by Stephen Mifsud
   20 Apr 2024      ()
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Iris pseudopumila   (Southern Dwarf Iris)

Iris pseudopumila  (IRIDACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
Species Images External Links
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Profile Date Dec-2006 (taxon update: Dec-2006)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (2022). Iris pseudopumila - datasheet created on Dec-2006. Retrieved from on 20-Apr-2024


Species name :

Iris pseudopumila  Tineo

Authority :

Vincenzo Tineo, Italy, (1791 - 1856)

Synonyms :
(basionym or principal syn.)

Iris lutescens Guss.
Full list of synonyms : [Euro+Med] [PlantList] [IPNI] [POWO] [Catalogue of Life] []

Plant Family :

Iridaceae  Juss.
(Iris Family)

English name(s) :

Southern Dwarf Iris, Dwarf Bearded Iris

Maltese name(s) :


Status for Malta :

Subendemic. Found in Malta and neighbouring territories such as in Sicily, Lampedusa, Pantelleria, and other islands.

Name Derivation :

Iris: Greek word for rainbow alluding to the wide variety of colours that the flowers of this genus possess. Iris was also the goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology. Further info: [1] [2] [3]. (Greek origin ); 2 = Rainbow coloured, referring to the wide variety of flower colours found among the many species; Iris was the Greek goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology. (Greek origin );
pseudopumila: Reference to close resemblance to the species Iris pumila where the connotation pseudo , meaning false, is used to indicate that it looks but is not that plant. (Latin origin ); 2 = Latin. ( origin );

Remarks :

Morphology and structure



Growth Form





Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)








Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin




Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals


Deep violet, pale yellow or cream

There are 3 type of flower-forms with the colours mentioned above. The violet form is the most common in Malta.


They are the inner perianth segments which are found upright and sometimes referred to as the 'standards'.


They are the outer perianth segments which are found drooping down, conspicuous and sometimes referred to as the 'falls'.


  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







The upright tepals are often pleated and quite large. The drooping tepals have a central stripe of indigo bristles (=beard) and further decorated by having azebra-like pattern at their inner portion and a blackened patch towards the tip. Over the beard there is a petaloid style with lacerated lobes at its tip. In between this and the beard there is a pair of indigo stamens.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes



A particular delicate sweet scent is given off, especially in the morning.

8-10cm across

Light blue or indigo




No. Per Fruit







They have a prominent wrinkled texture.


Dark Brown


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Straw Colour

Initially the fruit is pale green, which dries and turns to straw colour when seeds are ripe.



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

GEOPHYTE (bearing underground bulbs, rhizomes, stolons, etc.)


Garigue and Steppe.



Localities in Malta:

Location will remain undisclosed to protect the plant from picking.

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Protected by law: Schedule III and VI of [S.L. 549.44] (strictly protected species)

Red List 1989:

Threatened status for the Maltese Islands and has been listed in the Red Data Book (1st ed.)


This is one of the few Irises that are found on the Maltese islands, and like many of them, it is a rather rare plant; restricted to small patches around very few garigues of the Maltese islands. The monocot plant consists of an underground rhizome, 10-20cm long, that produces evergreen leaves, and in January-February it forms one flowering stalk called scape. There are 3 types or variations of the plant, one that makes deep violet flowers (most common type), another that produces pale yellow flowers, and one which make white or cream flowers (rare).

The leaves grow directly from the rhizome and form a V-shaped arrangement, where the younger leaf envelopes out from the one beneath. Leaves can be described as sword shaped (long and gradually tapering) with a pointed or sometimes blunt tip. On average they are 20cm long and 2.5cm wide. The margin is entire and the lamina is glabrous with parallel venation.

The plant forms a large, solitary and terminal flower. The inferior ovary and a large portion of the flower tube are covered by the spathe - a sheathing bract-like structure. The flower tube is 3 to 5 times longer than the ovary. Each flower has six non-identical tepals. The 3 outer tepals are known as falls and are found drooping down, while the other 3 inner tepals - known as standards - are erect and upright. The standards (70mm x 35mm) are pleated but not decorated. On the contrary, the falls (75mm x 30mm) are decorated by a zebra-like pattern at its inner end and edges which gradually fades out towards the tip. Furthermore, each fall has a large dark blob at the outer region and additionally it has an interesting central band of indigo bristles which is referred to as the beard. The beard is about 4cm long and 7mm wide. The indigo bristles tend to have a greyish or black tip, while they get whiter towards the inner end of the tepal.

