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 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


  1. great article! thanks for helping me understand more about plicatas and color factors.. well, try to understand, lol!!!

  2. Thank you for helping me to better understand about plicatas & how they come to be.

  3. Great survey of the range of possibilities. Stunning seedlings!


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