Plutarch tells us that the meaning of the word Iris is the eye of heaven. In ancient mythology Iris was the messenger of Juno, and the goddess of the rainbow, on the arch of which she was wont to descend when despatched by the queen of heaven with a message to earth,—hence, in the language of flowers, the Iris has been chosen to symbolize a message. The ancients made it emblematical of eloquence. Virgil says,— *
" Iris, on saffron wings arrayed with dew Of various colours, through the sunbeams flew."
And the beautiful flower is not less variegated or brilliant than the fair deity whose name it bears.
Of this plant there are various kinds, some low, and some tall, but all of them beautiful from the delicacy of their colour. That of Persia is low, with delicate blue and violet blossoms. The Chalcedonian Iris is taller, and distinguished by the great size and magnificence of its flower, which is bluish-purple, striped with white. The English Iris is of still greater height, with flowers double the size of the former.
Some species of this plant have large bulbous roots, and many of the African kinds constitute a large portion of the food of the Hottentots. They are eaten either roasted, boiled, or stewed with milk, and are said to be both palatable and nourishing. But it seems to be almost an insult to the Iris to descend from the contemplation of the beauteous colours of its flower, connected as they are witli the prismatic bow of heaven and the romantic legends of ancient mythology, to the subject of stewing and devouring its bulbous roots. Pardon, Flora, our mingling grosser fact thus rudely with thine airy wreath of fiction ! The Iris is ever regarded as the messenger of good tidings,—as the rainbow is the bearer of a message of continued mercy from God to man.
" Were not thy spirit purified to look Through all things beautiful to God and heaven, These gentle readings from love's holy book Had not been given.
" Were thine eye sealed to those sweet lessons taught In dim oracles of leaf and tree, I had not made them messengers of thought. Dear friend, to thee.