Monday, May 21, 2018

The 2018 AIS Convention - Iris in Louisiana

by Jean Richter

The 2018 national convention of the American Iris Society was a unique experience. As it was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, where bearded iris do not grow happily, there were no bearded iris on display, either as guest iris hosted for the convention or otherwise in the convention gardens. This provided an unprecedented opportunity to focus on a type of iris that is usually not front and center at these events - the most common iris native to North America, the Louisiana iris.

The six convention gardens and associated area visits provided opportunities to see Louisiana iris in a variety of situations - in a working horticultural research station, an historic home and formal gardens, public gardens, naturalized settings, and in the wild.

Our first stop on the garden tours was the Greater New Orleans Iris Society's species preservation project, located near a bayou in suburban New Orleans.  A highlight of this visit was seeing all five of the native Louisiana iris species.

The most rare of the Louisiana iris species is Iris nelsonii, found in only a few small areas of Louisiana.

Iris nelsonii

Very similar to nelsonii but smaller and much more widespread is Iris fulva.

Iris fulva

Iris brevicaulis is one of the most widespread species, occurring from Louisiana to Canada.

Iris brevicaulis

Iris hexagona is found primarily in Florida and nearby states.

Iris hexagona

Iris giganticerulea is quite common in Louisiana and neighboring states.

Iris giganticerulea

Our next destination was Longue Vue, an historic estate with numerous formal gardens. There were plenty of Louisiana iris among these gardens, including one named for the location: Longue Vue (Haymon 2000).

'Longue Vue' (Haymon 2000)

Our next stop was the New Orleans City Park Sculpture Garden, which also featured the first set of guest iris plantings. A highlight at this garden was Watermelon Wizard (H. Nichols 2011), which later won the Franklin Cook Cup for best out-of-region iris at the convention.

'Watermelon Wizard' (H. Nichols 2011)

Nearby was the New Orleans Botanical Garden, which among many other exhibits featured an outstanding cactus collection and orchid display.

Orchids at the New Orleans Botanical Garden

The second day of our Louisiana iris adventure found us crossing the 24-mile-long causeway across Lake Pontchartrain to A Louisiana Pond, a neighborhood garden project of Louisiana iris planted at the edge of a flood prevention pond. One of the beds around the pond features an area devoted to the introductions of local hybridizer Patrick O'Connor. This planting also featured another iris native to the area, Iris virginica.

Iris virginica

Iris giganticerulea was also putting on a lovely display near the pond.

Iris giganticerulea

Our next stop was the Hammond Research Station. First established as the Fruit and Truck Experiment Station to serve the strawberry and vegetable industries in the region, the facility currently focuses on landscape horticulture. The Greater New Orleans Iris Society partnered with the station to develop a collection of Louisiana iris on the grounds. Guest iris on display included Patrick O'Connor's House of Blues.

 'House of Blues'

The third day of garden tours found us on the road to Baton Rouge. Our first stop was the Burden Museum and Gardens, an open-air museum dedicated to rural life in bygone times, with many historic buildings depicting everyday life on the Burden plantation. Of great interest to many convention-goers was the walking tour of the nearby swamp, with an opportunity to observe Louisiana iris in their native habitat.

 The last garden on the tour was the Baton Rouge Botanic Garden, which features an Iris Pavilion among its many plantings. One standout guest iris here was Acadian Sky (Musacchia 2017), which went on to win the President's Cup for best in-region guest iris.

'Acadian Sky' (Musacchia 2017)

All in all, it was an excellent convention. I have a greater appreciation for Louisiana iris now, and would certainly return if another AIS convention was held there in the future. Kudos to the convention organizers!

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