Monday, June 17, 2019

Iris lutescens: The Dwarfs that Time Forgot

by Tom Waters

Dwarf bearded irises may be found growing wild throughout much of southwestern Europe, from Spain and Portugal, through southern France, and into northern and central Italy. Through the centuries, different botanists have encountered them in different localities and assigned different names to them: Iris chamaeiris, I. italica, I. olbiensis, I. lutescens, I. virescens, I. subbiflora, I. bicapitata.

Iris lutescens, raised from seed
By the twentieth century, it was clear that most, if not all, of these were really irises of the same species. Gardeners were most familiar with those from southern France, going by the name of I. chamaeiris, so began referring to the whole species as the “chamaeiris complex”. But the rules of botanical nomenclature require that synonyms be resolved by using the earliest published name for the species. In this case, that honor goes to I. lutescens, the name used by Lamarck in 1789. This is now the correct name for all these irises, with the exception of two irises at the extremities of the species’ range,  I. subbiflora in Portugal and I. bicapitata in the Gargano peninsula of eastern Italy, which are regarded by many (though not all) botanists as distinct species in their own right. Even if these are not regarded as belonging to I. lutescens, they are indisputably very close relatives.

I. lutescens is a delightfully varied species. The flowers are most often yellow, cream, or violet, but there are near-white forms, purples, blends, and bitones. In height, they range from about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm). The stem is unbranched, with one or two terminal flowers.

Iris lutescens 'Bride' (Caparne, 1901)
Until the second half of the twentieth century, I. lutescens  and a handful of its accidental hybrids with other species were the only dwarf bearded irises known to gardeners in western Europe and North America. Named cultivars were produced by the firm of Goos and Koenemann in Germany, by W. J. Caparne in England, and later by Hans and Jacob Sass, among others, in the US. At this time, the modern dwarf and median classes did not exist, so there was no distinction between miniature dwarfs and standard dwarfs; they were all simply “dwarf bearded”, and spanned the whole natural height range of the species, which straddles both of the modern categories.

Iris lutescens 'Path of Gold' (Hodson, 1941)
Although many people grew a few dwarfs, appreciating their charm and early bloom, almost all the attention of iris enthusiasts in the first half of the twentieth century was focused on the tall bearded. The dwarfs were rather taken for granted, by both gardeners and hybridizers. That began to change with the formation of the Dwarf Iris Society under the leadership of Walter Welch in the 1940s. Welch and his friends were determined to learn all they could to advance dwarf hybridizing, and their interest went beyond the I. lutescens cultivars to investigate other dwarf species, such as I. pumila from eastern Europe.

I. pumila is a diminutive species, about half the height of I. lutescens, single-flowered and almost stemless. Robert Schreiner had imported some seeds in the 1930s, and the species gradually became available to the new dwarf hybridizing enthusiasts. The turning point came in 1951, when Paul Cook in Indiana, who had exchanged his pumila pollen for TB pollen from his friend Geddes Douglas in Tennessee, introduced the first pumila/TB hybrids: ‘Baria’, ‘Green Spot’, and ‘Fairy Flax’. Although technically “intermediates” (as the word was used then, it meant a hybrid between dwarf and tall bearded irises), these new irises were no larger than many I. lutescens dwarfs, even though they often had a branch and a total of three buds! This launched a vigorous debate about classification, which led ultimately to the formation of the Median Iris Society and the four median classes we have today. The SDB class was created to accommodate the new pumila/TB hybrids and the taller I. lutescens cultivars, with the MDB class left for the “true dwarfs”, with a maximum height limit of 10 inches, later adjusted to 8 inches.

From the 1960s on, the SDBs from pumila/TB breeding totally dominated the world of dwarf irises. These SDBs carry an extraordinary genetic legacy (dramatic spot patterns from I. pumila, pinks and plicatas from TBs, not to mention more modern form). There was no interest any more in producing more of the overly familiar yellow or violet I. lutescens cultivars. Even the MDB class was taken over by the new SDBs. Most MDBs from the 1960s onward were produced by crossing the new SDBs back to I. pumila, or (especially in recent decades), just selecting irises from SDB breeding that happen to be under the height limit.

I. lutescens, once the very archetype of the dwarf bearded irises in gardens, is now a curiosity known only to species enthusiasts.

