Monday, June 22, 2015



'War Sails' (Schreiner 1983) Unknown parentage

This year I resolved to try hybridizing irises.  I was drawn in by a YouTube video by Mark Richards of Pleasant Valley Iris Farm,  here,  and an interesting article by Dan Holt, here.  

These references took the mystery and fear out of hybridizing, so I decided to write this article, geared toward the novice iris hybridzer.  I'm just learning about it and want to share with other beginners what I learned.  

I joined the Facebook page IRIS HYBRIDIZERS about three months ago.  I immediately put my foot in my mouth and showed my ignorance on the subject by stating 

"I don’t know why but it surprises me that there are so many irises with unknown ancestors that are allowed to be registered on the American Iris Registry.  It just seems like a hybridizer should know the genealogy when he or she registers it."

A number of people took issue with this statement because I used the word "allowed", and what followed was an enlightening exchange with some important hybridizers.   What I wanted to know was what circumstances lead to hybridizers not knowing one or both parents when they register new iris?  The following is what I learned when I stirred up the hornet's nest.  

The obvious reason is that some iris crosses are the results of “bee pods,” meaning a bee has brought pollen to a flower and pollinated it and the result is a swollen pod. The grower would know the pod parent but would not know which flower or flowers the bee had visited before coming to pollinate that iris. He or she could decide to let that pod ripen and save and plant the seeds anyway.  

There are also some other less obvious reasons for a breeder not to know parentage.  One hybridizer said he always labeled his crosses with a label but he had a teenage neighbor with Down’s Syndrome who got a kick out of changing the signs around. Another said they knew of a certain hybridizer who invented pedigree information if he didn’t happen to like the hybridizer whose plant he was using for breeding. Another had a cat who took out the labels and played with them.  Another claimed that there was at least one breeder who just didn’t want to be bothered with registration and got cross with the registrar over it. He didn’t have adequate records to start with, and made stuff up.  There were also several hybridizers who had iris gardens with crosses in them all labeled when terrible weather took out the labels.  A lot of information was lost during hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.
One of our well-known and respected hybridizers said that a lot of people seem to take registration as a kind of stamp of approval, deeming something as worthy of being sold, or like a patent or something.  I was one of those people.  As it turns out, it’s just about ensuring “one iris, one name.”  That made perfect sense to me.  Another said that registration aids when giving out awards later on. 

Another comment was that some hybridizers were afraid people would steal their ideas.  Later in the thread someone said that hiding parentage deliberately is a useless exercise.  He said by the time you have registered an iris you are already about 5 years or more ahead of anyone who would copy it. 

There are many wonderful irises whose parentage or partial parentage is unknown.  Here are some of examples of irises that I grow that we don’t know one or both of the parents.  All are lovely and some are Dykes Medal winners.  

'Dusky Challenger' (Schreiner 1986) Unknown parentage Dykes Medal 1992

'Stepping Out' (Schreiner 1964) Unknown parentage Dykes Medal 1968

 'Clarence' (l. Zurbrigg 1990)  Unknown Parentage Wister Medal 

'Girly Girl' (Schreiner 2013) Unknown Parentage 

'Lioness' (Ernst 1989) Unknown Parentage 

'Salzburg Echo' (Schreiner 2009) Unknown Parentage 

'Sweet Serenade' (Schreiner 2011) Unknown parentage 

The following irises have the pod parent listed but not the pollen parent: 

'Tut's Gold' (Schreiner 1979)  Pod parent is listed as 'Saffron Robe' but the pollen parent is unknown          

'Syrian Hills' (Schreiner 2012) Pod parent is 'Regal Affair' X 'Conjuration' and the pollen parent is unknown

'Picture Book' (Ghio 2006) This beauty's pod parent is 'Treasured' but the pollen parent is unknown
Unfortunately, my plan to begin breeding irises was foiled this year by torrential rain, but I am on the lookout for bee pods.  Maybe the bees did some work in the few moments that it wasn't raining.  

If this article sparks your interest in hybridizing I suggest you go to the two links above.  Although there are a number of good resources, these are the two I found most useful. Happy gardening, and let me know how it goes.


  1. Love this article!

    1. Thank you very much. I wish you weren't anonymous.

  2. Dawn...what a great bit of information. I had always wondered the same things. Thanks for taking the time and effort to put this forth!

  3. These pictures are fabulous Dawn. May I re-use some of them in my Gardening website?

    1. Yes Isabelle if you credit me with the picture.

  4. My neighbor was blessed this year with some "UFO's" (Unidentified Flowering Objects)... our nickname for irises whose parentage is unknown! The only known iris near where these were collected were some unnamed purple and some unnamed yellow. The UFO is a GORGEOUS copper/bronze with flashes of purple and yellow, subtle wash of purple, and we think it's the work of a bee. The person whose garden these irises came from wasn't diligent about removing pods, and perhaps a pod split, scattered seed, and these grew into a cluster that my neighbor took when she finally got out there to thin things up a bit. This is the first blooming year, and they are outstanding! Strangely, they harmonize beautifully with some nandina that she has at the edge of her garden, as if they were chosen to grow there specifically... but they're completely new! I'm going to get a few rhizomes to add to my collection and use for breeding with my own residents. I think it would be a beautiful partner for 'Cowabunga', a gorgeous blue-purple. Whatever its origins, it's a winner in its own right... and a one of a kind.