Saturday, March 31, 2012

Iris Classics: 'W.R. Dykes'

How thrilling it is to see an original copy of the classic tome on the genus Iris by William Rickatson Dykes being offered for auction at the upcoming AIS Convention. It is very rare to see one of these prized classics being offered. In honor of this event I thought I'd highlight the classic iris named for the author - 'W.R. Dykes'. While this is one of the most important irises in the development of tall bearded yellows it is rarely seen today.

'W.R.Dykes' is a tall iris, usually reaching 3 feet, and sports large yellow blooms often streaked and mottled with red. Its appearance today tho is not how it originally started. When it was introduced in 1926 after Mr. Dykes' death it was renowned as the largest and clearest yellow yet to be created. But it was not long before the streaking and splotching showed up, which is most often blamed on the iris mosaic virus. Today the variety in my garden is usually quite heavily covered in red. It is not the most beautiful iris, but it certainly is interesting. Long lost or discarded from commerce or collections, in 1996 it was spotted growing at Presby with its name still attached by a group of intrepid HIPSters that made a pilgrimage during the Convention that year. It has since been put back into commerce by Superstition Iris Gardens and is now growing in many collections around the US.

Just as Mr. Dykes had many interests and is remembered for numerous contributions to the scientific knowledge and advancement of many plant species, 'W.R. Dykes' has more than one claim to fame as well. It was not only a great advance in size and color for yellows, with numerous prodigy that went even further in developing the class, but was also in the foundation of those few varieties used by Dave Hall to create his flamingo pink lines. It genes are still with us scattered among thousands of descendants.

While this variety is never going to be loved for its disfigured blooms and poor growth, it is loved by collectors that appreciate its history, and the tragic history of Mr. Dykes and his wife Katherine both whom died young - he after a car wreak and she after a train derailment. Read the whole story of Mr. Dykes in Clarence Mahan's book Classic Irises and the Men and Women Who Created Them. Read about the rediscovery of 'W.R. Dykes' at Presby over on the HIPS website. Who knows. Maybe the stories surrounding this variety, and all the comment and controversy that followed it thru the years, will inspire you to find beauty in its novelty and history. And perhaps you'll seek it out and add it to your garden so we can keep it around for future generations to wonder over. It's not an Iris for everyone, but it is a classic.


  1. Great posting. Really enjoyed reading it and wonderful pictures.

  2. Thank you. I'm very glad you enjoyed it. Mr. & Mrs. Dykes were incredibly interesting and had such a huge impact on the iris world over a very short period of time. The varieties of theirs we have left are wonderful reminders of the history, even if they are not at the top of the list of good garden plants.


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