Monday, May 18, 2015

Yellow-flowered Pacifica Iris, from species to modern hybrids

Kathleen Sayce

Starting with yellow flowers, one of the most common colors in wild Pacific Iris populations, I will work through the color spectrum in coming months, though not in strict rainbow order! 

Ken Walker, SPCNI's photo archivist, gave a talk on this topic at AIS's 2012 Convention in Ontario, CA. I will include photos from that talk when I get to some colors and patterns.

Species of all colors tend to narrow petals with a few veins, a small signal, and no to limited ruffling. Hybrids developed with broader falls, more ruffled edges, larger style arms and standards, and with a dizzying array of veining patterns, larger signals, multiple colors in the signals, and slashes down the center of the falls.

So, beginning with yellow, I start with the Golden Iris.

Iris innominata in a garden setting, this one has fairly narrow petals and brown veins on the falls.
Iris innominata, Golden Iris, is one of the gorgeous species in the Pacifica group. [OK, there are no non-gorgeous PCIs, some are simply gaudier than others.] In the wild, I. innominata petal color varies from white through pale yellow to dark gold and almost orange. Veining varies from almost none to orange, red, dark red or brown.  Wild petal width varies from very narrow to moderately wide and slightly ruffled. Wild plants are small, usually well under one foot (25 cm) in height. Flowers are usually held above the foliage. Foliage is dark green, and evergreen. This is a very attractive garden plant even as a wild species. 

Unregistered PCI Burnt Sugar is a slightly huskier innominata-type with a more complex signal, dark red veins, and larger leaves and flowers. 

Yellow flowers are also seen in wild populations of I. chrysophylla, I. douglasiana, I. tenax and in natural hybrids. Garden-selected plants that range from pale yellow to dark yellow have been developed in the past century, with the brakes off on veining, ruffling, signal size and color, and other traits.

PCI 'Garden Delight' is a lighter yellow with even more complex signal and veins on falls. Flower stalks tend to flop over, however, so it's best grown with other plants to provide support. 
As breeders worked on yellows, petals got larger, wider, and more ruffled, and signals and veining patterns increased in complexity. 

PCI 'Sierra Amarillo' is darker yellow than 'Garden Delight', and is also floppy in the flower bed. The flowers are delightful, however, and worth growing with other plants to hold them up. 

Some new seedlings from tall-yellow seed from Joe Ghio include the following flower, which is still being evaluated in my garden. 
This Ghio-sourced seedling has more ruffles and delivers a nice blast of light yellow.
Other new hybrids include one seen here before, an unregistered yellow Pacifica Iris that delivers floral complexity on a sturdy plant, with nicely upright flowers, not too ruffly. It even holds up in the rain fairly well. 

This pale yellow PCI has a complex signal with multicolored veins and a hint of blue on the falls; see this on the right hand flower in particular. Flowers are slightly ruffled, but not solid 'dinner-plates' of overlapping petals. No name yet––I'm pondering Golden Dawn, or Golden Twilight. It's nicely upright in flower. 
I return to judging guidelines regularly to remind myself that good Iris flowers have to hold up in weather, and be strong plants, not simply have beautiful flowers. Garry Knipe and I talked a couple of years ago about a sturdy yellow PCI that would flower in early spring with the daffodils. I can't wait to see this one!


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