Monday, October 16, 2017

An Arilbred Iris Sampler

Tom Waters

'Oyez' (White, 1938)
I was recently contacted by an iris lover who had read my blog post on the classification of arilbred irises and wanted to sample each of the categories. She asked if I had any recommendations. I gave a few off the top of my head, and she suggested that this might make a good blog topic. I agree! So here is my arilbred sampler, for those who want to try the full range of different types of arilbreds.

I've restricted the irises mentioned here to those that are readily available. The commercial gardens that have the best selection of arilbreds are Superstition Iris Gardens, Mid-America Garden, and Blue J Iris. In addition, the Aril Society International has an annual plant sale with many more arilbreds than these commercial growers offer. The offerings vary each year depending on what members contribute, but many varieties are offered nearly every year. If an iris was available from one of the three large commercial growers in their most recent catalog, or in the ASI plant sales for the last two years, I deemed it readily available. Some other commercial growers list a small number of arilbreds, and if arilbreds are grown in your area, the local iris society plant sales can also be a good source of plants.

I want to be clear that this listing is indeed intended as a "sampler". The idea is to cover as many different kinds as possible, to showcase the diversity of arilbreds. It is not an attempt to identify the "best arilbreds" by some objective criteria, nor even a list of "Tom's favorites". The idea is that if you are new to arilbreds, and plant a varied assortment, you can discover your own preferences and what grows well for you.

The ASI recognizes nine different categories of arilbred, based on the type and amount of aril content the iris has. There are two types of pure arils: oncocyclus and Regelia. An arilbred can have either or both of these types of aril in its background. Hence we have oncobreds (OB), Regeliabreds (RB), and oncogeliabreds (OGB, mixed onco and Regelia content). Furthermore, arilbreds can be half aril, more than half aril, or less than half aril. Those with more than half aril content are indicated with a "+" sign; those with less than half aril with a "-" sign. No sign is used for those that are half aril. Thus RB+ means an arilbred whose type of aril content is Regelia only, and whose amount of aril content is more than half.

It turns out that these nine categories actually allow for more distinctions than a practical gardener need attend to. There are very few OB arilbreds, and they are indistinguishable from most OGB types. The reason is that most of today's arilbreds are descended from pioneering work by C. G. White in the 1940s, and White did not keep track of parentages during this time. So his arilbreds, although drawing heavily on oncocyclus arils and selected to resemble oncocyclus as much as possible, are classified as OGB because of the possibility of some Regelia ancestry. So I don't separate OBs from OGBs here.

I do, however, separate out the arilbred medians and arilbred dwarfs from the tall arilbreds. These smaller arilbreds, typically with dwarf or median bearded irises in their parentage, fill a very different role in the garden and provide much of the diversity to be encountered in the arilbred tribe.

So much for the preliminaries. Onward to the plants!

OGB and OB (Onco-type halfbreds)

These are what most of us think of when we think of arilbreds. Most are tall types, with TB and oncocyclus ancestry dominating. Blooms are typically large and globular, often with strong aril markings, such as signal spots or veining.

'Refiner's Fire' (McGrath, 2007)
Large bold signals are actually a rather recent development in this group, with 'Energizer' (Shockey, 1996) being a striking breakthrough in its time. More recently, 'Noble Warrior' (Tasco, 2006) combines a dramatic signal with a bit of veining. 'Refiner's Fire' (McGrath, 2007) gives a striking dark signal on a deeply colored red-toned flower.

'Sand Dancer' (Tasco, 2010) gives us a whole different look, with falls covered in peppery stippling. Yet another completely different look is to be found in 'Navajo Velvet' (McAllister, 2009), with falls of lustrous, satiny mahogany red.

The historic arilbred 'Oyez' (White, 1938) has seduced many iris growers into the arilbred world with its dramatic precise veining. Strangely, it has been difficult to reproduce this striking pattern in modern arilbreds. ('Oyez' is a sterile diploid.) An early success was 'Jonnye's Magic' (Rich, 1992). For a true modern advancement in veined arilbreds, seek out 'Alakazam' (Tasco, 2013).

'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002)
There are few arilbred medians and arilbred dwarfs in this category. Very notable is 'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002), a fertile aril-pumila hybrid about the size of a small SDB (standard dwarf bearded)!

OGB- and OB- (Onco-type quarterbreds)

Originally, these categories were dominated by tall arilbreds that came from crossing halfbreds with TBs. At a time when halbreds were uncommon and difficult to grow, the quarterbreds were the most accessible arilbreds for most gardeners. The historic iris 'Elmohr' (Loomis-Long, 1942) was a fine example of the type, the only arilbred to win the Dykes Medal. It does not show the strong aril patterning we now expect in arilbreds, without signal or veining to speak of. To understand its allure, we must think back to a time when TBs were troubled with narrow petals and often droopy form. 'Elmohr' stood out with dramatically large blooms, wide falls, and a bit of globular onco form to bring it all together.

