Monday, March 13, 2017

Lloyd Austin - Pioneering Iris Hybridizer: Part 2


by Jean Richter

Part II: Rebloomers and the Dawn of the Space Age

                                Thanksgiving Firelight (Austin 1950) rebloomer

Another of Austin’s major interests was the popularization and improvement of reblooming iris, those iris that bloom more than just once in the spring. He realized early on that if iris were ever to become popular with the general gardening public, multiple-season-blooming iris of quality would be essential to their success. He collected and publicized the available reblooming cultivars, and worked them into his own breeding program.
He began selling reblooming iris in his earliest catalogs, and by the early 1950s had begun categorizing the rebloomers he sold by the month in which they would rebloom, thereby assisting buyers in the selection of rebloomers appropriate for their area.

Austin introduced many rebloomers of his own, greatly expanding the number of available varieties. While some may have been named with a bit too much optimism  (‘Blue Everbloomer’, for example), quite a number of them are excellent growers and reliable rebloomers, such as ‘Winter Flame’ (1953) , ‘Winter Gold’ (1965), and  ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (1963).

                                Winter Flame (Austin 1953)           rebloomer

In May 1944, Lloyd Austin was visiting the garden of Sydney B. Mitchell (an associate of Carl Salbach) in Berkeley, and noticed a ruffled plicata seedling, M-5-38 (introduced in 1945 as ‘Advance Guard’), that possessed a slight projection at the end of its beard. As Professor Mitchell had no interest in pursuing the possibilities of this anomalous beard morphology, he allowed Austin to use it in his hybridizing experiments. He selfed M-5-38, and noticed that one of the resulting seedlings had the beginnings of horns – a lavender fancy numbered 638. 

Among a number of other discarded seedlings he had received from Professor Mitchell, Austin found another with a tendency to form a projection at the end of its beard – JS-M-176B. Austin crossed 9 flowers of JS-M-176B with pollen from 638, resulting in 296 seeds. As the seedlings from these crosses bloomed, he discovered that the great majority had horns to some extent. 56 of these horned seedlings were reselected, and from this one cross came the first wave of Austin’s horned introductions: ‘Unicorn’ (1954) (the first introduced horned iris, initially offered for the princely sum of $100!), ‘Mulberry Snow’ (1955), ‘Plumed Delight’ (1955), ‘Wings of Flight’ (1957), and ‘Spooned Fantom’ (1960). 

                                                Unicorn (Austin 1954)       
                                          Horned Mystery (Austin 1961)
                                           Spooned Fantom (Austin 1960)

Austin then pollinated JS-M-176B X 638 seedlings with pollen from a number of different tangerine-bearded pink iris, including ‘Twilight Sky,’ which resulted in both ‘Horned Skylark’ (1957) and ‘Pink Unicorn’ (1960); ‘Cherie’s pollen produced  ‘Horned Rubyfalls’ (1958); ‘Pink Formal’s pollen produced ‘Horned Rosyred’ (1958); ‘Fantasy’s pollen produced ‘Horned Royalty’ (1958); and ‘Pink Tower’s pollen produced ‘Horned Amethyst’ (1960).

                                              Pink Unicorn (Austin 1960)

                                           Horned Rosyred (Austin 1958)

For the rest of his life, Austin pursued his hybridizing program with space age iris, introducing many horned, spooned, and flounced iris. His work was cut short by his sudden death in 1963 – one can only wonder what new and exciting varieties he would have developed if he had had the opportunity to fully explore the possibilities of space age iris.

Magic Rosette (Austin 1966)
Editor's Note: Jean will conclude her informative information about Lloyd Austin next week in the third part of this series.

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