Monday, June 29, 2015

Four months of Pacifica Iris blooms, and still going in late June

Kathleen Sayce

This title is not a mistake, nor an Energizer battery advertisement: Pacifica Iris begin flowering in March, and are still flowering in my garden (on the West Coast at 46 N latitude) in June.  Blooms shift from one group to another over the months. I did not initially plan for a long bloom season, it happened by chance.  

An early I. douglasiana selection 

PCI 'Premontion of Spring' also flowers sporadically from fall to spring Equinox,
 ending in late March. 

The Pacifica Iris blooming year begins in the fall, with PCI 'Premontion of Spring', a hybrid developed by Garry Knipe, Cupertino, CA.   It flowers mid-fall through late winter. In my garden, it starts in September, and continues to spring, straddling the Fall to Spring equinoxes, tossing out a flower or two every few weeks. Garry is working on other early flowering hybrids, so look for more plants like this in coming years. 

I also grow several selections of Iris unguicularis, which flower sporadically through winter, peaking in March, and I. danfordiae and I. reticulata, which usually flower in February and March.
I. unguicularis flowers sporadically
all winter into early spring; not a
PCI, it may cross with them.

The main flowering event begins in mid March to early April, with many hybrids opening flowers in just a few weeks. The race is on each year to see which one will flower first. In 2015, PCI 'FingerPointing' had colored buds showing, but PCI 'Blue Plate Special' opened first. A week later, dozens of hybrids were flowering. 

PCI 'Blue Plate Special' is one of several
blues that come on in April.

PCI 'Daria' is another sturdy main season

This seedling yellow is from a mix of tall yellows
from Ghio; it also starts a bit later.

PCI 'Rodeo Gulch' starts a few weeks after other hybrids

This main season of blooms from hybrid plants lasts six to eight weeks or more, depending on weather. Hot days will bring flowers on quickly, and then finish quickly. In cool weather, the hybrids may flower for more than ten weeks, from early April well into June. Species that flower during this period include I. innominata (usually early), various I. douglasiana selections straddling the whole period, and I. chrysophylla.

By June, most hybrids are done. This year, PCI 'CapeFerrelo' and a seedling of PCI 'Untitled' kept opening flowers into mid June, one or two at a time. By then, the flower show shifted to Iris tenax, late flowering I. douglasiana types, and other species crosses, including I. tenax x I. innominata and I. chrysophylla x I. tenax.

Species flowers aren't as showy as hybrids, and the color palette is 
more limited, but a month after the commercial hybrids are done, these are going strong. I particularly like I. douglasiana from Mendocino Coast Botanic Gardens, and Cape Blanco, for their late purple flowers, and dwarf I. douglasiana, from the SPCNI seed exchange, for very low plants that flower in June to early July most years.  

I. tenax, Neahkahnie seacliffs, south
Clatsop Co., Oregon, has a
 wonderful late show of flowers

Wild-collected I. tenax from southern Clatsop County, Oregon, flowers reliably in June in my garden, usually peaking as the first lilies come into bloom. I also have a purple small-flowered I. douglasiana x I. chrysophylla, also from the seed exchange, that peaks in early June; the plant is taller than most hybrids; the latter tend to be well under two feet tall.

I. innominata x I. tenax is also late.
The original seed lot gave
 seven color patterns.

The nicest aspect of late flowering species is that bees easily find the flowers, which set a lot of seed to share out to others. In my garden, early to mid season flowers (PCI hybrids) don't always get pollinated. Poor seed set early in the season was very noticeable this year. I'm looking into ways to encourage bumblebees and other cool season bees to help this along. Early seed set is less problematic in warmer gardens, and plants are probably taller too.
Late and low-growing, this I. douglasiana is usually the last PCI to flower. Flowers and foliage are under 12 inches tall. 

I'm waiting to see which plants flower last this year: dwarf I. douglasiana or I. innominata x I. tenax? Meanwhile, lilies are opening first blooms all over the garden, and will carry the flower banner forward to early September.

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