Monday, March 11, 2013

Louisiana Irises Grow Well in Upstate New York

By Ron Killingsworth

Louisiana irises are found in their natural habitat in southern states of the US like Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, and Georgia, among other states.  Louisiana irises are water loving irises and grow naturally in swampy and marshy areas of these southern states.  However, in the past 60 or more years, LA irises have been transported from their native states and now grow throughout many of the states in the US and in many foreign countries such as New Zealand, Australia, England, Russia, and South Africa. A recent article in the Fleur de Lis, the official publication of the Society for Louisiana Irises, highlighted a young couple in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who are growing Louisiana irises commercially.

Because they are so often associated with hot and humid places, the question that often arises is "can I grow Louisiana irises in the northern US states?"  The answer is a bold YES.
Over nine years ago a member of the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI), Edna Claunch, became involved in the building of a huge international "Friendship Garden" with a sister city in Japan.  Located in Highland Park in Rochester, NY, it was planted with thousands of Louisiana irises donated by members of SLI.  The park was opened with much fanfare in the summer of 2004. The park is now a sea of blooming Louisiana irises in June and July, since the irises have multiplied.

These water loving Louisiana irises spend the winter under several feet of snow.  The spring comes to NY later than they would experience in their native lands.  The summer is much shorter than they are accustomed to experiencing.  None of this stops the wonderful Louisiana irises from putting on a show for upstate New York!  This success in Highland Park has led to another project nearby at the University of Rochester.  The "New Ayame" Garden that is being constructed on the campus of the University of Rochester was reported in detail in the Fall 2012 edition of the Fleur de Lis.
All of this Louisiana iris activity in New York led M. J. Urist of Tully, NY to begin the hard task of establishing a commercial garden for the purpose of raising Louisiana irises and selling them to the public.  M.J.'s garden has also grown into a huge success, and last year she donated thousands of Louisiana irises to the "New Ayame" Garden in Rochester. There were so many rhizomes that the University of Rochester sent a truck to Tully to pick them up!

Louisiana irises growing in Highland Park, Rochester, NY, in 2008

Massive planting of named varieties in Highland Park, Rochester

Close up of Louisiana irises growing in Highland Park in Rochester, NY

Large "clump" of a variety of Louisiana irises growing in Rochester, NY

'Marie Caillet' (Sidney Conger, 1963) growing in Highland Park, Rochester, NY

'Edna Claunch' (Harry Wolford 2004) named for the SLI member who spent endless hours working to make the Highland Park in Rochester, NY, a reality!

Hybrid Louisiana Irises growing in Highland Park, Rochester, NY

Louisiana irises growing with other plants in Highland Park

Close up of Louisiana irises in large "clump" growing in Highland Park

Louisiana irises and other plants in Highland Park

'Shizuoka Sunrise' (Pat O'Connor 2001) - a Louisiana iris named for the specific purpose of celebrating the establishment of this International Friendship Park in Rochester, NY

Louisiana iris garden beds in Highland Park

iris.fulva - a species of Louisiana iris growing in Highland Park

Large clumps of Louisiana irises in full bloom in Highland Park, Rochester, NY
Photos by Edna Claunch and by Gene Lupinetti.

Louisiana irises growing at the farm of M.J. Urist in Tully, NY, in the fall after bloom season is over.  Notice color on trees in background.

Louisiana irises that have been covered in snow all winter in Tully, NY, start to thaw out in the spring as the snow melts.

There is a large bed of Louisiana irises under this winter snow drift in Tully, NY.  See picture below of same location with irises in bloom.

Beds of hybrid Louisiana irises growing in Tully, NY
Photos by M. J. Urist.

So, as you can see, Louisiana irises are not just southern plants!  They do snow as well as ponds, so why not try growing some in your garden?

To learn more about growing irises visit the American Iris Society web site.
To learn more about Highland Park in Rochester, NY, visit their web site at Highland Park.

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