Monday, February 12, 2018

New Color Combinations in Plicatas

Editor’s Note: In recent blogs, Bryce Williamson wrote how the first good pink plicata, April Melody (Iris Stories: April Melody and Iris Stories: April Melody 2), expanded the range of colors in that group. Today’s hybridizers  have been  combining plicata patterns with other tall bearded iris patterns, taking plicata irises in new and exciting directions. Keith Keppel here shares a peek at some these developments in his Salem, Oregon, garden. Please remember, however, that these seedlings represent work in progress and most will not make the cut to naming and introduction based on plant growth or other factors.

By Keith Keppel

For the benefit of iris newbies, perhaps we should explain "plicata". Plicata is a pattern with a white or carotene colored (yellow, pink, orange) ground, the edges stitched, stippled, or solidly banded in a darker, contrasting color. This seedling (09-93C,  Ink Patterns child) is an example of the color and pattern of early plicatas...always white ground, markings in the blue to violet range.
Standards could be almost solidly colored or devoid of markings entirely; falls could be so widely banded that only a small area in the center is unmarked, or all markings could be confined to the haft (upper area at beard level) with little or no marginal marking on the rest of the fall. Many ultimate pattern variations can occur, and considering color combinations of ground and markings, the overall effects are almost limitless.

Image by Keith Keppel

Although the first plicatas had a white ground, crosses with Iris variegata brought yellow genes into the hybrid line. In the 1930's, plicatas with cream grounds began occurring, and in the following years the cream has progressed to yellow. Here is a Sorbonne seedling to show just how intense we can now have our yellow grounds.

Image by Barry Blyth

In the 1950's, plicatas with the tangerine beard factor began to make an appearance in iris catalogues. Although they still had white grounds, with time this has changed, and we now have plicatas with pink, or pinkish, grounds instead of white or yellow. This is another Sorbonne seedling, actually a sister to the yellow ground seedling in the prior post!

Image by Barry Blyth

The tangerine-factor plicatas began showing orange tones in the ground color, also. This one is 11-64C, from complicated breeding with Sorbonne and three numbered seedlings as grandparents.

When you consider that those original blue/violet plicata markings will appear differently on a yellow, pink, or orange ground than they did on white, you can understand why so many plicata color combinations now exist!

Image by Barry Blyth

So many pattern variations based on the plicata genes, yet there are still more  possibilities. Plicata markings are done in anthocyanin (water soluble) pigments....what if you change the capability of the plicata genes to act?

Enter Paul Cook. In the 1950's this master hybridizer began introducing a series of irises which carried an inhibitor for the production of anthocyanins....in the standards. These were the dominant amoenas (prior amoenas were due to a different, recessive condition), also referred to as the 'Progenitor' or 'Whole Cloth' factor. By the 1970's we  had plicatas which also carried this factor, with suppressed markings in the standards but not the falls. We suddenly had "neglecta plicatas", with paler markings in the standards, and "amoena plicatas" with little or no standard markings. A whole new range of plicata variables was now possible.

In 12-103J, a grandchild of Ink Patterns, you can see how the plicata standard markings are reduced to a very faint bluish shading along the petal margins. This seedling also carries the "tangerine factor", hence the reddish beard hair tips and the faint peach pink blush on the otherwise white ground near the beard. A tangerine-bearded amoena-plicata.

Image by Brad Collins

The appearance of a plicata depends on the sum of its parts: markings + ground. If we take that amoena plicata and put it on a yellow ground....voila!....a variegata plicata. (And by extension, that yellow ground could also be pink or orange instead.) This is 13-17A, from High Desert X Flash Mob.

Image by Brad Collins

Just as the pigment application of plicata markings can vary, so can the application of carotene (yellow, pink, orange) pigment in the ground. Most colored grounds will have some white, or at least a paler area, in the center of the falls. Fall color can vary from a distinct marginal band (like the falls on 'Debby Rairdon') to a small spot below the beard. Rarely, the color can cover the entire fall uniformly.

