Monday, December 28, 2015

Understanding Louisiana Iris Part 5: Applying What We Learned to Modern Cultivars

                                                                    By Joseph Musacchia

    In previous blogs, we’ve examined traits of 4 of the 5 Louisiana iris species. Now we will look at how these attributes come into play in the modern cultivars. As you can see in the timeline below, collecting didn’t garner attention until around 1929 with Dr. John Small's discovery and promotion of Louisiana iris. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that growers began dabbling in hybridizing in earnest. Until that time, most Louisiana hybrids were either collected or grown from collected seedpods.

History Timeline
  'Black Widow', a 1953 introduction grown from collected seeds, won the Mary Swords DeBaillon Award in 1968. Although the parents are not known, from growing this cultivar for many years, I believe it to be mostly I. fulva with some I. giganticaerulea. When used in hybridizing, the seedlings come out looking like I. fulva.

'Black Widow'
,MacMillan, W. 1953
'Almost Forgotten'
Musacchia J. 2014

   One of the first objectives of the early hybridizers was to extend the growing range of hybrids further north. Most of the natural hybrids at that time were collected I. giganticaerulea crosses, and did not fare well the further north you went. Mr. Frank Chowning of Arkansas was one of the first hybridizers to work on cold hardiness. Most of his hybrids involved crosses with I. brevicaulis. The characteristics of I. brevicaulis can be found in many of his hybrids, (shorter stalks, later bloom, blue coloring).

'Pristine Beauty'
Chowing 1955
'Black Gamecock'
Chowning 1978
'Red Echo'
Rowlan, 1983
   A short time later I. fulva was included in the breeding program, adding the colors red and yellow to the palette, as well as height to the plants.

'Heavenly Glow'
Morgan 1988

   And finally, with the inclusion of I. nelsonii, taller stalks, deeper reds, and the over-lapping form appeared. Below we have 'Ann Chowning', considered to be one of the first real red Louisianas.

'Amm Chowning'
Chowning 1976

  One of my own introductions, 'Pointe Aux Chenes', demonstrates the range of traits discussed here. It is a mixture of the four species mentioned. It grows well everywhere I have sent it, and has many qualities we look for in modern Louisiana cultivars: a stronger stalk, a fuller form, and cold hardiness, to name a few.

'Pointe Aux Chenes'
Musacchia 2005
   In future blogs, I’ll be discussing more LA iris traits and how to recognize them in modern hybrids, with the goal of better understanding the Louisiana iris.

                                    Happy New Year

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