Wednesday, June 26, 2013


By: Susanne Holland Spicker

Last week I visited ZEBRA IRIS GARDENS. The spuria irises were in bloom, and it was a visual treat! I saw rows and rows of stately spuria clumps.  The warm sunlight brought out the beautiful veining on the exquisite iris falls and the garden was  a myriad of colors with the lush green foliage showcasing their loveliness; it was extraordinary--ethereal.

You might ask, "What exactly is a spuria iris?" 

  • Spurias are beardless iris with elegant blooms
  • They will grow and flower with ease in most areas of the country, especially those where summer months are dry
  • They don't like to be disturbed, and can go 10-15 years without dividing
  • Their tall, bright green foliage and eye-catching blooms are not bothered by winds
  • They are great in floral arrangements, having a long vase life
  • Spurias love a well-balanced fertilizer, such as 14-14-14
  • Don't let spurias dry out before transplanting; some people use a wet paper towel to keep them hydrated until time for planting
  • They like full sunlight, or at least 1/2 day of sun
  • After established, they are quite drought tolerant
  • Plant in an area with good drainage

Brad Kasperek's interest in hybridizing spuria irises began in 2005.   He had often lost much of his bearded seedling bloom to hard April freezes, and had been thinking of switching his hybridizing priority to spuria irises. The president of the Spuria Iris Society cornered him one day and helped convince him it was something he should do.  Well, he was right!  Brad says he wishes he had started a decade earlier. 

Brad says that "most seasoned iris hybridizers develop an 'intuition' about which two parents to select when pursuing new flower coloration," but that he is too new at spurias to have that ability yet.  He said that his "first couple years of seedlings were a great disappointment since their flowers were just like what had already been introduced."  After that experience, he said that he chose his "spuria parents more carefully, and this year's seedling bloom from 2008 and 2009 crosses is providing some 'gnu' flower colors and rounder form."
Hybridizer Brad Kasperek, Zebra Iris Gardens, with one of his stunning seedlings, pictured below.

The evening I arrived at ZEBRA IRIS GARDENS I was in luck--Brad was in the process of hybridizing.  Brad says he has found the best time for this is between the hours of 7 and 9 pm, when the flowers are more fertile.  Watching the painstaking procedure of pollinating, tagging, and recording the data was fascinating.  It will be one or two years before Brad sees the fruits of his labors. He says "his current hybridizing goals include a line of non-yellow solid colors and transferring some of Charles Jenkins' and Barry Blyth's color breaks, new colors or patterns, to better plants." He says that he believes that "the best plants are from Dave Niswonger with some from Jenkins and Floyd Wickencamp as well."

 A bed of newly transplanted spuria iris among the established clumps of blooming flowers.

Brad believes that spuria hybridizers and the AIS should "focus more on advancements in spuria flower color and form at this time, rather than on the 'perfect plant.' "  He said that "Melba Hamblin, a very successful Utah hybridizer, always taught 'first you get the flower, and then you get the plant.' "  Brad says "both goals often take decades to reach, but almost every commercial hybridizer knows that color and form, not plant, is what sells."   So, his advice for both the Spuria Iris Society and AIS judging would be "a greater emphasis on colors and form at this time, in the hopes of expanding the garden appeal of 
l. spuria." 

This year, Brad has two exceptional spuria introductions and one was in bloom when I visited. "WAPITI CITI" (SPU 42" EM Kasperek '13), is lightly ruffled, with rich, medium red-purple standards, style arms and fall rims.  Matching inverted eyelash veining on a bright yellow signal completes this introduction.  It also has 6-8 buds.  Regal!

An introduction last year, "IBEX IBIS"  (Kerr/Kasperek 2012) is a well-proportioned clump.  It has 6 budded stalks with a mass of flowers with medium lavender standards and a matching band around sunshine yellow falls.

Outstanding seedlings include the following:

ZEBRA IRIS GARDENS also has an impressive selection of award-winning spuria irises from other hybridizers. Some of my favorites in bloom that day are pictured here:
"BLUE SPIDERWEB" Ferguson 1966
"LEMON TOWER" Walker 2008
"BOLDLY ELEGANT" Cadd 2003--striking!
"ADRIATIC BLUE" Niswonger 1996--superb!
"ADOBE SUNSET" McCown 1979
"WILD AT HEART" Blyth 1999
"SULTANS SASH" Niswonger 1990--elegant
"CINNAMON MOON"  Blyth 2003--a real dazzler
"NORTHERN MUSE" Walker/Aberego 1985
"STEELY EYES" Walker 2006
"KAIBAB TRAIL" Wickenkamp 1985
"PEAK ALONE" Evans 1997 (Australia)
"STELLA IRENE" Jenkins 1995--Dramatic!
"CANDLE LACE"  Jenkins 1990--Ruffled falls
"RESPONSE"  Corlew 1989
"FIREMIST" Niswonger 1991--Gorgeous!
"NOBLE ROMAN" Blyth 1994
"VIOLET FUSION" Walker 2006
"MISSOURI BOON" Niswonger/Wilhoits 2007

I eagerly look forward to additional introductions from Brad. I predict a resurgence of these remarkable flowers in the iris world--the possibilities are exciting!  I appreciate Brad's hospitality and thank him for welcoming me to his stunning iris garden.

To read more on spuria irises, or to join the Spuria Iris Society, (SIS) a section of the AIS, see them on their facebook page at or  you can find them at

I'm planning on adding some spuria irises to my landscape this year, how about you?

On a personal note: I didn't have the pleasure of meeting Kathie, who is an integral part of ZEBRA IRIS GARDENS.  She recently had surgery for breast cancer, which will have to be aggressively treated. She will be having a mastectomy, with associated lymph node removal, followed by probable chemotherapy and radiation.  I, along with so many others, wish Brad and Kathie all the best these next months as they deal with this new challenge, while keeping up with the rigors of their commercial iris business. 


  1. Wonderful article and gorgeous pictures. I have been growing Spuria Irises for over 20 years; bought my first ones from Shephard Iris Gardens in Arizona.

    I live in Camp Verde, AZ on acreage that is irrigated and my Spuria love it!! My favorite is Innovator; it is beautiful.
    Thank you for such a wonderful article on Spuria.

    1. Thank you. It's good to know how well they grow in Arizona. I am going to look INNOVATOR up to see just how beautiful it is. I appreciate your comments.

  2. Wonderful article and great pictures, Susanne. Loved it.

  3. Thank you, Andi. I'm embarrassed to say I just saw your comment. My mother wanted to see all my articles, so we're going through them today and I read your nice comment. Thank you for being such an inspiration to me; I appreciate your help.


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