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  • Writer's pictureHilary McCormack

The wild Iris of Tumayr

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

'The Iris takes its name from the Greek word for rainbow; it was also the name for a beautiful young Greek goddess who legend explains rode around on rainbows carrying messages for the Gods.'

On a wet and breezy Friday in February 2022, a few of us weekend adventure seekers took off to see the wild Iris of Tumayr.

Tumayr is a district north of Riyadh, about one and a half hours along Route 65. When we turned off the main road at Junction 11, we bumped along a dirt road till we reached the Iris Fields.

For many, this trip is an annual event. Beginning in late February till early March each year, a steady stream of people go out in search of these rugged and reliable little wildflowers.

The surrounding hills perfect for hiking

The Iris consists of a genus of between 260–300 species of flowering plants with showy purple flowers. This particular one grows on either side of a sandy dry wadi, which provides sufficient drainage for this patch of desert wildness.

As every good gardener's manual will tell you, the Iris needs to have "wet feet and dry knees." After the flowering season, the plants wither and remain dormant till the following spring.

The bounty of the annual crop is dependent on the annual winter rainfall. This year we were lucky. We arrived mid-morning, spread out our picnic blankets, and waited patiently for the midday sun to warm up the little purple buds sufficiently until they eventually popped open to reveal impressive and delicate works of natural art.

The more active members of the group took to scaling the surrounding hillside to get a panoramic view of the horizon. To my mind, the prevailing landscape resembled the Gobi Desert with its sparse vegetation and rolling dunes. On our trip, the heavens were threatening to open upon us for most of the day, so mid-afternoon, many of us decided to make for the relative safety of the bitumen highway and head for home.

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Phillip van der Merwe
Phillip van der Merwe
Feb 21, 2021

One doesn't expect to see an Iris in the desert..

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