By Bryce Willliamson
In putting together the blog The Winter Flowering I. unguicularis, Mr. Richard Tasco answered my questions and provided images. The following interview has been constructed from our correspondence. I. unguicularis do provide good winter flowering plants in Zone 7 and up, but cannot be grown outside in other zones.
BW: How did you get started hybridizing I. unguicularis?
RT: During the 1998 season I made my first cross with the Iris Unguicularis. This was I. Ssp Cretensis X Marondera. Marondera is an unregistered large flowered Unguicularis of unknown origin. I found reference to this clone in South Africa. This cross produced 3 seeds, two of which germinated and one went on to die. The other turned out to be my first Unguicularis introduction “Dazzling Eyes” (Tasco 2004).
Dazzling Eyes (Tasco)--image by Rick Tasco
In succeeding years I started to use more clones which I acquired: Mary Barnard, Walter Butt, Alba, Lazica and of course Marondera. Marondera more than any of the others proved to be a wonderful parent. It was largely responsible for my goal of getting large flowers with large rounded petals in this class. Lazica and Walter Butt did not produce anything worthwhile. I was more successful with Alba and Mary Barnard. Wishmaster (Tasco 2007) was Marondera X Mary Barnard. This is a large medium purple flower.
BW: What were and are your goals in hybridizing?
RT: Another goal was to use Alba to create a very pale lavender along the lines of Walter Butt, but much larger. This was achieved with my Lavender Moonbeams (Tasco 2014) by using Alba X Marondera. I called it Lavender Moonbeams. I’m still using Alba trying to get a white flower with blue shadings. White flowers do appear in my seedlings but only in the second generation. Such as Alba X Marondera and then Alba by the progeny of the first cross. The percent of white flowers in any cross is about 10 percent, but most white flowers, like Alba, aren’t strong growers. I’m working to improve that.
Lavender Moonbeams (Tasco 2014)--image by Rick Tasco
Still another goal was for dark flowers. Result was Winter Echoes (Tasco 2011), this was a cross of Marondera X Mary Barnard. I’m still working for something darker.
The progeny of these crosses do not produce that much diversity and it is difficult to select something different and better. One year I grew 800 seedlings and only selected two to introduce. Currently I have about 700 unguicularis seedlings.
BW: Do you have any tips for gardeners?
RT: Unguicularis are easy growing plants that can grow and bloom in either full sun or partial shade. In full sun the foliage may yellow somewhat and become upright making it difficult to observe the flowers in bloom. In partial shade the foliage remains greener and tends to reflex so the flowers can be easily be observed.
BW: What are some of the unusual characteristics of I. unguicularis?
Unguicularis do not have stalks. They flower on elongated perianth tubes. Some varieties have longer tubes than others, but most are between 8 and 15 inches.
BW: Do you have any special cultural recommendations?
RT: In our Central California climate it is best to plant or transplant Unguicularis at the end of October or the beginning of November. Although most literature say they can grow in poor soil, I amend my soil with a good soil amendment, half and half, such as Miracle-Gro or Sta-Green (very comparable and less expensive than Miracle-Gro but only available at Lowe’s). This makes a big difference in good growth and more flowers.
From late spring thru October the plant is dormant and the roots will die. When digging for transplant there will be many wiry roots that are dead. With the onset of cooler and wetter weather the plants will begin to grow new fat white roots similar to Pacific Coast Natives. I cut off all the dead and wiry roots before I transplant being careful not to cut the new fat white ones. They transplant easily even into pots.
Tasco 04-ung-02-11_2_2013 (1)--image by Rick Tasco
Editor’s Note: For plants, two sources are available. Superstition Iris Gardens offer three of the four Tasco varieties this year in 4 inch pots for sale and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or search for the Superstition Iris Gardens page on Facebook; Plant Delight Gardens in NC sells them too and they have an on-line catalogue at https://www.plantdelights.com.
My sincere thanks to Mr. Richard Tasco for providing information and images.