There is a set of 3 styles and as in many irises, they have a unique showy structure. In this species, each style has the shape of a petal (hence called as a petaloid style) and is located just over each fall tepal. It measures 10mm across and about 35mm long. It consists of 2 joined lips of different lengths and colour. The shorter lip is lilac and generally smooth. The longer lip is purple-violet and has 2 triangular lobes at its upper end which have a lacerated margin. The lobes start more or less at the rim of the shorter lip. The stigma is located somewhere at the base and between the lobes of the upper lip.

There are 3 stamens, each being found sandwiched between the petaloid style and the fall tepal. The stamens have a pair of indigo pod-like anthers that are about 15mm long and produce light blue pollen.

After fertilization, the flower tepals shrivel and fall, while the ovary develops into a cylindrical/oval fruit capsule. This produces many black seeds, about 3mm across which are liberated when the capsule splits open.

Information, uses and other details

Nativity and distribution

The distributional range of this plant according to  [WWW-26] is restricted only to South Italy (Puglia), Sicily and former Yugoslavia, though in a recent article, it was stated that the species in Croatia (formerely Yogoslavia) are not Iris pseudopumila. Therefore the species is further restricted as a sub-endemic to South Italy, Sicily and Malta. Two other sources specifically state that it is an endemic to Southern Apulia and Sicily  [WWW-84, WWW-47]. Apulia is a region in the south of Italy. It is at the end of the Italian peninsula on the eastern side, facing Albania and Greece. In Apulia, it is found on the 'Murge' and the 'Gargano'.   [WWW-47]

 [WWW-84, WWW-47] do not mention that Iris pseudopumila is found in Yugoslavia, while  [WWW-84] gives an indication by stating that from its georaphic position, Apulia is a kind of bridge toward the Balkans, and several species of plants are common between the two coasts.

Apulia favours the typical Mediterranean climate, but being the longest region of Italy with 784 KM of coasts, several microclimates are found and they range from zones 8 to 10. The population of Apulia are commonly of the yellow flower form, while in Sicily blue-violet and yellow forms are present with even intermediate specimens.  [WWW-84]


The iris flower is of special interest as an example of the relation between flowering plants and pollinating insects. The shape of the flower and the position of the pollen-receiving and stigmatic surfaces on the outer petals form a landing-stage for a flying insect, which in probing the perianth for nectar, will first come in contact of perianth, three with the stigmatic stamens in one whorl surface which is borne and an ovary formed of three carpels. The shelf-like transverse projection on the inner whorl under side of the stamens, which is beneath the over-arching style arm below the stigma, so that the insect comes in contact with its pollen-covered surface only after passing the stigma, while in backing out of the flower it will come in contact only with the non-receptive lower face of the stigma. Thus, an insect bearing pollen from one flower, will in entering a second, deposit the pollen on the stigma, while in backing out of a flower, the pollen which it bears will not be rubbed off on the stigma of the same flower.  [WWW-60]

Closely related species

There is another Iris species which is very similar and so can be confused with Iris pseudopumila. Iris chamaeiris has more or less the same leaf and flower morphology as I. pseudopumila and they can be distinguished from each other as described in the following table:  [WWW-47]

Feature I. pseudopumila I. chamaeiris
Length of flower tube compared with length of ovary Tube length 3-5 times that of the ovary Tube length 2 times that of the ovary
Number of flowers per plant Always 1 flower. 1,2 or 3 flowers.
Spathe size Covers completely the flower tube. Covers partially the flower tube.

