Stinking iris – info, planting, care and tips

Stinking iris (Iris foetidissima)
Stinking iris (Iris foetidissima)

Stinking iris is a robust iris species with luminous seed heads, which enriches near-natural plantings in open spaces or along the edges of trees and shrubs.

Profile of stinking iris:

Scientific name: Iris foetidissima

Plant family: iris family (Iridaceae)

Other names: stinking gladwin, gladdon, Gladwin iris, roast-beef plant

Sowing time: spring

Planting time: spring or between August and October

Flowering period: June

Location: sunny to partially shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, moderately nutritious

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flowerbeds, flower bouquets, group planting, underplanting, borders, flower garden, natural garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 7 (-15 °C / +5 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: –

Plant characteristics and classification of stinking iris

Plant order, origin and occurrence of stinking iris

The stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) is naturally widespread in southwestern Europe. It grows in light forests, wooded areas and on the coasts of England, Ireland, France to North Africa, Italy and Greece. It belongs to the large genus of Iris and to the iris family (Iridaceae). Its Latin addition to the species name “foetidissima” means “stinky” and refers to the foul odor that its leaves or other parts of the plant emit when they are crushed or rubbed. Like all irises, it is considered poisonous.

Characteristics of stinking iris


Stinking iris is a perennial that has an underground rhizome. From this rhizome it produces its leaves and flower stems. The height of its dense clumps is about 60 centimeters (24 in).


The stinking iris has the distinctive, sword-shaped and tautly upright leaves typical of this genus. They are usually wintergreen and thus a valuable focal point in the winterly garden.


The characteristic iris flowers have a blurred blue color with a dull yellow tinge in the center. They usually bloom one after the other on the stems in June.


While the flower of Iris foetidissima is rather inconspicuous, its capsule fruits are a real eye-catcher. When they tear at the seam, they reveal their coral-red round seeds. A capsule grows to a length of 5 to 8 centimeters (2 to 3.2 in) and stays in place until winter.

Stinking iris – cultivation and care


Stinking iris is very suitable for partially shady areas, but also tolerates sunny places well.


The soil requirements of Iris foetidissima are relatively unspecific, it grows in both dry and fresh soils. A sandy-clayey subsoil with good permeability is ideal.


Bare-rooted iris foetidissima is best planted between August and October or in spring, while potted iris can be planted practically all season. Please note that the upper third of the rhizome, which is planted flat, should still be looking out of the soil. Heavy soils must be made more permeable with sand or gravel. It is recommended to plant the stinking iris in smaller groups of at least three plants, about 10 specimens per square meter (10 sq ft).


The wilting flowers of stinking iris should be allowed to ripen on the stem, so that one can enjoy their striking fruit decoration. A dose of compost in spring stimulates the growth.


To maintain the vitality of Iris foetidissima, it helps to divide its rootstock for rejuvenation in late summer when flowering is slowing down.


Iris foetidissima can be propagated by seed or division.

Diseases and pests

The plant is quite healthy, but in some locations voles can be dangerous to its rhizome.


It is not very hardy. Hence, some brushwood should be placed on it, to protect it from severe frosts.

Use in the garden

The stinking iris feels comfortable in open spaces with natural character or at the edge of a wood and under light woods. Suitable partners are ornamental grasses, ferns and ornamental perennials like hostas. The dried seed stems are often used in floristry.


Iris foetidissima ‘Citrina’ is characterized by a yellow, brownish flower. The variety ‘Variegata’ forms leaves with an elegant creamy stripe.

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