Monday, January 15, 2018

The Legacy of 'Anacrusis'

by Tom Waters

'Anacrusis' (Mathes, 1992), OGB/ABM
There is a very interesting line of irises created by Harald Mathes of Germany, beginning with 'Anacrusis' (Mathes, 1992). This iris was produced in a very interesting way. Mathes crossed a pure oncocyclus aril hybrid (I. iberica x I. auranitica) with the dwarf bearded species I. suaveolens. Both the aril and the dwarf are diploids (two sets of chromosomes), and wide crosses between diploids ordinarily produce sterile offspring. Mathes, however, used colchicine treatment to convert the seedling to tetraploidy (four sets of chromosomes). Theory predicts that such a tetraploid would be fertile, and indeed it was! (See my earlier blog post, Tetraploid Arils, Anyone?) Tetraploids created in this way can be unstable, reverting to the diploid state or growing poorly or erratically. So to preserve this breeding accomplishment, Mathes used the pollen of the tetraploid seedling on a conventional arilbred, 'Dresden Gold' (Foster, 1975). The result of that cross was 'Anacrusis'.

'Anacrusis' thus carries an unusual complement of genetic material. It has two sets of aril chromosomes, one from the oncocyclus hybrid Mathes had used, and one from 'Dresden Gold'. It has one set of TB chromosomes from 'Dresden Gold', and one set of dwarf suaveolens chromosomes. So it is a "halfbred", with two sets of aril chromosomes and two sets of bearded chromosomes, but with an important difference: one of the bearded sets is from the dwarf species I. suaveolens, rather than the TB ancestry found in most halfbreds. The aril species I. auranitica is also something different, not to be found in the ancestry of most halfbreds.  'Anacrusis', the result of this unprecedented combination of genetic material, is an arilbred median (20 inches in height) with the globular oncocyclus flower form, dark color, and a large black signal.

It is worthwhile to compare this with more typical arilbred medians, which come from crossing halfbreds with standard dwarf bearded irises (SDBs). These get their dwarf ancestry from I. pumila, whereas 'Anacrusis' gets its from I. suaveolens. Conventional arilbred medians are one-quarter aril, but 'Anacrusis' is one-half aril. And finally, conventional arilbred medians are sterile, but 'Anacrusis' is fully fertile, just like tall halfbreds are.

But what to cross it with? The first 'Anacrusis' child to be introduced was 'Invention' (Mathes, 1994), the result of crossing 'Anacrusis' with a sibling. This iris is similar to 'Anacrusis', also 20 inches in height, and with a similar dark color.

'Concerto Grosso' (Mathes, 1998) OGB/ABM
The next avenue to explore was combining 'Anacrusis' with other arilbreds. To this end, Mathes made use of one of his other unusual arilbreds, 'Gelee Royale' (Mathes, 1982). This iris is that most unusual of creatures, a pentaploid (five sets of chromosomes)! Its pod parent was an triploid OGB+ arilbred (2/3 aril complement, with the aril sets coming from I. auranitica and the Regelia I. hoogiana), with 'Dresden Gold' again as the pod parent. Although this is a complicated pedigree, 'Gelee Royale' breeds much like other halfbreds do. Mathes crossed 'Gelee Royale' with its sibling, crossed the result with the 'Anacrusis' sibling, and then finally crossed the result to 'Invention'. The result of this multi-generation hybridizing work was 'Concerto Grosso' (Mathes, 1998). Despite the presence of 'Gelee Royale' (registered at 35.5 inches) in its pedigree, 'Concerto Grosso' is still only 20 inches tall itslef.

'Concerto Grosso' has larger flowers than 'Anacrusis' and 'Invention', and is a rich mahogany color, quite different from most arilbreds. It went on to with the C. G. White medal, the highest award for arilbreds, in 2005.

'Iridescent Orange' (Mathes, 2001), OGB
Mathes had not finished his work with this line, however. 'Anacrusis', 'Invention', and 'Concerto Grosso' are all very dark in color, and Mathes wanted to extend the range of this line to lighter hues. 'Iridescent Orange' (Mathes, 2001) from ('Invention' x 'Gelee Royale') X 'Concerto Grosso' is a lovely orange self with a dark signal. At 23 inches in height, it is just above the limit for the arilbred median category, as defined in the Checklist of Arilbred Dwarfs and Medians. Its sibling, 'Suprassing Yellow' (Mathes, 2001) is a yellow rendition of the theme, also 23 inches.

