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(Iris family)


Members of this moderately large family of 800 species in 60 genera are found in tropical and temperate regions. The principal centres of distribution are southern Africa and tropical America.

[Summary yet to be added]

Aristea abyssinica Pax
[syns Aristea alata subsp. abyssinica Weim., Aristea cognata N.E.Br. ex Weim., Aristea johnstoniana Rendle, Aristea tayloriana Rendle]
Blue-Eyed Grass, Miniature Iris

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Crocus sativus L.
[syns Crocus autumnalis Sm., Crocus officinalis Honck.]
Autumn Crocus, Common Saffron Plant, Saffron Crocus

Pammel (1911), who cited Bernhard-Smith (1905), listed Crocus sativus as an irritant poison. As also suggested by Schmidt et al. (2007), it is likely that these authors confused Crocus sativus with Colchicum autumnale L. (fam. Colchicaceae), the meadow saffron, which is also known as autumn crocus.

The vivid red stigmas from the flowers provide the culinary spice known as saffron, which is used as a seasoning and colouring agent. It was formerly included in US, British, and other Pharmacopoeias as a colouring agent (Todd 1967) but also has a history of medicinal use by medieval and earlier physicians (Schmidt et al. 2007), which has prompted a good deal of research into the biological activities and potential clinical applications of crocus and its constituents (see Ulbricht et al. 2011, Abd Razak et al. 2017).

In a study of 110 saffron workers in India, 83 were found to have chronic hand eczema, 11 had eczema on the hands and forearms, and 6 had eczema on the face, 4 of whom also had hand eczema (Hassan et al. 2015). Patch testing was carried out with an Indian standard series, a plant series, and with acetone extracts prepared from saffron corms and saffron flower parts (petal, pistil, stamen). Of 52 positive reactions, 18 were observed to different parts of the saffron crocus, reactions to the corm being the most common (9 reactions), followed by stigma (6 reactions), anther (2 reactions), and sepals/petals (1 reaction). Villas Martínez et al. (2007) had earlier described a single case of occupational airborne contact dermatitis from saffron crocus bulbs [sic; = corms] in a 72-year-old woman who had been referred for evaluation of eczematous and erythematous lesions on the dorsa of the hands, forearm, neck, face (eyelids and cheeks), and inframammary region for over 17 years, associated with cleaning saffron corms before replanting them. A patch test with "saffron bulbs" [no further detail provided] showed strongly positive reactions on days 2 & 4, with no reactions seen in 10 controls.

Pereira (1842) and Remington et al. (1918) noted that in domestic practice, saffron tea has occasionally been used in exanthematous diseases to promote the eruption. A 21-year-old atopic farmer with mild atopic dermatitis since the age of 10 years; oral allergy syndrome to apple, nuts, and spinach; and perennial allergic asthma for 1 year was referred for allergologic investigations because he developed a severe anaphylactic reaction with violent abdominal cramps, laryngeal edema, and generalized urticaria a few minutes after a meal of saffron rice and mushrooms. Scratch tests performed with the ingredients of the risotto meal were strongly positive only for saffron (Wüthrich et al. 1997).

Saffron has undergone extensive phytochemical investigation (see Mykhailenko et al. 2019). Characteristic components of saffron are α-crocin together with various carotenoids, which are responsible for the golden yellow-orange colour; picrocrocin (a monoterpene glucoside precursor of safranal), which is responsible for the bitter taste; and safranal (a monoterpene), which is the major aromatic component (Srivastava et al. 2010).

Both safranal and crocin have been shown to have free radical scavenging activity in the diphenylpicrylhydrazyl [DPPH] assay (Assimopoulou et al. 2005); radical-scavenging antioxidant activity is a chemical characteristic that is believed to confer contact allergenic potential (see Schmidt 2007). And in the context of risk assessment of fragrances used in cosmetic products, safranal has been categorised as a skin sensitiser with moderate potency on the basis of in vivo mouse local lymph node assay data, the in vitro induction of antioxidant response element dependent gene assays, and in other systems (Roberts et al. 2007, Natsch & Emter 2008, Schultz et al. 2009, Avonto et al. 2015). However, results from patch testing with these substances in patients presenting with dermatitis attributable to saffron have yet to be reported.

