Local adaptation is a commonly observed result of natural selection acting in heterogeneous environment. Common-garden experiments are a method of detecting local adaptation, as well as studying phenotypic plasticity and gradients of traits. The present study aimed to analyse reaction norms of four closely-related Iris species of section Oncocyclus and to identify a role of environmentally-specific natural selection in their plastic responses. The plant vegetative and phenological, as well as performance traits were measured in a full factorial common-garden experiment with three levels of water amount and three soil types. We found a significant effect of species identity on all traits measured. Water amount and soil type affected many of the traits, but soil type did not affect the performance. There was no significant difference in the effect of water amount and soil type on performance as reflected by rhizome growth; in other words, there was no significant genotype × environment interaction for performance. Plasticity levels and directions of response were also similar among the species. We conclude that phenotypic differences among species are of genetic origin, although no adaptive value was demonstrated for them at the time and life-stages ‘frame’ of this experiment. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 2009, 98, 267–277.