Iris Identification: A Puzzle and a Problem

A short time ago I was asked if I could identify an iris. When I looked at the picture I thought “Wow, this is one I would love to grow also.” My favorite colors are brown and blue so I was eager to find the answer.

 Unknown iris

One of the first steps I took was to complete a reverse image search in Google Images. It is simple. You go to and click on the camera icon in the search box.  A screen will open to search by image. I chose the option to upload the image I saved.

The camera icon is shown above the arrow

Instantly Google Images gives you the 30 best matches. On my first try the image did not appear and the choices were interesting but barely similar. But I tried again later and to my delight the exact image appeared as the first choice.

There several things to try next and each might head me in a different direction.  So I looked at the image Google had chosen at the top of the page and clicked on it. I noted that below that top image it noted there were 264 pages that featured this image.

Google Image search results

When I clicked on the search result, Google displayed each result for the image with the URL and title. Almost all the pages featuring this image were ads for various irises (most of which had no relation at all to the iris of interest.) But one search result caught my eye.

It was Dave’s Garden and appeared to have a cultivar name attached. I clicked on the image and the Dave’s Garden page came up with a description for an intermediate iris named ‘Wrong Song.'  At last, I had a name!

Just to be sure, I searched for ‘Wrong Song’ in the Iris Encyclopedia, a wiki of the American Iris Society.

This wiki is a comprehensive encyclopedic source of iris information and is curated by persons who serve as docents for iris-specific content.

To my consternation, an iris with a very different appearance appeared in the encyclopedia entry for 'Wrong Song.' 

Iris 'Wrong Song' in the Iris Encyclopedia

The shape and color patterning were very close, but it seemed obvious that the image I was trying to identify had been colorized and photo-shopped to appear very different. My mind started thinking about the 264 internet pages that were using this altered picture.

Although many were just using it as a generic iris picture, others were terribly misrepresenting this iris ‘Wrong Song.’ My heart started to hurt. You see, this isn't the first time people have been singing the wrong song about an iris.

When the American Iris Society (AIS) was formed in the 1920s, one of its main goals was to clear up iris identification. Today the central mission of the AIS is to register irises

Registration provides a unique name for an iris and is accompanied by an official description. The goal is to prevent two different irises from having the same name or for any one iris to be given several names making communication difficult.

It took two decades of work in the nineteen twenties and thirties to straighten out the many names that had been casually used for irises.

The AIS had to plant test gardens and consult historical descriptions to determine which names were the most legitimate for which irises. It is discouraging to discover two irises on the internet today with the same name.

One is the accurate registered iris, and the other is a mythical, colorized-version of the original.

There are a number of iris photos that have been colorized and published on the internet. Some, like the one I searched for, are quite beautiful.

However, we should avoid naming a heavily-altered photo using the name of the iris from which it was derived. Someone purchasing an iris by this name may suffer sadness when the iris does not live up to their expectations.