Iris foetidissima L. - Stinking Iris

Phylum: Anthophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Asparagales - Family: Iridaceae

The flower of Stinking Iris


The plant grows to around 60 cm in height, and the dull mauve and fawn flowers are 7 to 8 cm wide.

Stinking IOris, North Wales

The flowers themselves are beautufully veined but in other respects far from spectacular; however, Stinking Iris steps up a gear during autumn, when its seed capsules open to reveal striking red-orange berries that cling to the dead flower stems all through the winter. The fruit capsules are oblong and three-sided.


This impressive monocot is locally common in southern England, Wales and in the south-eastern part of Ireland, where it blooms from May until July. It is one of just two Iris species native to Britain; the other is Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus.


Stinking Iris can be found in scrub and woodland areas, but in Wales the best place to see this is to head for the sand dunes, both in south west Wales and in North Wales, where it is fairly easy to find. Stinking Iris favours calcareous substrates, and sand dunes containing a high proportion of crushed shells provide an ideal habitat.

Seedpods of Stinking Iris

Above: The large fruit capsules of Stinking Iris

Flowering times

In Britain and Ireland Stinking Iris can usually be seen in flower between May and July.


The genus name Iris comes from Latin and means 'rainbow', while the specific epither foetidissima means 'most fetid' (smelly) and is a reference not to the scent of the flowers but to then smell of the crushed leaves.

English common names

Stinking Iris, Scarlet-berry Iris, Gladdon, Gladwin Iris, Roast-beef Plant, and Stinking Gladwin - some of this plant's common names come from the smell of the sword-shaped leaves when they are crushed or bruised - a smell that is said to resemble rotten raw beef.

Ripe seedpods of Stinking Iris

Above: Ripe seeds of Stinking Iris, Llandudno, North Wales

Pictures on this page were taken in Kenfig National Nature Reserve in South Wales and on the Wales Coast Path in North Wales.

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