ḴIRI (Mid. Pers. hērīg), wallflower (Cheiranthus cheiri L., synonym: Erysimum cheiri (L.) Crantz), a widely cultivated, sweet-smelling, ornamental plant of the mustard family (Cruciferae, syn. Brassicaceae), which often grows on old walls, rocks, and quarries, particularly limestone (Simpson and Weiner, XIX, p. 854; Tutin et al., pp. 328-29).  C. C. Townsend and E. Guest (p. 1063) and J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner (p. 80) speculate that the genus name, Cheiranthus, comes from ḵiyri, or from the Greek cheir “hand,” combined with the Greek anthos, flower, thus “hand-flower,” that is, a flower carried in the hand for its fragrance.  In England, “wallflower” also refers to an unpartnered woman or man sitting along the wall at a dance, often because of shyness or unpopularity (Houghton Mifflin, p. 1936).

The Persian names of this plant, besides ḵiri, include ḵir, ḵiru, šabbu, šabbu-ye zard, and gol e hamiš-bahār (Dehkhoda; Grami, p. 470; Zargari, pp. 204-7).  The real šabbu (Matthiola incana [L.] W. T. Aiton; Eng. stock) is an annual cut flower, widely cultivated.  Ḵiri seems to be the only acceptable Persian name for this plant, especially considering the epithet of the species name.

The wallflower is a perennial small shrub 25-80 cm, sometimes biennial in cultivation.  It has narrow bright green leaves, with conspicuous leaf-scars at the lower part of the stem.  The fragrant flowers occur in broad clusters, predominantly yellow, although the color may vary from orange to red and brown, sometimes shaded or veined with contrasting color.  Many modern cultivars may be of hybrid origin.  The fruit is a silique, linear, strongly dorsally compressed, and hairy.  The seed is brown, compressed, about 3 mm, and more or less pubescent (Townsend and Guest, pp. 1063-64; Tutin et al., 1993, pp. 328-29; Zargari, pp. 204-07). The origin of this plant is not known (Tutin et al., pp. 328-29), and it does not seem to be native to Iran (Hedge and Rechinger, passim).

Ḵiri is cultivated in many regions of Iran for its alluring yellow flowers and as a honey plant (Zargari, p. 204).  It contains cheirantin and other cardioactive glycosides (Prajapati et al., p. 133).  The flowers are used as a diuretic, emmenagogue, cardioactive, and purgative.  Powdered seed is administered in dysentery, and the seed oil is applied locally for bruises, as well as nervous and rheumatic pains (Pullaiah, p. 523). Wallflower was used as a diuretic, but its powerful effect on the heart was not known.  It is cardiotonic in small doses, supporting a failing heart in a manner similar to foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), and is toxic in larger doses (Chevalier, p. 185; Prajapati, p. 133; Zargari, p. 207).

In the Pahlavi text Ḵusraw ī Kawādān ud rēdag-ēw, the king asks the page which flowers have the finest scent. The latter praises a series of flowers, including the red hērīg (“like the scent of friends”) and the yellow (“like the scent of a noblewoman”; Azarnouche, Unvala, secs. 74-75).

Ḵiri is mentioned in classical Persian poetry as a yellow flower, in reference to a gold and yellowish, pale face (Grami, p. 470).  For instance: 

Roḵam baguna-ye ḵiri šod’ast za’ndoh o ḡam;
Del az tafakkor-e besyār ḵira gašt o dežam.
(Abu Ṭāher Ḵosravāni [d. 342/953]; see Modabberi, ed., p. 118).

My face has turned like ḵiri from sorrow and grief;
And my heart gloomy and sad from too much thinking.

Ze ganjaš zamin kisa bar-duḵta;
Saman sim o ḵiri zar anduḵta.
(Neẓāmi [d. 1209], Šaraf-nāma, p. 936)

The ground has made a sack of its treasury;
Jasmin has saved silver and ḵiri gold.

Bar to javān guna-ye piri čerā’st?
Lāla-ye ḵodru-ye to ḵiri čefā’st?
(Neẓāmi, Maḵzan al-asrār, p. 164)

Why have your young cheeks turned aged?
Why has your wild red tulip turned ḵiri (yellow)? 


S. Azarnouche, Husraw ī Kawādān ud Rēdag-ē. Khosrow Fils De Kawād Et Un Page: texte pehlevi édité et traduit, Paris, Association pour l'Avancement des Études Iraniennes, 2013.

Andrew Chevalier, Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, London and New York, 2000. Bahram Grami, Gol wa giāh dar hazār sāl šeʿr-e fārsi, 2nd ed., Tehran, 2010. 

Bahram Grami, Gol wa giāh dar hazār sāl šeʿr-e fārsi, 2nd ed., Tehran, 2010.

Ian Charleson Hedge and Karl Heinz Rechinger, Cruciferae, in Karl Heinz Rechinger, ed, Flora Iranica 57, Monographic Series, Graz, Austria, 1968.

Houghton Mifflin Co., ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., Boston, 2009. 

Ian Charleson  Hedge and Karl Heinz Rechinger, Cruciferae, Flora Iranica 57, Monographic Series, Graz, 2010. 

Maḥmud Modabberi, ed., Šarḥ-e aḥwāl wa ašʿār-e šāʿerān-e bi-divān dar sadahā-ye 3, 4, wa 5 hejri qamari, Tehran, 1991.

Neẓāmi Ganjavi, Ḵamsa, ed. Parviz Bābāʾi, 2 vols., Tehran, 1995. 

Idem, Maḵzan al-asrār, in Bābāʾi, ed., I.

Idem, Šaraf-nāma, in Bābāʾi, ed., II.

Narayan Das Prajapati et al., A Handbook of Medicinal Plants: A Complete Source, Agrobios, India, 2003. 

Thammineni Pullaiah, Encyclopaedia of World Medicinal Plants III, New Delhi, 2006. 

J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary VIII, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1989. 

C. C. Townsend and Evan Guest, eds., Flora of Iraq IV: Cornaceae to Resedaceae, Baghdad, 1980. 

T. G. Tutin et. al., Flora Europaea I: Lycopodiaceae to Platanaceae, Cambridge, 1993. 

ʿAli Zargari, Giāhān e dāruʾi II, 6th ed., Tehran 1997.

J. M. Unvala, The Pahlavi Text „King Husrav and his Boy“, Paris, n.d. [1921].

(Ahmad Aryavand and Bahram Grami)

Originally Published: September 4, 2015

Last Updated: September 28, 2015

Cite this entry:

Ahmad Aryavand and Bahram Grami, "ḴIRI," Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2015, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/khiri-wallflower (accessed on 04 September 2015).