Monday, May 30, 2016

Louisiana Irises That Make Me Happy

By Patrick O'Connor

Amazing progress has been made in the relatively few years in which Louisiana irises have been hybridized.  Those stalwarts who collected wild irises in swamps and along bayous and who began hybridizing in the 1930s and 1940s would be hard pressed to recognize some of the newer hybrids.  Even those working in the 1980s and 1990s surely would be surprised by their change in appearance and pleased with improvements in performance as a good garden plant.

I generally like the new irises and have been impressed by almost all.  Those marked by the greatest transformation in appearance of the flower, however, are not necessarily the ones I am happiest to see every year.  Don’t get me wrong.  Ruffling is great.  Green styles can be pleasing.  Signals on all parts add nice variation.  Strong substance generally is a plus.  Who can argue that a high bud count is not better than a lower one?

There is something to be said, however, for old friends, old forms, and for simplicity and grace.  I think those qualities may be what makes me happy to see some favorite irises each year and to resist any urge to move them out to make way for the new.

This blog will be about some iris hangers-on.  A few are actually old, but others simply hearken back to the time before the ruffling revolution, which really began not so long ago.  Even some new irises channel the quintessence of the wild ones and reinforce a prime directive for Louisiana irises:  There are a variety of pleasing forms, not a single model for a good iris.   And, it should be added, it is the appearance and performance of an iris in the garden that is the real test of its quality.

'Plum Good'

A good place to start is ‘Plum Good’ (Nelson, 2001).  This iris was developed by the late Ira S. Nelson, probably in the 1950s, but was only registered by his widow Barbara many years later.  The intensity of the plum red color and bright yellow arrowhead signal make this one striking iris.  The form is a bit open and slightly flaring, creating a bold but airy effect in the garden.  Many old irises drift away, but iris gardeners have refused to let this one go.


If red is your color, ‘Acadian’ (Conger, 1956) remains appealing.  It was registered as “violet rose” but I don’t see that.  To me, the falls are distinctly red heavily overlaid with wine veining.  True, the standards are a lighter color, and violet rose may be accurate, but the overall effect of the flower is a textured red.  I don’t know of anything else quite like it even after all these years.

'It's A Boy'

Dorman Haymon’s ‘It’s A Boy’ (Haymon, 1989) is an overlooked iris.  It is a clear lavender blue with a strong yellow arrowhead signal outlined deep blue.  The flower form is open.  The registration blurb tags this iris as blooming at midseason, but after three years I have yet to find that accurate.  It is one of the last irises of the season, and it thus recommends itself to the procrastinating yet discriminating hybridizer.  ‘It’s A Boy’ provides a very beautiful and welcome surprise when the bloom season seems almost over.
'Velvet Memory'

Color distinguishes ‘Velvet Memory’ (Morgan, R, 1994) and I look forward to seeing its face every year.  Richard Morgan registered it as “dark red violet” and I can’t disagree as far as that goes.  But there is something about the tone that is distinct.  I have called it violet purple but that probably is no more accurate.  I’m not sure that my pictures or monitor capture the color or that any other iris has duplicated it.

'Morgan's Dixie'

My current favorite Richard Morgan iris is ‘Morgan’s Dixie’ (Morgan, by Melody and Jerry Wilhoit, 2009).  It is a short bright gold that is edged terracotta.  It provides a vivid-to-nearly-blinding patch of orange in the garden.  This, as they say, as one that you can’t pass by, but partly that’s because it reaches out and grabs you by the ankles.  I cannot imagine a replacement for this one.  ‘Morgan’s Dixie’ proves that an iris does not have to be tall to stand tall.

'Creole Canary'

Double Louisiana irises may be an acquired taste and if so, I have acquired it.  They are oddities, really, and perhaps are best enjoyed if few in number.  One I like is ‘Creole Canary’ (Granger, 1976).   It is “double” in the extreme, having six falls and a bunch of extra petaloids too numerous to count precisely.  One might say it’s a mess.  It is, but I enjoy looking at it every year.

"Henry Rowlan'

‘Henry Rowlan’ (M. D. Faith, 2000) is hardly an oldie, but it demonstrates that a clean, simple form devoid of ruffling (much less doubling) retains a strong appeal.  This is a gorgeous velvety purple iris that I never expect to replace.  The contrasting bright yellow of the crown signal is striking.  Someday this totally unruffled form may represent the new novelty iris.

As might be expected, I am attached to several of my own hybrids.  I still like these, but they may not grab others.  They include  ‘Barataria’ (2002), ‘Little Woods’ (2004), ‘Gentilly’ (2003), ‘Cocodrie’ (2013), ‘When Pigs Fly’ (2013) and ‘Zydeco’ (1999).

‘Barataria’ is one of those irises that do not have show stalks, but they are produced in such profusion that a clump provides a color blast approaching that of a blooming azalea.  The day-glo rose color and contrasting white styles are an early highlight in the garden.  ‘Little Woods’ is a softer color – a warm rose – that is best appreciated close up.   The styles and signals have a subtle greenish cast and a line of deeper rose decorates the center of the falls.  One of the best smaller Louisiana irises.

'Little Woods'


‘Cocodrie’ defies the demand for overlapping petals but its flaring form, orange color and decorative signals underline the Louisiana standard that many forms are fine.  This is another iris that slows your stroll down the garden path.  ‘When Pigs Fly’ exerts the same pull with a unique combination of pearly pink and yellow signals outlined by bright fuchsia.   This iris was named for its possibility of winning a Dykes, but at least there is no mistaking this one for any other.  It’s a fun iris.

'When Pigs Fly'

‘Gentilly’ is a favorite due to its soft peach tones and tastefully decorated styles showing a hint of green but tipped rose, and with a yellow signal outlined deep orange.  That may sound busy but the color contrasts are subtle, not garish.  This iris is best enjoyed out of the full blast of all day sunlight.  It definitely does benefit from partial shade.


‘Zydeco’ returned to form this year when planted again in a garden bed rather than under water culture.   There aren’t many, but a few Louisiana irises prefer to grow in a garden bed rather than in the bogs I create with drainless containers.  ‘Zydeco’ is a bright burnt orange self that deserves to be treated the way it wants.


Perhaps eventually I will tire of some of these old iris friends, as I have others.  I do like to think they retain some of the character of their wild ancestors.  It has become clear that the genetic possibilities for development and transformation of Louisiana irises are practically limitless.  Someday they may be unrecognizable as products of the natural world.   I hope that future Louisianas maintain qualities that reflect the essence of their natural heritage, and that we will not be entirely dazzled by beautiful images more likely to inhabit the far end of a kaleidoscope.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

1 comment:

  1. Plum Good and Acadian are my favorites here. Baratria is a wonderful color too. Great article.


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