Other short notes

Iris pseudopumila is thought to be the ancestral form of all the bearded Iris.  [WWW-84]

In Italy this Iris flowers between March and May  [WWW-47], while in Malta it does this between Jan and Mar.  [SM]

Since of its short flowering stalk, the use as an ornamental cut flower is not much practiced in South Italy. The ones sold and which look to be the violet form of Iris pseudopumila are probably cultivated I. germanica.  [WWW-47]

Strangely enough, this plant is not included in the book by Haslam et al. "A flora of the Maltese islands"  [332] which reports almost all flora up to 1977 (when the book was republished). The Iris species listed in this book are: I. chinesis, I. fimbriata, I. foetidissima, I. germanica. I. pallida, I.pseudacorus, I. sicula, I. sisyrinchium, I. tectorum and I. xiphium. Despite its conspicuous flowers, Iris pseudopumila was recorded for the first time from Malta in 1976 by Wayfarer in the Naturalist. He gives the populations of Gozo, West Malta and Selmun (originally found in 1970).  [SM]

This plant is listed amongst the protected flora of the Maltese Islands according to the official document: LN257.2003, Environment Protection Act  [376]. In this profile, no flowers where picked to be scanned in the studio and annotation images where done on the flowers in situ.  [SM]

Personal Observations

New populations of Iris pseudopumila in Malta
During the research field work for this website, I have discovered a couple of populations of the subendemic species Iris pseudopumilla that have never been recorded in the Maltese flora. One of the populations was found in October 2007 and consisted of a patch of about 4m across in Dingli, producing violet flowers. Another smaller population was found some 10-15m away. The plants were growing very close to each other forming a dense mat. This population is the southern-most population in Malta, and therefore also in the Mediterranean distribution [SM]

Another population was found in the Northern part of Malta in May 2007 and it occupies an area of about 16m by 10m. The plants are found scattered rather than close to each other. The great news about this population is that the flowers are cream(yellow) with violet tepals, a form which is much more rare than the violet one for this species in Malta. This population is larger from the other population in mainland Malta that resides at a cliff top at the western area of Malta (which seems to be decreasing over time). A larger population of the yellow form is located in Gozo. Later in 2008, another population was found in the North part of Malta, about 600-800m away from the yellow flower-form population. This population consisted of 5 sub populaions scattered in an area of about 100m, the largest population being about 15m in size. The flowers of this population were this time violet. Hence this site contains both flower forms in less than 1km distance. [SM]

I discovered two other populations in 2008, one in Bingemma and one in Bahrija (flower form still unknown to date and cannot exclude I. florentina). Another population with violet flowers was recorded by Steven Bonello from Mosta in 2007 and was found close to the Victoria Lines. [SM]

Finally, I have the last piece of news regarding I. pseudopumila in Malta. A couple of years ago, a tourist had emailed me about an Iris from south of Gozo. I did not give it much weight at that time, until I started to study this species in 2007. I was later given more info about this population (apparentely found by Shirley Anne Mifsud in 2000, but still to confirm) which when originally found, it was not in flower. So far no one yet knew which flower form this population belonged. I went to search the population in Feb 2009, and was found to be a rather small population less than 2m across. The great news was that the flower form was pure yellow (without any violet patch on the down tepal) and this makes it as the first record of this form in the Maltese Islands. Photos in the photogallery below. [SM]

On comparing the flower forms on the Maltese islands, it seems that the violet flower form in Gozo differs from the rest in being more pale. The 3 populations of the varigated yellow form are not all similar either, and the popualtion at the west side of Malta has the maroon patch on the down tepal distinctly fainter, with a more broad yellow margin.
Differences between the varigated yellow and violet forms.
From my examinations of the populations of Iris pseudopumila in Malta, I have observed 2 slight differences between the yellow and violet form when the plants are without flowers. Apart from the different colours, the flowers between the two varieties show certain differences, which might not essentially be of botanical importance, but I think it is worth to pointing them out. Since this observation was made on 3 different populations of the violet form, and 3 populations of the yellow one, the observation should be plausible. The side by side flower comparison where between the population at Mistra/Selmun for the violet one, and the population at the cliff top at the West coastal area for the yellow form. The following different characteristics were observed: [SM]

