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.
,MacMillan, W. 1953
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).
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.
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.
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'|
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