Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Iris Classics: 'May Allison'

Iris hybridizers and growers are both on the look out for that 'little something extra' in a variety that is really going to make it a standout in the garden. 'May Allison' sure fits the bill - literally! This marvelous little diploid iris was registered in 1930 by Mrs. Mary Allison, an amateur gardener and iris fancier from Raleigh, North Carolina. I can just imagine Mrs. Allison's delight when, while looking over her clump of Monsieur Lemon's classic from 1858 'Celeste', she first noticed the odd little blooms - blooms with six standards instead of the normal three. I suspect she soon noticed that every flower on the stalk showed this amazing trait as well, and, as a true gardener would, she separated this rhizome out to watch it. Another season or two would be all it would take to confirm that rarest of happenings in the iris world - a true vegetative sport. And a decidedly different one at that!

However it happened, Mrs. Allison did notice that the style arms had been replaced with extra standards, giving a lovely full effect to the flower, and not detracting at all. And she had the foresight to register with the AIS and have it commercially introduced.

'May Allison', like it's parent 'Celeste', is a small diploid variety, with lots of flowers in a shade of soft lavender-blue. While 'Celeste' is not often seen anymore, "May Allison" is still found in many collections of historic irises. It stands about 2 feet tall, is quite hardy and vigorous, and blooms early and reliably in my garden year after year. It is one of the most beautiful of the pre-1900 varieties I grow.

'May Allison' has fascinated iris growers since it was introduced. In an old AIS Bulletin there is a short letter from a member regarding double irises, in which she states:
The editor kindly gave me space in Bulletin No. 103 to ask if there are others who have double iris. The only answers I received referred me to May Allison. In the novelty which appeared in my yard the stamens were sacrificed and replaced with three normal standards. I have succeeded in raising one seedling from this 'Double Standard,' which was single and a different color. - Mrs. Robt. L Motter, Ga.

How she managed to get a seedling from an iris with no stigmatic lip nor pollen producing anthers is beyond me, but given the odd genetics in play perhaps one or the other slipped thru on a bloom or two and allowed a cross. The sharp-eyed and thorough hybridizer often finds things others miss, just as does the sharp-eyed gardener. Be sure to watch for sports in your iris beds, and also keep an eye out for 'May Allison' to add to your flower garden. This charming flower is a true iris classic.


  1. I really like this iris. I was happily surprised by it. The guys at Superstition sent it to me as a bonus, and it's really a lovely iris. The fact that is a diploid makes it very special because the bloom is smaller and more delicate than most regular-size tall beardeds. Thank you for its history.

  2. Cool, I love odd things like this. Now I have to get my grubby hands on one. Great post!


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