Monday, February 4, 2013

Exploring the Mysteries of Bloom Season & Height: Tall Bearded Irises 1


By Jim Hedgecock


When do tall bearded irises bloom?  It seems like such a simple question, but in reality, it is complex and you will get different answers from different people. There is the problem of which part of the country you live in, because our seasons differ widely. Today I will tackle a different issue- the designations themselves. What I say here may be discussed (and cussed!) but after consultation with a few other hybridizers, here is, to the best of my knowledge, an answer to the question.

I have been hybridizing and introducing irises for 33 years. I am a Judge Emeritus with 25 years of iris judging experience.  I have never heard of or attended a judges training, course, or session that went into detail about bloom periods or how to designate a given period of bloom to a new iris, but some things we can probably agree on.

We can all agree that there are three basic bloom period designations for all irises. These are early, mid, and late. They are listed in the registrations as E, M, and L. If this was it, there would be no need for this article. It's what we add to those three designations that causes confusion.

My 2013 introduction, 'La Di Da', is a late season bloomer.

'La Di Da' Hedgecock 2013


'Paul Black' is another late season bloomer.

'Paul Black' Johnson 2003 Photo by Marilyn Campbell

'Cowboy in Black' is a mid-season bloomer, as is 'Paris Fashion'.

'Cowboy in Black' Hedgecock 2005


'Paris Fashion' Keppel 2003


'Acoma' is an early bloomer, as is another of my 2013 introductions, 'Star Voyager'.

'Acoma' Magee 1987 

'Star Voyager' Hedgecock 2013


If an iris blooms before any other iris, or after all of the other irises, sometimes the letter "V" is added. That gives you very early (VE) and very late (VL).  That's still pretty basic stuff.


Griff Crump's 'Bulbul Ameer' is a very late blooming iris.

'Bulbul Ameer' Crump 2001

'Footloose' is very early.

'Footloose' Schreiner Photo by J.W. Moyer


Stay with me, it gets better or worse, depending on how you look at it.

A number of iris registrations list bloom times of  EM or ML. Now things are getting a little more confusing, but here comes my take on this group. The second letter is still the basic time of bloom, so EM is in the mid bloom season, but a little earlier than most.  However, in researching this group with other growers, I found out that some hybridizers use these designations  (EM or ML) to tell the public that the iris blooms in both the mid and late bloom seasons. For instance, Schreiner's Iris Gardens uses the designation EML for an iris that opens blooms throughout the entire season.  I will be honest, I have never registered an iris this way, and I had never thought of doing it in this manner.

My 'Kansas City Star' blooms early in the midseason.

'Kansas City Star' Hedgecock 2010

'Pansy Parade' is registered as mid-late, and it blooms in the late part of the mid-season, according to Walter Moores.

'Pansy Parade' Moores 2005 Photo by Elladan

'Saturday Night Live' is registered as EML, because it blooms throughout the entire season, according to Schreiner's.

'Saturday Night Live' Schreiner 1996


To conclude the discussion, some hybridizers use the V, E, M, and L bloom time designations in combination to show an extended bloom time, and others to narrow down the exact time of bloom.  What fun it would be to order a number of irises with the same listed bloom time and grow them yourself to see which is which.

In your experience, do irises with designations of EM, ML, or EML bloom for longer periods of time?  Please leave a comment in the box below so that others can have the advantage of your experience.

Part II will address bloom height, so stay tuned.


4 comments:

  1. Very nice article, Jim! This is going to be an extra-interesting series of articles. I only grow one EML listad iris, and it does bloom for a long time, tho not for the "whole"E M L season.It has a much longer time in bloom than any of my others....Arlyn

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  2. This was a different summer for us in the Ohio River valley of WV zone 6. I have 2 white TBI re-bloomers, that bloom about the same time. Mid and Late, One is Immortality. The other I have no name or info except what I have learned on my own. The UFO is white with orange beards. This year they both bloomed until November 26 when we had a heavy frost. I used a bloom fertilizer spring and fall. After the frost I cut of frozen bud stalks. Please let me know if others have had similar experiances.

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