Is there any hope for a lutescens renaissance? At first blush, it would seem unlikely. The modern SDBs have been so developed by decades of dedicated hybridizing that they would seem to have nothing to gain (and much to lose, in terms of present-day expectations of the class) by the injection of I. lutescens into hybridizing lines.

If I. lutescens is to be heard from again in dwarf hybridizing, the opportunity may be in the MDB class. Some MDB enthusiasts have been grumbling of late that the class has been taken over by short SDBs, and is losing something of its distinctive charm. There may be some niche here for MDBs with more of a “wildflower” look, breaking away from the stiffness, width, and ruffling that comes from pure SDB breeding. Just as the MTB class has given a home to the simpler, more modest look of the diploids, perhaps there is an opening for more “retro” MDBs. I. lutescens is fully fertile with SDBs and their MDB progeny, and might add a breath of fresh air to a class that is starting to feel overworked.

Everything old is new again?
Iris lutescens campbelli
The World of Irises is the official blog of The American Iris Society. Now in its 99th year, The American Iris Society exists to promote all types of irises. If you wish to comment on a post, you can do so at the end of the page and the author or the editors will reply. If you wish to learn more about The American Iris Society, follow the link.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Wild Iris tenax on Seacliffs in Northwest Oregon

By Kathleen Sayce

Iris tenax grows on mountains in northwest Oregon, including Saddle Mountain, Clatsop County, Oregon. This species is usually found on south facing slopes along the main trail and in meadows with wild cucumber, native grasses, paintbrush, and other wildflowers. It also  grows on seacliffs in several locations in Clatsop County. These locations are in state parks, Ecola and Oswald West, and are as far north as I. tenax grows on the coast. 

This plant has narrow falls that are mostly lavender towards the tip with a large yellow signal and smallish white patch. 
North of Clatsop County, this species grows in the Coast Range and Willapa Hills, in the Chehalis lowlands south of Olympia and east of Montesano, WA, and in the Cascade Range. But it does not grow along the coast north of the Columbia River. 

Seacliffs are one of the harshest environments plants can endure. They must tolerate high winds, salt water, salty air, winter wet conditions, high summer temperatures, prolonged drought, and erosion. The ability of any plant to withstand this combination of chemistry, wind, moisture levels and temperatures is amazing. 

This plant had the widest falls and standards, and a deeper pink-lavender color. Both falls and standards were wider than on other plants. 
Visiting these hardy plants is one of my annual pilgrimages. Like the departing Brant geese and returning swallows, seeking out wild Iris tenax when in flower is an activity that says “Spring.” 

A few years ago, I found a population of about five plants on the seacliffs above Manzanita, Oregon. These tenacious cliff-dwellers had larger flowers, and leaves that were easily twice the size of all the other I. tenax plants in this area. Seeds and a small fragment came to my own garden, where they thrive, and from which I collect seeds regularly for the SPCNI seed exchange. 

This Iris tenax plant had moderately narrow falls, and larger lighter colored areas. Standards were lavender; style arms were much paler, almost white. 
But remember erosion? As of my last visit in 2018, the block of eroding rock and meadow that this population lives on had slumped so much it is no longer safe to even climb down to get closeup photos of the flowers. It will be gone soon, reclaimed by the Pacific Ocean.

This large clump had a tiny yellow signal with a larger white patch around it, and moderately wide falls. Flowers are darker as they open, so I was careful to compare colors among flowers at the same stage 
This week I went back to see the plants in Ecola State Park. Two trails that passed by several populations of Iris tenax are closed due to landslides on the seacliffs. One trail is left that takes in a few plants, and these were flowering. They were still flowering two weeks later when I led a native plants group out to see them. The trail winds up a south-facing, exposed and eroding cliff face, so while these plants will be here for a few more years, in geologic time their fate is already clear:  they too will enter the Pacific Ocean very soon. 

The view along the trail to the northwest, with "Terrible Tilly", former Tillamook Head lighthouse, in the middle left. Note eroding cliffs along the headland.

