by Jim Murrain
I'd like to talk about the hybrids between Iris dichotoma and Iris domestica. These parents have suffered much abuse at the hands of botanists. They have both been kicked in and out of the genus Iris, lumped with distant relatives, and endured so many name changes that most people don't know what to call them.
At least I. dichotoma 'The Vesper Iris' is usually thought to be an Iris. Poor I. domestica has had the lion's share of the problems. Commonly known as 'The Blackberry Lily' it truly suffers from an identity crisis! Thanks to modern science and the understanding of DNA we now know them to both be true members of the Genus Iris.
The children and grandchildren of these irises have only had to deal with a couple name changes, from Pardancanda (with an X either before or after) norrisii to the now correct Iris x norrisii. Unfortunately they still seem to be stuck with the "common" name 'Candy Lily'.
First hybridized by Sam Norris these beauties can display an astonishing range of colors. Most take after Iris domestica and have similar standards and falls which look like a tiny flat or double iris. Occasionally they will show hints of I. dichotoma and appear more iris-like with upright standards. I have yet to see a hybrid display the style arms of I. dichotoma which I. domestica lacks, but they do exist.
These iris hybrids can open their flowers at odd times of the day while their parents open either in the morning (I. domestica) or late afternoon (I. dichotoma). The flowers last only one day, but a stalk can easily have a hundred or more buds with several open at a time. Very easy to grow from seed, a few will flower in their first year in the garden and the rest in their second season. The Species Iris Group of North America's (SIGNA) Seed Exchange often has seeds available as do many gardening catalogs.
Division is a little tricky. With plenty of soil on the roots they can be divided in spring or early fall. Joe Pye Weed's Garden (which sells hybrids from Darrell Probst) recommends dividing when in bud, even down to a single stem. Plant promptly, water once, and they can continue to flower normally.
I'm still surprised how rarely I see these in gardens. An Iris that is easy to grow, blooms when no other Iris is in flower, and if grown from seed is very inexpensive. What's not to love?
Give them a try and you too will have reason to venture out in the noonday sun of summer even if you forget just what the heck to call them.