The genus of this easy-to-stylize flower has nearly 300 varieties that bloom in many colors—thus its name came from Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, who linked heaven and earth. In many cultures, the iris has symbolized luck, and also friendship and the promise of love.
It’s often said that the flower’s three upright petals stand for faith, valor, and wisdom. In Christian symbolism, the blade-like leaves suggest the sorrows that pierced Mother Mary’s heart.
In Chinese, the word for iris means “purple butterfly,” and the flower is associated with the softness of early summer. Despite its name, the fleur-de-lys (“flower of the lily”) is clearly derived from an iris flower, and has been associated with the French monarchy and France since the Middle Ages.
Related to aquatic motifs such as the dragonfly and carp (koi), the iris was often used as a decorative design in the Aesthetic, Art Nouveau, and Arts & Crafts movements; the fascination with water motifs came from the influence of Japanese design on European decorative arts after the reopening of trade in 1854.