But what about other ground patterns? It might be strongly colored hafts or upper fall. Or possibly some variation of a carotene amoena, with or without the color bleeding upward in the midrib of the otherwise-white standards.

13-21A, (Ink Pattern seedling X Dark Energy), shows a yellow amoena style ground; anthocyanin reduction in the standards minimalizes the plicata markings.

Image by Brad Collins

Monday, February 5, 2018

Iris ensata, Iris laevigata and Pseudata in Containers

By Chad Harris

Iris ensata and laevigata have been cultivated with container culture for centuries. In Japan several different flower forms and indoor display regulations were specifically formatted for container growing of Iris ensata. You may also find that growing these water lovers and the new hybrid “Pseudata” in containers easier, as you will have better control of the rich moist soils that they demand.

Soils: A good soilless container potting medium should be used. Here at Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm we use ‘Miracle-Grow’ with 6 month feeding. We use it not only for the patio container, but also for the germination of the seed of our breeding lines.

Container: A one gallon container is the minimum, for a single or double fan plant. This will keep the plant for one growing season, requiring yearly transplanting.


One gallon containers need to be transplanted yearly for the health of your plant and container.

I highly recommend that a larger container be used; three to five gallon will be optimum for two to three year growing seasons. Note that the size of containers for starting seed is a one half gallon.


Seedlings in half gallon containers.

The seedlings are grown for one to two years in this size before being transplanted out to the field.
Light: Full sun with a minimum of six hours to bloom properly. Areas with more intense sun and or heat will find that morning sun and afternoon shade will benefit both the plant and the bloom. While the plant wants to be in the sun the root zone needs to be kept cool. With a large collection this can be achieved placing the containers close to each other while shading the outside containers with planks boxing them in. The smaller collection the shading can be achieved by double potting.



Shading the poly container by double potting.

Placing the smaller container into a larger heavier decorative ceramic container, this is the method that we use on our patio. One could also use a very large decorative container that could hold several smaller poly or plastic containers. A clump look with many different varieties can be achieved without mixing them up, losing their names.


Iris ensata in containers.

Water: These plants are water lovers and should not dry out, keep evenly moist. During the summer this may demand a daily watering. A deep tray filled with water will allow the plant to stay completely hydrated for longer periods of time. For larger collections a child’s wading pool could be used, or a box made of planks lined with a pool liner. Drill holes into the sides one to two inches from the bottom for overflow drainage. The rhizome of the plant should be above the waterline, this is critical for Iris ensata especially during the winter months. Iris laevigata can grow with its crown under water with two inches covering; however it is best to start the new plant above the waterline to help prevent rot. You can gradually submerge the plant after new growth appears. Pseudata (being half Iris ensata) I would play it safe and would grow as Iris ensata, with the rhizome above the waterline.


Iris ensata in containers.

Fertilizer: Use a slow release for acid loving plants mixed into the potting mix. Or use a water-soluble and add directly to the water. Do not use Bone Meal in any application as this will change the PH and can kill these acidic loving plants.

Iris  laevigata in patio containers.

Transplanting: Repot right after bloom, discarding the old soil, roots, and rhizome. The new rhizomes are in a full growth mode at this time through the summer and fall until the winter sets in.


First frost: time to cut the foliage back.

Winter Care: After a light freeze, cut all of the foliage off at container level. Mild winter areas (USDA Zone 8-9) containers can remain out in the pools and or above ground. Colder climates the containers should be lifted from the flooding pools or trays and buried in a prepared bed with a good mulch cover. In the spring return the containers to the flooding pool, lightly fertilize after new growth starts to appear.

For the many that have tried to grow these water lovers in their garden and have failed, give container growing a try. It is definitely easier to maintain their demanding cultural needs of a rich moist soil. You may also be able to push the envelope of where they have not been grown before surprising your iris club at your next show. Give one a try.
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