Monday, March 11, 2019

The Well of Zamzam and Another Side of the Spuria Named Wadi Zem Zem

By Anna Cadd

You never know what you will learn in your lifetime! After posting the original article in the Spuria News and AIS Blog about the Spuria iris named Wadi Zem Zem, AIS-past president Jim Morris mentioned that maybe my suggestion of the name Wadi Zem Zem has the different source. This is a most fascinating story!


Spuria iris 'Wadi ZemZem'

Wadi Zem Zem was registered by Carl Milliken in 1943 and introduced in 1945 with a short description in his 1945 catalog: "WADI ZEM ZEM (Milliken) - A clear cream-colored spuria,

remarkably large in size and of excellent- shape. The rounded spreading falls are two inches or more in width, the standards are erect and open. Height 4 feet. Stock is very limited. $7.50."

Carl Milliken re-introduced this Spuria one more time in 1953 as seen in his catalogue, with a photo of Wadi Zem Zem on the front cover and two drawings of Arabs; one drinking from a spring and the other sitting on a horse looking at the ravine. Under the drinking Arab the name Wadi Zem Zem
with reference to page 19.

Page 19 of the catalogue contains another description of Wadi Zem Zem between 18 different Spurias: "WADI ZEM ZEM (Milliken) A beautiful large cream colored Spuria. The rounded spreading falls are two inches or more in width. The standards are erect and open. We think this is the finest Spuria. 4 ft. See illustration at the top of page, as well as on the front cover. $2.50."

(Note the price change from $7.50 in 1945 to $2.50 in 1953. The customer would also be able to buy the "BUTTERFLY COLLECTION: 'Azure Dawn' or 'Mt. Wilson', 'Gold Nugget' or 'Monniere', 'Pastoral Russet', 'Flame Saugatuck' or 'Fifth Symphony', 'Wadi Zem Zem' or 'Two Opals'; 6 plants, one of a kind. Be sure to send $5 00 when indicate your selections!").
Carl Milliken 

It is interesting to look at page two of the 1953 Milliken catalogue: "This year we have devoted our front cover to the loveliest of all Spuria Iris, the incomparable 'Wadi Zem Zem'. The photograph itself shows 'Wadi Zem Zem' growing in the group and demonstrates well the stately height of the plants and flower stalks compared with the normal bearded iris plants in the foreground.


Milliken Gardens catalog

When we named this fine flower we selected a locality in the Levant whence its ancestors might well have come, and our artist has composed this scene for you. A wadi, as you know, is a dry wash or ravine in the terminology of North Africa and Asia Minor. But Zem Zem is not normally a part of our knowledge. It is a spring at Mecca, which Mohammedans believe was created by Allah, to slake the thirst of Ishmael and Hagar when they were driven into the wilderness by Abraham.

Wadi Zem Zem is the first and only Spuria Iris to receive an Award of Merit from the American Iris Society; it has had most flattering attention in magazine articles recently, as well. Its fame is worldwide and we have even made shipments to Africa where it far surpasses the indigenous varieties. For further information and the close-up view of the bloom, please turn to page 19."


Milliken Garden catalog description

In the fall of 2018 when I was writing my first article about the Spuria Wadi Zem Zem, I didn't know about Carl Milliken’s catalogues from 1945 and 1953, where he really introduced Wadi Zem Zem to wider distribution. Milliken in his catalogue (on page 2) points to a different source of the name, but a Google search reveals that the name of the Holy Spring is Zamzam (pronounced it Zemzem).

The main purpose of my first article was to show that Wadi Zem Zem is in the pedigree of most introduced Spuria varieties, and the name fascinated me enough that I assumed a different line of thought for the origin of the name. There is the confusion regarding the name, which probably confused Mr. Milliken and me equally. As I wrote in my previous article, there is a geographical location with the name of Wadi Zem Zem (Uadi Zemzem). It is a wadi (ravine) in Libya and at an elevation of 26 meters above sea level at 31°24'0" N and 15°16'60" E. This location was made famous because of the British soldier Keith Douglas. He wrote the small book "Alamein to Zem Zem", which is a military memoir of the Western Desert campaign of World War II. El Alamein is a small town in Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea, 66 miles from Alexandria and 149 miles from Cairo. Zem Zem is in Libya and where the story ends.

I thought that maybe Mr. Milliken heard about the battle at Wadi Zem Zem and the young British poet-soldier, who sought to write about the sacrifices of soldiers from all nations and named his new Spuria to pay tribute to those who fought evil. But apparently I was wrong.

British soldier Keith Douglas

The problem is that as Milliken wrote in his 1953 catalogue: "It is a spring at Mecca, which Mohammedans believe was created by Allah, to slake the thirst of Ishmael and Hagar when they were driven into the wilderness by Abraham."

An internet search reveals: "The Well of Zamzam is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 66 ft east of the Kabah, the holiest place in Islam. According to Islamic mythology, it is a miraculously generated source of water from God, which sprang thousands of years ago when Ibrahim's infant Ishmael was left with his mother Hajar in the desert. She was desperately seeking water but she could not find any, as Mecca is located in a hot dry valley with few sources of water. Getting thirstier by the second, the infant Ishmael scraped the land with his feet, where suddenly water sprang out."


The correct name of the wells is Zamzam. The wells are located in the hot dry valley and not the ravine - wadi in Lybia. Wadi Zem Zem in Libya is located 2200 miles from wells in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Interesting, that two different locations share a very similar name. We will probably never know where Milliken learned about this place and if his intention was to memorialize the holy wells in Mecca or, as I assumed, to memorialize the battlefield in Libya. I was wrong with my assumption of the origin of the name, but it was Mr. Milliken who named his famous Spuria with the wrong name location! But on the other hand, we tend to underestimate the "old folks," especially when they talk about seasonal water ravines and Holy Springs in one breath!




The mystery behind this name probably will never be solved. It was fun learning all this information and perhaps some readers will also like the additional information!

Note: This article first appeared on the Spring issue of Spuria News. Published with permission from the Spuria Iris Society.





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