Irises in Ikebana

Mandi Stade, licensed Sogetsu Ikebana Teacher, 4th Grade (Yonkyu Shihan) and a MI Certified Florist

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature. When you create an Ikebana arrangement, your goal is to highlight the natural beauty of the Irises in the manner in which you arrange the stems and leaves. You can even add in a small amount of branches from your yard around the outside of the iris branches and leaves to add interest to the arrangement.

ikebana 1

Traditional Ikebana Iris arrangement in shallow black round container (plastic suiban, container is used for a traditional moribana style arrangement).

  1. Find a round shallow container, at least 10-12 inches in diameter. In Sogetsu Ikebana, the shallow container is called a Suiban. The shallow container ideally should be ceramic or plastic, but you whatever you have on hand. It can be plastic, ceramic, glass, or metal. (If you don’t have a shallow container, a pie plate will work in a pinch.) The main goal is to show an expanse of water around the Ikebana arrangement
  2. Place the pin frog in the front right corner of the container
  3. Fill container with water, up to the level which completely submerges the pin frog under water
  4. Remove leaves from Iris stems, set them aside to use in the arrangement. This is a process called Hagumi. In this process, the leaves are taken apart before arranging. This is to be able to change the directions and heights of the leaves as you are placing them in the arrangement
  5. Arrange flower stems at varying heights, ensuring that the open and hanging petals of the flowers face forward towards you. Use at least 3 flowers. Arrange the tallest flowers first
  6. Then add at least two sets of leaves for each flower, encircling each flower around the front and back. One set of three leaves in front, and two leaves in back. Be sure to stagger the heights of the leaves and rotate the directions of the tips as you are arranging the leaves. Tips should be facing each other. Leave at least a finger space between the flower and the leaves
  7. Check to see that the front set of leaves are arranged shorter than the flower, and the rear set are shorter than the front set
  8. Ensure that the pin frog (kenzan in Sogetsu) is well covered by the leaves
  9. Clean any leaf debris out of the water, top off the arrangement if needed

Contents: Siberian iris flowers and leaves with rabbit’s foot fern fronds to help hide the pin frog and add fullness. Water and space are shown in this arrangement—this is an important rule to keep in mind

ikebana first arrangement

This arrangement is a Freestyle Ka-bu-wa-ke style in Sogetsu Ikebana. Ka-bu-wa-ke is an arrangement with two separate groups of flowers in two separate pin frogs. Pay attention to the space between the groups, or Kabu. The water and space which separates the two islands is very important-make sure to show negative space. Materials of one group need to be stronger than the other group. Pin frogs must be well covered.

Contents: Siberian Iris flowers and leaves (bracts), with dwarf korean lilac covering pin frog


Freestyle Ikebana arrangement in ceramic gray round container (container is called Suiban; it is a container that you would use for a traditional moribana style arrangement in Sogetsu Ikebana). When creating a freestyle arrangement, you don’t have as many of the basic ikebana rules to abide by. You will still want to keep a few principles in mind though: use 3 flowers or less, use one type of leaf, keep arrangement minimal and simple, hide pin frog.

Contents: Bearded Iris and Hosta leaves (bracts) in a pin frog (called kenzan in Sogetsu)


Other notes

Deadhead the spent flowers as they expire, encouraging the next flowers to bloom

Keep in mind that as the next flowers bloom, the orientation and position of the flowers will change. Correct the positions of the stems as needed to achieve the design you are envisioning

Irises in Japanese Culture

Japanese irises are often used in Ikebana to celebrate Tango-no-sekku, also known as Boys’ Day, Boys’ Festival in Japan. Boys’ Day is celebrated on May 5. The use of Japanese iris is a way to wish for the healthy growth of all boys, and it is also believed to also dispel evil spirits. In some regions of Japan, they are planted into the eaves of houses and strewn into bath water on Boys’ Day. The Japanese iris symbolizes the bravery/courage of boys. In Japan, the iris represents tall, upright young men, and the leaves are their swords.

To some, May 5 is considered Children’s Day, or Kodomo no hi, to celebrate both boys and girls. Until 1948, May 5 was known as Tango-no-sekku and only honored boys. A separate holiday called Hinamatsuri, or ‘Dolls Day’ celebrated girls on March 3rd. On that day, girls receive dolls that were passed on from their grandmothers and mothers.

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