Diversity in flower shape and color is generally based on where plants grow relative to their larger population. Outlier populations (on the edges) tend to be less diverse, and plants within a main population tend to be more diverse. All the photos in this article were taken at this one site near Indian Beach, and you can see the diversity of shape in petals, and in range of flower colors. From this residual diversity, we may conclude that many iris plants that formerly lived along this shoreline have already fallen into the ocean. 

But, Iris tenax still lives along the seacliffs today, and is flowering. Life is good. 

The World of Irises is the official blog of The American Iris Society. Now in its 99th year, The American Iris Society exists to promote all types of irises. If you wish to comment on a post, you can do so at the end of the page and the author or the editors will reply. If you wish to learn more about The American Iris Society, follow the link.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Working Towards Our Goal

By Melissa and Bailey Schiller

As we head into autumn and winter we are frantically getting replant done. We have had no rain which makes the mind wander as to what is in store for this coming spring at Smokin Heights.

When this blog is published we will be enjoying bloom season in Oregon. As always we are extremely excited to share time with our American friends and dabble in a bit of hybridizing.

In our last installment we started to delve into our goals and current achievements in hybridising. We will continue with this theme for this installment.

E12-2: (Blyth X150-A: (Sunday Concert x Smart Money) X Quaffable)
Let's start with E12-2 (pictured above). This would have to be one of the best seedlings we have bloomed to date. A gorgeously ruffled white with a slight lemon flush at the midrib and beautiful frosted blue beards. At 33" stem with 8 buds, this Iris easily passed 1st year bloom protocol with ease.

E41-1: (Italian Master X Captain Thunderbolt)
You can see both parents coming into play with E41-1. The pattern is very reminiscent of 'Captain Thunderbolt' and the colour reminds us of 'Italian Master.' Nice and tall with 40" stems that carry 10 buds.

F44-2: (Colours of The Wind X C46-D: (Blonde Response sib))
We have been working the lined pattern for a few years now and we are finally starting to see hybrids that excite us. F44-2 is one of them. Super wide, overlapping falls make this a standout. The pattern itself is quite unique with the veining localised to the centre of the fall and is really set off by the bright apricot hafts and orange beards. Will be used quite a bit in years to come!

Finally we are going to write about some of the novelties we have been working on.
F23-1: (Striptease X Avenue Of Dreams)
Variegated foliage is one of Bailey's favourite traits. He has been working on expanding the different patterns and colours that non-variegated Iris have into Iris with variegated foliage. F23-1 is the start of a bicolour line with variegated foliage. We were more than pleased to see this bloom for the first time. Wonderful form and nice amount of ruffling add to its appeal.

F32-1: (Chaos Theory X New Perspective)
In our first installment we spoke about our goals in hybridising flat (6-falled) Iris. Here is one that had its maiden bloom in 2018. Lovely form and ruffling and also very consistent. We are very excited for what the future has in store for this form of Bearded Iris!

In our own minds what we are looking for in the blooms we want to register are wide overlapping hafts. Stems that are not overly tall as in our garden we have a lot of windy weather and stems get knocked over easily.  Standards that are upright. And we like different....different colours, patterns and variegation....What would you consider to be a standout bloom? 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Franciris 2019 Results

For the second time in three weeks, The World of Irises blog is pleased to report the results of an international competition, this time of The French Iris Society’s Franciris 2019. The competition took place in the Parc Floral de Paris, a public park and botanical garden located within the Bois de Vincennes in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, with the results announced on May 21.

Gary White, immediate past president of The American Iris Society, and Andi Rivarola, current first vice president, were on the judging panel in addition to Jerome Boulon, France, Lorena Montanari, Italy, and Fritts Lehmann, Germany.

First Place: ‘My Red Drums by Daniel Balland, France:
Image by Andi Rivarola
Image by Andi Rivarola
Martin (plaid shirt) receives his award--image by Sebastien Cancade
Second Place: ‘Marry the Night’ by Thomas Johnson, USA:

Images by Gary White
Third Place: NB-23-01 by Nicholas Bourdillon:
Image by Andi Rivarola
Nicholas Bourdillon receives his award--image by Sebastien Cancade
Fourth Place: ‘Church Lady’ by Tom Burseen, USA:
Image by Andi Rivarola
Fifth Place: ‘Locomotion’ by Thomas Johnson, USA:
Image by Andi Rivarola
Sixth Place: NB 14-34-01 by Nicholas Bourdillon:
Andi Rivarola writes: "In France, judges are required to elect the iris with the best perfume.
Our noses sampled all irises during the competition, and as a result, we elected the iris with the best aroma, which also happened to be one of the top ten — seedling NB 14-34-01 by French hybridizer Nicolas Bourdillon. What an exquisite lovely scent."