The line is carried on in 'Glittering Garnets' (Donald Eaves by Elm Jensen, 2010) is from 'Anacrusis' crossed with the arilbred 'Desert Plum'. This is 22 inches in height, at the upper limit of the arilbred median category.

These irises have also been used in crosses outside the halfbred fertile family to which they belong. 'Dotted Sunsuit' (Mathes, 2001), is an OGB+ triploid from a yellow 'Anacrusis' sib crossed with an oncogelia seedling. 'Chain Reaction' (Tasco, 2007) comes from an SDB seedling x 'Concerto Grosso', a small arilbred median at 13 inches. 'Arcanum' (Jensen, 2013) is from 'Anacrusis' x I. pumila 'Crouching Tiger', a diminutive arilbred dwarf at only 6 inches in height!

There is still potential to be tapped from the 'Anacrusis' legacy. Its value in breeding fertile arilbred medians should be noticed and pursued. The most promising way to go about this is to cross 'Anacrusis' or any of its descendants with the smallest halfbreds available. 'Peresh' (Whitely, 2001), at 15 inches, and its siblings 'Eglon', 'Kedesh', and 'Tekoah' come to mind.

The creative, unprecedented cross that produced 'Anacrusis' is a true hybridizing success story, not only producing an interesting, attractive iris, but opening up new paths for the hybridizer and for others who were to follow.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New, Exciting Mohr-type Irises

By Bryce Williamson

In my one and only year at Chico State, one of the highlights was the ability to go to Leo T. Clark’s garden at Corning and to see his aril and arilbreds in bloom, irises that sadly had a limited growing range for growth. As a result, I have been keenly interesting in the new generation of Mohr-type arilbreds being introduced, often from a combination of medians and half arilbred irises. Current hybridizers have pushed the colors and patterns into new, exciting directions and the flowers, although only a quarter aril, show more of the aril characteristics that make this exotic group of irises so much fun to view especially since growing the half aril hybrids and pure arils can be a challenge in many climates.

Eye to Eye (Keppel) is an example of more aril-like flowers, including the signal,
and the winner of the 2017 American Iris Society Mohr Medal.
Image by Keith Keppel.

The hope of these new Mohr types is that they will expand the areas where they can be grown with little trouble and bring these exotic, flamboyant flowers to a much larger audience both in The American Iris Society and the general gardening public. For a background on these interesting hybrids, Tom Water wrote a informative World of Irises blog,  Arilbred Iris: A Little History.

Older Mohr type hybrids tended to be crosses of tall bearded irises with, at first, William Mohr, but the new hybrids are using medians and tall bearded irises with variety of arilbred hybrids. I do hope you, as I have done, will add some of these varieties to your garden, expanding your bloom season and bringing fresh colors and patterns into your palette of spring flowers.

Calypso Dancer (Tasco)--image by Rick Tasco

Confederate (Rick Tasco)--image by Rick Tasco

At the present time, the leaders in producing this new generation of Mohr type arilbreds includes Keith Keppel, Paul Black, Thomas Johnson, and Rick Tasco.

 Octave (T. Johnson)--image by Paul Black
 Sri Lanka (T. Johnson)--Image by Paul Black
Suspect (T. Johnson)--image by Paul Black

These are garden irises of limited fertility.  Paul Black in email wrote, "For most here is no fertility, especially the 1/2 breds X SDB....There is a very limited fertility with a few--meaning a seed of two."

His seedling V351A, pictured below, is "the result of Brash and Bold X reblooming TB seedling and there was only 1 seed in the cross, though V351A does show some limited fertility."

Brash and Bold (Black)--image by Paul Black

Black V351A--image by Paul Black

He was extremely lucky with the cross that produced four introductions, ‘Heart of Hearts’, ‘Galaxina’, ‘Perry Dyer’, ‘Red Ahead’ and ‘Soaring Falcon’ are all siblings.  As he wrote, "What a cross!  I’ve gotten a few seed from a couple of them and Adam Cordes has gotten 7 seeds from ‘Heart of Hearts.’"

Soaring Falcon
Red Ahead

 Heart of Hearts

Perry Dyer--images by Paul Black

In responding to my question about the range where these hybrids will grow and bloom, he wrote, "Yes, the aril-medians (1/2 bred X SDB) will grow further south than SDBs.  ‘Desert Snow’ has grown well and bloomed in Manitoba, Canada, and also for Walter Moores in Mississippi.  That probably accounts for its popularity."