Feature Violet flower form Yellow flower form
General Plant Size Large; with largest leaves in a population reaching about 30cm in length and 2.6cm in width. Smaller; with largest leaves in a population reaching about 22cm in length and 1.9cm in width.
Size of Corolla Large; average length of petals from corolla tube to tip is 70mm, average length of beard 35mm Smaller; average length of petals from corolla tube to tip is 50mm, average length of beard 28mm
Flower Tube and Ovary Flower tube about 5.5cm; Ovary 3.0cm Flower tube about 4.0cm; Ovary 1.5cm
Flower fragrance Average to mild sweet scented. Strongly scented, somehow different (more 'delicate') from the violet variety.
Flowering time Late January to mid March Flowers start few weeks earlier, typically beginning or mid January till end February.

Due to these marked differences one may ask if the yellow form is different at least at the subspecies rank from the violet form and so perhaps the latter has more endemic value. Further comparison study of our yellow-flower form with that of Sicily and Apulia would be an interesting reseacrh for further conclusions. [SM]
Observations submitted by Alexander Mifsud (Feb 2011).
This species was found growing at the Selmun barracks where the violet and white form were observed. The fragrant flowers remain open for 3 days and no seeds are usually produced. Specimens outside the barracks have been also observed. In addition to this note, [SM] have in fact observed clumps of specimens near Ghajn Haddid Tower and 2 different sub-populations close to Selmun palace. It is likely that this conspicuous and charismatic species was propagated by locals living at Selmun and perhaps including British soldiers from wild stock in the whereabouts. [SM]

Not much information about this plant has been found, neither in books nor on the Internet. If you can supply further information to be included in this profile, please, do not hesitate to email me. Full reference credits will be given.

Links & Further literature (2 papers)

Google Web

Google Images

Google Scholar

Research Gate




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



World Flora Online

Plants of the World Online

Vienna Virt. Herb.

RBGE Herbarium

KEW Herbarium




An Assessment of the Distribution of Iris Pseudopumila Tineo [Fam. Iridaceae] in the Maltese Islands and Comparison of its Two Flower Forms. Stephen Mifsud  (2008)
Updates in the Flora of the Maltese Islands (Central Mediterranean) Stephen Mifsud  (2007)
Kindly Email if there are papers and publications about local studies or information about this species to be included in the list above.

Photo Gallery   (48 Images)

