Monday, June 24, 2019

The French Iris That Conquered the United States

By Sylvain Ruaud

We — almost — do not need to introduce iris 'Condottiere' (Jean Cayeux 1978) to the American public, certainly the most used French iris in hybridization around the world. It comes from the crossing 'Falbala' X ('Triton' x sowing 6507A). It displays a big flower in two tones of blue-mauve, with a red mint beard. The beard comes from one of its parents, 'Falbala' (Cayeux 1978), who carries it from its grandparents, 'Christmas Time' (Schreiner 1966), and great grandparent, 'Arctic Flame' '(Fay 1960). As for the blue-purple hue, it comes from both 'Falbala' and 'Triton' (Julander 1962), one of its 'grandparents'. Richard Cayeux, in his book The Iris, a Royal Flower explains that "Condottiere" results from "the use of 'Emma Cook' and 'Whole Cloth' for the amoena character and rose-tangerine beard transferred on blue (the pink variety being 'Tahiti Sunrise')."

'Condottiere"--image by Brock Heilman

One of the attributes of 'Condottiere' is to transmit to its descendants its two essential characteristics: the amoena model (white petals, blue sepals), and the mandarin beard. In France, the Cayeux family has extensively used 'Condottiere' in its crosses. Not only in their search for varieties "blue-white-red", but also to obtain neglectas or two-colored with red beards ('Beatrice Cherbuy' -1987 -, 'Bengal Fire' -1989 -, 'Tourbillon' -1990 - , 'Virevolte' -1990 -, 'Hortense C.' -1993 -, 'Val De Loire' -1998 -, 'Volute' -1996 -) as well as other varieties such as the unclassifiable 'Sixtine C.' -1994-, 'Starlette Rose' -1996- or 'Aliz├ęs' -1987- which did not inherit the red beard, but are certainly part of the success stories of the 1980s.

'Sixtine C'--image by Cayeux
Proof that 'Condottiere' is a leading variety has been the outstanding success it has had in the U.S. There are more than seventy varieties from its first generation. A total of eighteen U.S. hybridizers used 'Condottiere'. Let's take a tour of the main ones.

Monty Byers

Monty is without a doubt the most active of its users. He recorded eighteen of his descendants all produced from the crossing ‘Sky Hooks’ X ‘Condottiere’, which we regret not to have an image. Two varieties differ somewhat: 'Imagine That' (1989) and 'Spirit' (1986). 'Magic Kingdom' (1988) and 'Mauvelous' (1987) are among those who have had abundant offspring, notably by Tom Burseen, but the two champions of the series are 'Conjuration '(1988) ('Sky Hooks' x 'Condottiere') X 'Alpine Castle' and 'Mesmerizer' (1990) ('Sky Hooks' x' Condottiere ') X ‘Branching Out ', both honored with a Dykes Medal. These varieties add to the qualities of 'Condottiere' spurs from 'Sky Hooks'.

'Conjuration"--image by Brock Heilman
'Mesmerizer"--image by Brock Heilman
Fred Kerr

He first made crosses ('Peach Picottee' X 'Condottiere') and ('Gypsy Woman' X 'Condottiere') from which he obtained the majority of ten registered varieties. Perhaps the most successful of these is 'Age of Innocence' (1994) (Edith Wolford X Condottiere).


They often used the crossing ('Firewater' X 'Condottiere') and produced seven new irises including the pink variety 'Sentimental Rose' (2000), the variegata 'Mexican Holiday' (2004) and the surprising 'Rum is the Reason' (2017).

'Rum is the Reason'
Stan Dexter

Is the author of two crossings that brought him a lot of success: ('Leda's Lover' X 'Condottiere') and ('American Beauty' X 'Condottiere'). This resulted in five registered varieties whose distribution has remained fairly confidential.

Donald Spoon

Recorded four varieties whose pedigree have 'Condottiere'. The crossings are a little different from each other but they include several times 'Clear Day' and 'Ringo'. The amoenas 'Carrie Winter' (2011) and 'Star Lord' (2015), who are cousins, have an undeniable family likeness.

'Carrie Winter' 
Let us also mention the crossing ('Condottiere' x 'Night Edition') used by Tom Burseen four times and especially for the 'broken colors 'Holy Kosmoly' (2000). Sydney DuBose for 'Dream Machine' (1989), a red-bearded lilac; Ben Hager for 'Lark Ascending' (1996), in shades of white; Chuck Chapman with 'Artist's Palette' (2000), purple with sepals bordered with brown and his cousin 'Sargeant Preston' (2000).

'Artist's Palette'--image by Brock Heilman
A few varieties have turned tricolor, which are dear to the Cayeux family in France. This is the case of George Shoop who proposed 'French Connection' (1987) in reference to the work of his friend Jean Cayeux, or 'Regal Affair' (1989). Don Nebeker, with 'Delightsum' (1997) ventured on the same path.

With so many potential parents, the descendants are necessarily very numerous, which is why it is no exaggeration to say that 'Condottiere' has conquered America! It is a pride for the Cayeux family and the French hybridizers in general.

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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

American Iris Society Photo Contest

The American Iris Society invites you to participate in their Annual Photo Contest. This contest is free and open to everyone, with the exception of contest Judges and the contest coordinator, who are not eligible to enter.
Image by Bryce Williamson
The winning photo of each category will be published in the AIS Winter magazine and placed on the AIS web site.  

The 2019 winner of each category will receive a 2019 introduction (within USA only). The winners will also receive a single e-membership or annual membership extension to AIS. (Winners who are AIS life members will receive an e-membership or annual membership in an AIS Section of their choice.) Runners-up of each category will receive a 2017 or 2018 introduction (within the USA only).

The contest runs May 1st to August 1st. All entries must be received by MIDNIGHT- California Time--on August 1.

Please visit the AIS website ( for further instructions and to download the contest entry form.

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?