Monday, April 8, 2013

Iris Classics: 'Crimson King'

By Mike Unser

It's early spring here in the PNW, the daffodils are showing off, our native ribes are in full bloom and attracting a complement of hummingbirds, and the tulips are just showing a touch of color. As the first bits of green start to show on the trees another early bloomer is showing off as well - our old friend 'Crimson King' (Barr, 1893). The first bearded iris of the season here in Olympia is often 'Crimson King'. There is an old Victorian home that has been turned into apartments not far from my office, and the front has a south facing brick foundation in a sheltered area where this classic old variety has been growing for years. It has never been divided and reset in the 13 years I have been watching it, yet every spring it sends up a multitude of bloom stalks.

And what beautiful bloomstalks they are! Before a flower even shows they are adding color to the garden with their red-violet-tinged spathes. Soon enough the black buds burst forth into flowers of a beautiful shade of bright purple. Classed as an Intermediate Bearded iris, it grows around 2 feet in height in my garden. The Cornell Extension Bulletin 112 describes it as
"Color effect an intense violet-purple self. Standards pansy violet, lighter to yellowish claw and wavy along the edge. Falls continga purple, almost velvety in texture. The veining is boldly spaced on whitish outer haft, while those on Kochii are not so prominent. Its fragrance is good, its color very intense, and its spathe valves deeply tinged. The persistent green foliage is attractive in winter."
The substance is a bit lacking, but it is more than made up for with another trait - a tendency for repeat blooming.

When it is well established and happy, a clump of 'Crimson King' is likely to send up bloomstalks over a very long period of time. One after another the stalks send out blooms, lasting an entire two-month period in my garden one year. In warm climates it has been known to rebloom in summer, as well as showing up unexpectedly at other times of the year. One of the hardiest and most carefree irises known, this is a favorite of many collectors of historics, and is easy to find. Hybridizers have since created many varieties that fit the term crimson better, but there is no doubt this one remains the King of early spring.

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