Image by Andi Rivarola
Seventh Place: ‘Mixed Signals' by Keith Keppel, USA:
Image by Sebastien Cancade
Eighth Place: ‘Belle Fille’ by Marky Smith, USA:
Image by Andi Rivarola
Ninth Place: ‘Howla Pena’ by Tom Burseen, USA:

Image by Andi Rivarola
Tenth Place: ‘Luminager’ by Hugh Stout, USA:
Image by Andi Rivarola
For more information about The French Iris Society click to open the link; for more information about The American Iris Society do the same thing.

Monday, May 20, 2019

How to Build Iris Beds

By Dennis Berry

Had some people, especially those in the Iris community, interested in how I put together the raised beds for Kim. Over the next week I’ll try to post the process of building this next set of beds. Over the weekend Kim and I discussed what she wanted and what I could fit and used marker paint to lay out the beds and paths. Didn’t get any pictures of that. The rain washed most of it away. Today I tilled the first bed for ease of digging and extra drainage. Didn’t till the whole area so I could still back the truck up to the new bed to offload dirt and sand. Monday I’ll start digging in the base blocks.

Next steps to how I build Kim’s raised beds. I lay out the first corner with mason’s twine. The yellow line is just a reference line. The red line is leveled and what I use to get the bed straight and level. This is the important one since we have no level land here in East Tennessee. A block at each end of the line tells me the height. I have had to back fill the low end on a couple beds to keep the opposite end from being underground. Next dig the trench for the block and start laying in. I do use a small level two ways across the blocks as I work to keep them level, tapping them in with a rubber mallet. Mostly though just line up the tops of the blocks with line. No mortar is used between blocks. Their held in with back filled dirt and the topping pavers. This bed is about 20 foot long and took me about two and a half hours to lay out and dig in the first side and ends.

Today, finish other side of bed. Rake the inside level and sweep top of blocks. We use construction adhesive to glue down the cap bricks. I like to wait at least a day before filling the bed to allow the adhesive time to set up. Caps on the beds we did two years ago are still still sticking well. Occasional problem where I got the glue a little thin or clip a corner with the wheel barrow. Simple fix to glue back down. Till next area and repeat the process. It will be a couple days before I fill these beds. Need to make a Lowe’s run tomorrow for supplies.

Rinse and repeat. Bed L2 done.

Bed L1 is now done and ready for planting. Had a couple of days off from bed building. We had a storm blow through and the dirt was too wet to work. Also had to make a supply run and spent Sunday visiting with my Mom and Dad. Filled the bed with topsoil and sand and then ran the tiller through it to mix well. Included a picture of the soil and sand we use. The topsoil you can get at Walmart. Lowe’s can get it also if you order a large enough quantity. We buy ours by the pallet. Walk into Lowe’s and order 10 pallets and they are glad to help. We use construction sand because it’s been washed so it has much less salt in it. Thank you to Mark Bolling for the help this morning. Always good to have friends that are thick skulled enough to volunteer to help you move 40lb bags of dirt and 50lb bags of sand. We’re now out of dirt so tomorrow it’s back to digging in bricks.

Construction of beds L1 through L4 is complete. A surprise to no one here, we need to buy more dirt. That means I get a coupled days off from building. This weekend we’ll go pick up another pallet of topsoil and begin filling these beds first of next week. Just in time as the guest irises that are scheduled to go in these beds should start arriving any time now.

Editors’ Note: We would like to thank Dennis Berry for permission to use his “how to” posts and images that first appeared on Facebook’s Iris Lovers. Dennis with his partner Kim Bowman, own and operate Dancing Dragons Iris Gardens 504 S. Jackson St., Morristown, TN  37813. Phone 423-300-1541. Their website is and they will start to take new orders in the spring. One of the goals of their garden is to preserve irises hybridized by people in Region 7, AIS, Kentucky and Tennessee.

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