Some other tall quarterbreds for the sampler are 'Dune' (Hager, 1981) and the very recent 'Heart of Hearts' (Black, 2015). At their best, this type of iris can bring some of the modern TB form and bud count into irises that still evoke their aril ancestry.

'Desert Snow' (Black, 2013)
Since the 1970s, however, arilbred medians have increasingly dominated these categories. Crossing an
OGB halfbred with an SDB produces an OGB- arilbred median. In the garden, these occupy a niche similar to the IBs (intermediate beardeds), but with some aril traits to give them that special something extra. The charm and adaptability of this type of arilbred has given them a great appeal among arilbred growers and median fanciers alike. 'Brash and Bold' (Black, 2009) and 'Desert Snow' (Black, 2013) are fine examplars of what this category has to offer.

A somewhat different approach is found in 'Persian Sapphire' (Baumunk, 2005), a child of 'Aladdin's Gem' that has more Iris pumila in its makeup than TB.

There are some arilbred dwarfs in this category that are worthy of attention. 'Loudmouth' (Rich, 1970) is a perennial favorite, SDB-sized with raucous signal and veining and globular form. 'Tiny Pirate' (Rich, 1990) is the most diminutive arilbred I have grown; it would be small even among MDBs (miniature dwarf beardeds), but struts onco form, a signal, and a whisper of veining.

RB (Regelia-type halfbreds)

Enthusiasm for large, globular oncocylcus irises with their dramatic signals and stippling was a driving force in early arilbred breeding. The Regelias took a back seat in the minds of many growers and breeders; sometimes they were thought of as providing nothing but some ruggedness and climate adaptability. But some have always appreciated the Regelias for their svelte elegance, sometimes striking veining, satiny texture, or blended colors.

An early Regeliabred that helped draw attention to the potential of this type of iris was 'Genetic Artist' (H. Danielson, 1972). This shows a classic color pattern derived from the Regelia Iris stolonifera: a yellowish rim around a blue or violet center. 'Afrosiab' (Volfovich-Moler, 2001) shows a touch of ruffling from its TB parent, 'Mary Frances' (Gaulter, 1973). The French hybridizer Lawrence Ransom worked extensively with Regeliabreds, with his 'Eastern Blush' (Ransom, 2002) being much used in his breeding program.

RB- (Regelia-type quarterbreds)

Ransom's work takes center stage in this category. Among the tall RB- are the horned 'Sandthorn' (Ransom, 2011), and his "Pashtun" series, for example 'Pashtun Princess' (Ransom, 2011).

Ransom also produced a delightfully varied series of RB- arilbred medians, the "Vera girls", from crossing the Regelia 'Vera' (Van Tubergen, not registered) with SDBs.of which 'Vera-Marina'  (Ransom, 1998) is one example.

OGB+ (Onco-type "three-quarter"-breds)

This group has become sadly scarce in commerce, with seldom any new ones registered and introduced. This is perhaps because few arilbred hybridizers today grow the oncocyclus species and hybrids needed to produce this type of arilbred, which usually comes from crossing an OGB arilbred with a pure oncocyclus. The few that are readily available are not always representative of the best this type of breeding has to offer. 'Tul Kerem' (H. Danielson, 1974) is interesting but I find its combination of oncocylcus and Regelia traits ends up not doing justice to either. 'Masada's Glory' (Whitely, 2002) is a better exemplar of what this category has to offer. Although they do not meet my availability criteria, keep a look out from 'Jeweled Veil' (Rich, 1978) or 'Dotted Sunsuit' (Mathes, 2001). These show the oncocyclus features of their ancestry to best advantage.

RB+ (Regelia-type "three-quarter"-breds)

'Turkish Topaz' (Austin, 1962)
A couple oddities round out the sampler. 'Turkish Topaz' (Austin, 1962) was registered as a pure Regelia hybrid, but its parentage is somewhat ambiguous and it looks and grows like an RB+. The flowers are yellow with much brown streaking and blotching. 'White Arts' (L. Danielson, 1986) has only Iris hoogiana in its Regelia ancestry. This species shows nothing that we might recognize as distinctively aril in its coloration. If you walked by 'White Arts' in a garden, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a white IB or perhaps an antique diploid TB.

If you want to sample the world of arilbreds, be sure to try several different types. The variety available in plant size, color pattern, and form is truly remarkable!

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