Desert Snow--images by Paul Black

At this point, there are only a few sources for plants. Two reputable sources are Mid America and Superstition. Click on the nursery name and it will take you to a link where you can find out more information from the garden owners.

Monday, January 8, 2018

William Mohr - A Brief Life But Enormous Influence on Iris

by Jean Richter

The San Francisco bay area has produced a number of important iris hybridizers. In my most recent blog (October 30, 2017), my subject was one of the earliest bay area hybridizers, Sydney B. Mitchell. One of Mitchell's close associates was an equally important hybridizer, William Mohr, whose work Mitchell carried on after his untimely death in 1923. Had Mohr not passed away at the age of 52 after only ten years of hybridizing work with iris, he undoubtedly would have become one of the most well-known iris hybridizers of his era.

      Sacramento (Mohr-Mitchell 1929)

William Mohr's father Cornelius Mohr was a German immigrant to the U.S. who, after leaving his job on a whaling ship in San Francisco, settled in the nearby Mt. Eden area (now known as Hayward) in the 1850s. Cornelius bought a grain farm from the Castro family (who had large holdings in the area via Spanish land grants prior to California's acquisition by the U.S.). His son William Mohr was born on the farm in 1870. Cornelius died in 1878, and after coming of age William took over the farm operations. He diversified the farm's holdings, adding row crops such as tomatoes and sugar beets in addition to wheat.  At the time of his death his holdings were 400 acres, most of which were rented out to other vegetable growers. He kept 60 acres to grow his strains of wheat and barley, and had two to three acres near his home for his flower garden, which was varied and extensive. He hybridized many other flower varieties in addition to iris, including daffodils, primrose, tulips, and clematis.

William married Alfreda (Frieda) Mohr, and they had a young daughter named Marion in 1913.

When William Mohr began his hybriziding work with iris, he first worked with the common tall bearded iris of the day, but soon began working with tetraploid iris species such as Iris mesopotamica and cypriana to introduce larger flowers and better branching into his hybrids. He also began working with the aril species oncocylcus and reglia, and used mesopotamica also in these crosses. He hybridized a very large variety of iris, including all the bearded classes, aril-bearded hybrids (arilbreds), spuria iris, Siberian iris, and Pacific coast iris.

  Iris mesopotamica

In his hybridizing work he was guided by extensive correspondence with early hybridizers Grace Sturtevant and Dr. Samuel Stillman Berry, and particularly by Sydney B. Mitchell, who lived just fifteen miles away. Describied by Mitchell in his obituary for him as a shy, retiring, and humble man, Mohr was quite reluctant to name and introduce his creations despite their quality. One early success was a cross of mesopotamica with the tall bearded iris Juniata (Iris pallida ancestry) which produced Conquistador (Mohr 1923).

 Conquistador (Mohr 1923)

A great interest in the last few years of his life was producing a larger yellow iris. He crossed yellow Iris pumila with mesopotamica and Iris trojana, seedlings which eventually resulted in varieties such as Alta California (Mohr-Mitchell 1931) and California Gold (Mohr-Mitchell 1933).

 California Gold (Mohr-Mitchell 1933)

He produced a number of large white seedlings, including the variety eventually named Purissima (Mohr-Mitchell 1927). I have a picture of this iris in my Mitchell blog, and here reproduce a picture from the 1938 bulletin of the British Iris Society, showing an enormously tall clump of Purissima next to the then-president of the BIS, Geoffrey Langton Pilkington (who as I understand was not a small man).
Purissima (Mohr-Mitchell 1927) with BIS President Pilkington

Mohr also had great interest in plicatas, and a number of his best plicata seedlings were  introduced after his death. Mitchell chose California place names for a number of Mohr's iris (e.g. Sacramento, the first picture in this blog), and below are two of Mohr's most famous plicatas, San Francisco (Mohr 1927), the first Dykes Medal winner, and Los Angeles (Mohr-Mitchell 1927).

   San Francisco (Mohr 1927)                   Los Angeles (Mohr-Mitchell 1927)

Mitchell named one of Mohr's seedlings for his wife Frieda:

Frieda Mohr (Mohr-Mitchell 1926)

Mohr also named an iris for his daughter Marian. Sadly, as far as I know this iris is no longer extant. If it could be found again, it would be a wonderful addition to his iris legacy.

