naturalizing
  • East-Coast Native
  • Clay Soil
  • Rain Garden
  • Bog


  • Full Sun to Partial Shade

Deer Resistant

  • Deer Resistant

Flowering Months

  • June
  • May

Foliage Color

  • Green

Growth Rate

  • Fast

Season of Interest (Foliage)

  • Summer
  • Spring

Soil Moisture Preference

  • Wet to Moist

Plants that work well with Iris fulva ''

Mistflower, hardy ageratum Mistflower, hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum)