Monday, January 2, 2012

The Magnificent Iris

          By Jim Murrain

Iris magnifica is a bulbous iris in the subgenus Scorpiris. These iris are best known as Juno iris or just Junos. Iris magnifica is the largest of the Junos often reaching over two feet tall. It flowers in late March to early April in Kansas City, Missouri with up to seven flowers per stem. Each flower has large falls with pronounced 'wings' at the hafts and large, upright style arms. The standards are small narrow and weak and usually relax inconspicuously between the falls.

It thrives in my climate and has survived -20ºF without snow cover in winter and well over 100ºF in summer including the occasional summer thunder storm.

Many people upon seeing a Juno iris for the first time will remark on the superficial similarity with a corn plant. Indeed the alternating ranks of vee shaped leaves do resemble a corn plant and the flower buds appear to mimic ears of corn. This iris is usually a very pale lavender or white with hints of lavender. The pure white form is called Iris magnifica 'Alba'. It is truly an arresting sight to see a large clump of I. magnifica 'Alba' in full bloom.

 This iris hales from the mountains of Central Asia and requires cold winters and good drainage to prosper. Surprisingly, this largest of the Juno irises is also among the easiest to grow, tolerating and even thriving in less then ideal conditions. Although it is now one of the most common Junos cultivated it wasn't scientifically described until 1935 so it was unknown to Dykes when he wrote his book 'The Genus Iris'. I have never seen any insect damage on it but deer will browse it to the soil level and gophers can eat the bulbs. I. magnifica is relatively easy to grow from seed but bulbs are not expensive. Even in  my tough climate, self sown seedlings pop up here and there. It  also makes a regular appearance on the annual SIGNA  seed exchange.

Besides 'Alba' another common form is 'Agalik', a very light blue with excellent form. The forms are well worth seeking out but even seed grown plants are "Magnificent" in the garden.

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