Photo of Marian Mohr (Mohr 1923) and its namesake (from the 1923 AIS Bulletin)

In 1923, William Mohr, his wife Frieda, and daughter Marian were driving with three neighbors when they encountered a parked truck full of produce. With the large truck in their way (and no rail crossing gate) they did not see the oncoming mail express train which collided with their car, killing everyone except Marian, who was seriously injured but survived. After recovering, Marian went to live with her mother's parents in Iowa, but returned to the Bay Area to attend the University of California, where she met her husband Jeryl Fry. Together they worked her father's farm, and when that became too difficult with the encroaching city (the original farm is now on the site of Chabot  College), moved the farm activities to the San Joachin Valley, where it still exists today as the Mohr-Fry Ranches. Marian lived to the great age of 94, passing away in 2007. She and her husband are buried in the family plot (with William and Frieda Mohr) at the Mt. Eden Cemetery in Hayward.

After Mohr's death, Sydney B. Mitchell took his seedlings into his care, and began introducing his best varieties and working further with his stock. Mohr's best arilbred seedling and greatest pride, a cross of tall bearded iris Parisiana and aril species Iris gatesii, which had been shown in 1923 prior to his death at an Oakland iris show, was named by Mitchell as William Mohr.

William Mohr (Mohr 1925)

Despite his brief time in the iris world, William Mohr left a great legacy of iris, both bearded and arilbred. His influence is particularly evident in the arilbred iris, where it has been a naming convention for some time to incorporate Mohr into arilbred iris names. The AIS name registry lists over 100 iris names that include Mohr, the vast majority of which are arilbred iris. A few examples include Elmohr (one of whose parents is William Mohr), the winner of the 1945 Dykes Medal.

Elmohr (Loomis-Long 1942)

Another is Lady Mohr, introduced by Mitchell associate Carl Salbach, which also has William Mohr in its lineage.

 Lady Mohr (Salbach 1943)

A further honor accorded to Willliam Mohr is the William Mohr Medal, which is awarded by the AIS each year to the best arilbred iris of 1/4 up to 1/2 aril ancestry.

Despite the depth of William Mohr's influence on iris, one can only wonder what would have been if he had not left us so soon in his hybridizing career. What are your favorite William Mohr iris?

I am greatly indebted to my wife Bonnie Petheram, whose research at the Hayward Historical Society and the Sydney B. Mitchell papers at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library form the basis of this blog, along with Sydney B. Mitchell's obituary of Mohr from the 1923 AIS Bulletin and historical material from the Mohr-Fry Ranch.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reblooming Irises: A Love Affair

By Ginny Spoon

When I first joined the American Iris Society in 1991, I learned about reblooming irises at our local chapter of AIS, the Chesapeake and Potomac Iris Society. Irises that bloom both spring and fall were the ones that I wanted most of all. That is where I met Don Spoon, who outbid me on every single iris that I wanted at the auction after the national convention that year. Although frustrated by those efforts, I managed to buy more rebloomers at our club sales over the next several years. Many of our own members in Region 4 were also iris hybridizers and had introduced reblooming irises. They included Charlie Nearpass, Clarence Mahan, Lloyd Zurbrigg, J. Griffin Crump and yes,  Don Spoon.  Sterling Innerst and Joan Roberts were also in our neighboring Region 3, and have introduced many lovely reblooming irises.

'Durham Dream' (Lloyd Zurbrigg)--image by Ginny Spoon

As the years went by, and my garden grew, I knew that irises were my favorite perennial. Not only do they come in all sizes and different kinds, but there is an iris of some kind blooming in the garden almost every month of the year.

'Lucy Doodle' reblooming MTB (Charlie Nearpass)--image by Cindy Rust

'Autumn Rose' (Ginny Spoon)--image by Ginny Spoon

The white reblooming iris in front of 'Autumn Rose' is my first introduction, 'Autumn Ivory', made possible when Don Spoon brought pollen from his garden and taught me how to hybridize.

Our Winterberry Iris Gardens--image by Ginny Spoon

One fall, we had almost a third of our garden blooming with reblooming irises. It was a glorious sight and one I will always remember.

 'Daughter of Stars' (Don Spoon)-- image by Ginny Spoon

As some of you may have guessed, I married Don Spoon and have now gotten back all those irises that I wanted in that auction, and more besides. We both love and hybridize irises, especially the rebloomers in our northern Virginia garden.

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