[Safranal, Crocin]

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Gladiolus L.

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gladiolus communis L.
[syn. Gladiolus reuteri Boiss.]
Cornflag, Eastern Gladiolus

Pammel (1911) listed this species as having irritant properties.

Gladiolus italicus Mill.
[syns Gladiolus guepinii K.Koch, Gladiolus ludovicae Jan ex Bertol., Gladiolus segetum Ker Gawl.]
Italian Gladiolus

Pammel (1911) listed Gladiolus segetum as having irritant properties.

Iris Tourn. ex L.

Contact dermatitis from Iris species was reported by Shelmire (1940); Hjorth (1961) observed a patient who was contact sensitive to a blue iris. A patch test to a petal of the blue iris was positive, but negative to the green leaf. Patch tests to the petal and green leaf of a yellow iris were both negative. The patient was also contact sensitive to Rosa (fam. Rosaceae).

Dioscorides in the 1st Century A.D. noted that beating the plants provoked sneezing (Gunther 1959).

Iris ensata Thunb.
[syns Iris graminea Thunb., Iris kaempferi Siebold ex Lem., Limniris ensata Rodion.]
Beaked Iris, Japanese Iris, Japanese Water Iris

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Iris florentina L.
[syns Iris albicans Lange, Iris × germanica subsp. albicans O.Bolòs & Vigo, Iris officinalis Salisb.]
Fleur de Lys, Florentine Orris, Orris, Sweet Flower-de-Luce, White Flag, Violenwurzel

The dried rhizome of this and other Iris species provides orris root which smells of violets (Viola, fam. Violaceae) and which yields essence of violets used in perfumery.

Application of Iris florentina to healthy skin has been reported to produce redness, slight burning, eczematoid and urticarial eruptions (Piffard 1881).

The root was formerly inserted into wounds as "issue peas", and produced eczematoid and urticarial eruptions (White 1887). "Violet water" produced dermatitis on the chest of a girl; the solution has a strong odour of orris root which was the usual substitute for the genuine perfume of violets in such preparations (White 1889). Ramirez & Eller (1930) reported three cases of dermatitis from orris root. Glossitis and gingivitis resulted from a dentifrice which contained orris root (Winter 1948). Preparations containing orris root can cause pustular conjunctivitis and recurrent corneal ulceration (Duke-Elder 1965, Duke-Elder & MacFaul 1972b). Orris root in adhesive plasters has also caused dermatitis (DeWolf 1931).

Orris root was said to be allergenic for atopic dermatitis (Coca et al. 1931), and to produce vasomotor rhinitis (King 1926), coryza, asthma, and skin eruptions (Greenberg & Lester 1954, Klarmann 1958).

Oil of orris root is derived from orris root. Concrete of orris root was said to be a common allergen (Greenberg & Lester 1954). Orris root in raw form, which formerly accounted for many allergic reactions, has been replaced by a refined orris root oil which is considered to be non-reactive (Burks 1962).

Iris foetidissima L.
[syns Chamaeiris foetidissima Medik., Iris foetida Thunb., Xiphion foetidissimum Parl.]
Gladdon, Stinking Gladwin, Stinking Iris

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Iris × germanica L. (pro sp.)
[syns Iris florentina hort., Iris × germanica var. florentina Dykes, Iris × mesopotamica Dykes, Iris × neglecta Hornem., Iris × pallida Ten., Iris × sambucina L., etc.]
Bearded Iris, Common Iris, Flag Iris, Flag Lily, Fleur de Lys, German Flag Iris, Orris

Originally recognised as a distinct species by Linnaeus, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and other authorities now regard this taxon as being of hybrid origin, its parentage being identified as Iris pallida Lam. × Iris variegata L. However, the bearded irises comprise more than just a hybrid swarm originating from the two presumed progenitor species. Complex intercrossing between cultivars and/or eight or more related species is increasing the number of named bearded iris cultivars in the horticultural trade year after year (Guo et al. 2006, Li et al. 2020). The National Gardening Association, in February 2021, included 67,943 irises (i.e. species and cultivars) in its Plants Database. Whilst the parentage of cultivars created for the horticutural trade by plant breeders has in recent times been documented, parentage of older varieties / cultivars is often obscure. Accordingly, plant breeders generally omit the species name germanica when naming new bearded iris cultivars, using a cultivar name in place of the specific epithet.

