La Fleur de Lys - France’s Floral Emblem with Religious and Mythic Origins

La Fleur de Lys: The Religious and Mythic Origins of France's Floral Emblem

January 9, 2017

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France's floral emblem, Fleur de Lys

Hello. I am Yucchi, a fledgling translator who transferred last autumn from a different field. I've only just started in translation so I have much to learn, but I'm studying hard with the help of my seniors.

On a trip to a tropical botanic garden, a plant called Neomarica northiana immediately caught my attention. It has a unique feature of petals curling back towards the inside of the flower, and its shape reminded me of the Japanese Iris Sanguinea (ayame), even though the mere difference in color makes for a completely different impression. According to the plant label, there is a wide variety of iris flowers across the world. After some research, I also learned that the origin of its name traces back to Greek mythology and even the Bible. In today's blog post, I would like to write about irises - the floral emblem of France.

Irises in Western Symbolism

The Floral Emblem of France

Iris is a genus in the family of Iridaceae. It includes more than 200 species around the world, among which about a dozen are found in Japan. The six-lobed flower, with three spreading sepals embracing the three petals in the centre, appears to be a common feature among irises, although they vary in color and shape.

A Flower with Origins in Greek Mythology and Christianity

It is said that the iris derives its name from the Greek goddess Iris (rainbow). As a handmaiden of Hera, her beauty is admired by Hera's husband Zeus, ruler of Olympian gods. Troubled by the awkward situation, Iris seeks advice from Hera, who then turns her into a rainbow that connects the sky to the ground, and a messenger that links the gods to humanity. This is perhaps the reason why the flower of iris is also believed to bear the meanings of 'ambassador' and 'messages'.

Furthermore, it seems that in Christianity, the iris is a symbol of Virgin Mary. Its three distinctive petals are considered to represent the Holy Trinity of Christianity. In a broader sense, the flower of iris could also be related to the Crown and Divine Protection.

How the Iris Became France's Floral Emblem

Broadly Appreciated across the Country - La Fleur de Lys

The reason why irises became France's floral emblem is that they have traditionally been adored by the French. Forming a great splendor that blooms in profusion across the French landscape, the flower carries with it a meaning of patriotism.

It wasn't until mid-13th century that Iris was officially made the national flower of France. The design of 'Fleur de Lys' was used on flags and emblems of France, until the First Republic was founded. On the royal emblem, the three petals of the Iris design each represents the values of 'Knowledge', 'Trust', and 'Chivalry'.

A Symbol of the Birth of France? - Anecdotal Details about Irises

In my research, I found two stories that link irises to the birth of France. As one of them goes, at some point in history, having been identified as a descendant of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, Merovech II, King of the Frankish tribe in mid-5th century, was represented by the flower of iris. The other story, set in early 6th century, goes that Clovis I, first King of the Francs, once picked up a yellow flower of iris in the field right before he had to cross the river to fight a war, and put the flower on his helmet as a symbol of success. Furthermore, irises are said to be the origin of the French given name 'Louis', often borne by kings of France. When translated directly from French 'la fleur de lys', irises are sometimes called the 'flower of Loys' in English, where 'Loys' was later adapted to 'Louis'.


Irises, the floral emblem of France. The more I try to know about them, the more I am amazed at the depth of the legends and myths they lead me to. Tracing their origins, I believe that irises are not only the national flower of France, but also a key symbol of Western culture in general. I was delighted to discover the flower's colorful meanings and the stories that can be found between the lines of fiction and reality. What a wonderful flower full of mysterious charm!

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