Photo of a typical deep violet flower. Flowers of I. pseudopumila are large, terminal, solitary and one per plant.
Photo of a flower which consists of 6 tepals, 3 upright and 3 falling down. The later are more decorated and have a central linear tuft of bristles referred to as the beard.
Photo of the beautiful flower of this Iris species. The erect tepals are the inner perianth segments (=petals) and referred to as standards. The bearded, drooping down tepals are the outer perianth segments (=sepals) and referred to as down tepals. This photo is taken in a way that 2 bearded tepals are shown.
Photo of 2 flowers. This species is often found growing as a dense patch in garigue habitat.
Photo of the bearded down tepal. The standards are often found pleated.
Another photo of the large and beautiful flower. Each plant forms only one flower (with rare exceptions!).
Photo of a flower against the sky.
Side-view photo of another typical flower.
Top view photo of flower. The central, small flap-like structures are petal-shaped styles just behind and hooding the stamen.
Photo of a flower with the tepals slightly separated apart to show their detail and that of the central petaloid styles. In front of one of the styles, one can notice the light-blue elongated anther of a stamen.
Another photo of the beautiful flower. (2nd March 2006).
Photo of another specimen (14th Feb 2007).
Iris pseudopumila is also found with pale yellow flowers with varigated down tepals. Some authors suggest that this frm is an intermediate between the violate and pure yellow form. The morphology of both flower forms is not identical, at least in Malta, the violet form has larger flowers, relatively shorter corolla tube, and have a different fragrance.
Top-view photo of the yellow-form flower showing the arrangement of the 6 tepals and the central stigma flaps.
Another top-view photo of flower with the down tepals visible.
Close up photo of one of the down tepals showing the detail of the dark veined patch and the yellow beard. The apical part of the petal-like style is clearly seen to have 2 triangular and lacerated lobes (bifid). Between this structure and the beard one can note a small part of the stamens.
Photo of the varigated yellow-form flower characterised by totally yellow standards, and yellow down tepals with large maroon patch.
Photo of the bearded tepal of a varigated yellow-form flower.
Photo of the pale yellow anther enclosed in the stigma-flap of same colour.
Close up photo of the beard of a varigated yellow-form flower from western area in Malta.
Annotated photo of the flower labeling its various structural parts. This speceis is critically endangered and should never be picked up.
Annotated photo of the reproductive organs. The stigma-style structure is one of the most elaborated amongst flowers. Annotations are made in photos of flower images in situ. This speceis is critically endangered and should never be picked up.
Close up photo of the stamens. They are found just beneath the stigma-flap (lilac-purple structure) and over the beard of the tepal. The beard seems to indicate an accidental pollinator its way in!
Close up photo of the anther pair which are light blue, elongated and open from one side longitudinally so as to expose its pollen granules. The anthers are about 15-16mm long in both flower forms!
Detailed photo of the down tepal showing the central finger-like projections at the centre of the tepal collectively lnown as the beard.
Detailed photo of the down tepal. The inner part is decorated with a zebra-like pattern which fades gradually along the tip.
Photo of the outer perianth segment showing the elegant patterns and the colourful beard. Close up of the beard is also included in the photo.
Close up photo of the beard (side view). The projections at the tip are almost completely bluish-violet and gradually change to a whiter colour towards the base (inner part).
Close up photo of the beard projections revealing that many have a greyish/black tip.
Lateral-view photo of the bearded tepal.
Photo of the down tepal which is slightly pulled down to show the petaloid style and the light blue-indigo stamen just in front. One can also admire the beautiful zebra-like patterns of the margin of the tepal.
Another close up photo of the beard also showing at the back detail of the upper part of the flap-like style whose margin is lacerated.
Sharp photo of the violet-form bud in situ.
Photo of a bud emerging through the leaf-like bracts clasping and covering the elongated flower tube (about 5-6cm long).
Photo of the bud of a varigatd yellow-form flower. This form is constantly observed to be smaller from the violet form.
Photo of the Common Earwig (Forficula decipiens) inside the flower. Is it just an inhabitant of the flower but can participate in pollination!
Photo showing the erect, ensiform (sword-shaped) leaves of this monocotyledon. They are arranged as a V-shape with the flowering stalk growing out from the middle. Interestingly, the leaves are evergreen and can be observed in the hottests months of Summer.
The habitat of this plant is garigue or steppe. Found as isolated small patches over few garigues in Malta.
Photo of a plant in situ. Leaves of violet form are usually larger from the yellow form.
Photo of some plants and their habitat. Numerous plants are found near each other as an isolated population. Usually, the plants cant extend their rhizomes due to lack of soil, and hence asexual reproduction is limited.
Photo of a patch of the purple-flower plants over rocky land.
Photo of several plants forming a relatively large and dense patch.
Photo of the large, pale green, ovoid (or slightly 3 angled) fruit capsule. The capsule shown in the photo measured nearly 6cm.
Scanned image of some seeds. In Malta, these are ripe in May. They are dark brown, have an ovate shape and wrinkled texture.
Magnified scanned image of 3 seeds. Note the prominent wrinkled seed coat.
A new flower form for the Maltese Islands - pure yellow from without any violet/maroon patch in the down tepal. Before this discovery in Feb 2009, only 2 flower forms were recorded from Malta (violet and varigated yellow). This is hence the third colour form, and so far only one populaton is known.
Close up photo of the pure yellow flower of Iris pseudopumila from the Maltese islands.
Small population of this flower form only known from Gozo.

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Section A:  Additional Information about this plant species
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Section B:   Where have you seen this plant on the Maltese Islands?
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1:       2:       3:   
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Try to be as concise as possible. Examples: Dingli Cliffs (near chapel), Wied Incita (Zebbug side), Triq il-Kbira (Qormi), Barriera ta' Ghajn Abdul (Xlendi), Fields East of Salib tal-gholja (Siggiewi). GPS co-ordinates are also welcomed!
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