Nomenclatural confusion pervades the bearded iris literature. For example, the white-flowered bearded iris originally named Iris germanica L. var. florentina Dykes has been confused with other white-flowered irises including Iris alba Savi and Iris florentina L. (syn. Iris albicans Lange) (Martini & Viciani 2018).

Aplin (1976), citing Everist (1974), referred to reports indicating that Iris germanica is acrid and irritant and capable of causing gastro-enteritis. These authors may have obtained their information from Pammel (1911) who in turn cited Cornevin (1893). Cornevin drew particular attention to the acrid, purgative, emetic, and poisonous properties of "Iris pseudo-acorus," adding that Iris germanica shared these properties, but to a lesser extent. No mention was made of skin irritant effects.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Iris pallida Lam.
[syn. Iris × germanica subsp. pallida O.Bolòs & Vigo]
Dalmatian Iris, Fragrant-Root Iris, Orris, Pale Flag, Sweet Iris, Bleiche Schwertlilie

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Iris prismatica Pursh ex Ker Gawl.
[syn. Iris carolina Radius]
Poison Flag, Slender Blue Flag, Slender Blue Iris

Pammel (1911), citing Lyons (1907), included this species in a list of irritant poisons, but was possibly referring to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects.

Iris pseudacorus L.
[syns Iris bastardii Boreau, Limniris pseudacorus Fuss, Moraea candolleana Spreng., etc.]
False Sweet Flag, Flag Iris, Sword Flag, Yellow Flag, Iris Jaune, Sumpf-Schwertlilie

The seeds [incorrectly identified as tiger lily seeds] of this plant, made into a bracelet, caused dermatitis of the wrist, which later spread to the arms and face. Patch tests to the seed and leaf produced positive reactions. Control tests with the seeds were negative (Calnan 1970b).

Iris reticulata M.Bieb.
[syns Iridodictyum reticulatum Rodion., Xiphion reticulatum Klatt]
Dwarf Iris, Early Bulbous Iris, Netted Iris, Reticulated Iris, Winter Iris

This species has been described as an irritant poison (Pammel 1911, Bernhard-Smith 1923). Although these records seemingly refer to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects, many of the other irritant poisons listed by these authors are well-known skin irritants.

Iris sibirica L.
[syns Iris acuta Willd., Iris flexuosa Murray, Iris pratensis Lam.]
Siberian Iris, Sibirische Schwertlilie

Pammel (1911), citing Cornevin (1887), included this species in a list of irritant poisons, but was possibly referring to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects.

Iris variegata L.
[syns Iris flavescens Redouté, Iris reginae Horvat & M.D.Horvat]
Hungarian Iris, Bunte Schwertlilie

Pammel (1911), citing an earlier author, included this species in a list of irritant poisons, but was possibly referring to gastro-intestinal rather than dermatologic effects.

Iris versicolor L.
[syns Iris caurina Herb. ex Hook., Xiphion versicolor Alef.]
Blue Flag, Flag Lily, Harlequin Blue Flag, Poison Flag, Purple Iris, Snake Lily, Water Flag, American Flower-de-Luce, Iris Varié, Amerikanischer Schwertel

A sensitising agent is present in the rootstock and other parts of the plant (Muenscher 1951, McCord 1962).

Tritonia gladiolaris Goldblatt & J.C.Manning
[syns Gladiolus lineatus Salisb., Ixia gladiolaris Lam., Tritonia lineata Ker Gawl.]
Lined Tritonia, Yellow Tritonia

[Information available but not yet included in database]


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  • [Others yet to be added]

Richard J. Schmidt

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