Monday, January 27, 2020

What is a Dwarf Bearded Iris?

…and why are dwarf lovers so persistent?

 Tom Waters

'Icon' (Keppel, 2008)
In the beginning, there were no class definitions. The meaning of the term “dwarf bearded iris” was taken for granted, as all the ones being grown in gardens were similar in appearance and distinct from their taller relatives.  If you were botanically inclined, you could turn to a reference like W. R. Dykes’s The Genus Iris to get a list of dwarf bearded species, and safely assume that your garden dwarfs were hybrids or forms of those species.

The 1939 AIS Checklist attempted to be somewhat more helpful by giving a height range in addition to the list of species, setting the boundary between dwarfs and intermediates (which were stated to be hybrids between dwarf and tall bearded irises) at 17 inches. This doesn’t make sense, though, if it is taken as a definition, rather than just helpful descriptive information. What if two of those dwarfs species were crossed and produced a hybrid over the limit? Or what if a dwarf and tall were crossed and produced a hybrid under the limit? Giving both a definition in terms of ancestral species and a definition in terms of height is inviting contradiction unless it is clear whether ancestry trumps height or vice versa.

Perhaps in recognition of this, the AIS adopted a new classification in 1947, based decisively on ancestry. A hybrid involving only dwarf species would always be a dwarf; a hybrid involving only tall species would always be a tall. A hybrid involving both dwarfs and talls would usually be intermediate, but might be deemed either dwarf or tall if that was the group it most resembled. Although this last provision was strangely vague, the definition at least allowed hybridizers to cross dwarfs amongst themselves and register the progeny as dwarfs, without worry about a height limit or other factors.

This classification system was introduced at the same time as Walter Welch was organizing the Dwarf Iris Society (then called the Dwarf Iris Club) and stirring up interest in dwarf hybridizing, so there may have been some impetus to clarify definitions for this reason. Although dwarfs had been widely grown in both Europe and North America for as long as tall beardeds, they had not historically received a great deal of attention. Gardeners took them for granted, and although new hybrids were introduced from time to time, there were no hybridizers who focused on them exclusively or had planned breeding programs solely to produce new dwarfs. Welch turned that around, first by organizing a program of round robins, whereby enthusiasts (many of them recruited from gardening clubs and publications, not just iris societies) could discuss dwarf irises by mail, and then by creating the Dwarf Iris Club in 1950. I believe this was the first specialist iris society devoted to a particular type of iris. With the blessing of the AIS, the Dwarf Iris Club even trained and appointed its own judges, just for judging dwarfs!

In 1951, something happened that put the class definition under unprecedented strain. Paul Cook (a friend and correspondent of Walter Welch) introduced the first three irises of the type we now know as standard dwarf bearded (SDBs), from crossing the tiny dwarf species Iris pumila with tall beardeds. As a dwarf x tall cross, a strong case could be made that these new irises were intermediates, and indeed that is how they were registered at the time. But they were no taller than many of the dwarfs being grown at the time, so this might seem a little inconsistent. Welch and the DIS focused attention on the presence of a small branch in most SDBs, asserting that a branch was disqualifying for being considered a dwarf. Oddly, the list of dwarf species that AIS had been printing and reprinting for many years included amongst the dwarfs Iris aphylla, which is copiously branched.

The 1954 classification made
the dwarf people grumpy
Recognizing that the future might hold even more examples of such “problem children” from newfangled hybridizing experiments, the AIS suddenly reversed itself in 1954, offering a classification based entirely on height, with ancestry deemed irrelevant. This makes sense in a world where parentages have become complex or uncertain. Height is something that can be established with a ruler. Now the boundary between dwarfs and intermediates was set at a rigid 15 inches, regardless of what species the plants had come from or what characteristics they had. Welch and the DIS refused to accept this definition, appalled at the thought of 15-inch branched “intermediates” masquerading as dwarfs! Welch could be an opinionated and difficult person under the best of circumstances, and now he and his supporters had a righteous cause for contention. This caused a rift between the AIS and the DIS whose repercussions are still playing out today. From 1955 until 1973, the DIS had its own awards system, issuing the Welch Award in competition with AIS’s Caparne Award, despite the fact that it tended to be the same irises winning both awards.

Other classification issues were percolating at this time as well. There were movements afoot to recognize the so-called “table irises” and “border irises” as separate from both TBs and IBs. A committee was put together to study all these issues and propose a solution. In 1958, the AIS adopted a classification that has remained in place (with minor modifications) to this day. The dwarfs were separated by height into miniature dwarfs and standard dwarfs, with the dividing line being 10 inches. The border bearded class was created for short TBs, and the miniature tall bearded class was created for the table irises. The DIS had no interest in any of these new classes, not even the SDBs, and so the Median Iris Society was formed with the mission of promoting the five new classes between MDB and TB. A peculiar quirk of this development is that standard dwarfs are considered medians, not dwarfs, in apparent contradiction with their name.

'Alpine Lake' (Willott, 1980)
a classic MDB from SDB x pumila breeding
The 1960s and 1970s were perhaps the most exciting time in the history of dwarf iris development. Although the SDBs themselves were deemed too large to be considered true dwarfs, they had an enormous impact on breeding. Dwarf enthusiasts crossed the SDBs back to I. pumila, producing many charming hybrids, earlier blooming than the SDBs and quite distinctive in appearance, with ¾ of their genes coming from the dainty I. pumila. This became the standard cross to produce MDBs. The class was rounded out by selections of pure pumila ancestry, as well as hybrids from pure SDB breeding that happened to be small enough to fit the definition of the MDB class. These “runt SDBs” did not always meet with the approval of the dwarf purists, although there are a number of fine irises in this category. Indeed, in recent decades these MDBs from pure SDB breeding have come to quite dominate the class, in terms of sheer numbers as well as awards.

'Little Drummer Boy' (Willott, 1997),
an MDB from pure pumila breeding
In light of this history, one can understand why the DIS has remained rather protective of the little irises under its charge, and reluctant to muddle the boundary between the dwarf MDBs and the median SDBs; the dividing line between the classes was reduced to 8 inches in 1976, in part to protect the MDB class from SDB interlopers. It also explains the misgivings of many DIS members about merging with MIS, which has been suggested on a number of occasions. Any of the median classes might seem to have more cause to have its own society, given that they all have more new irises introduced each year than does the MDB class. Yet our history has set us apart, and perhaps it is the very fragility of the class in the face of the much larger (in numbers as well as stature!) median classes that inspires a certain connoisseur’s devotion amongst us.

'Pearly Whites' (Black, 2014),
an MDB from pure SDB breeding
In 2018, the DIS seemed on the brink of demise, with the president and vice president resigning, and the officers voting to merge with MIS. Rather miraculously, this was reversed in 2019, with a grass-roots rallying of the troops under the enthusiastic leadership of Charlie Carver, historic iris conservation advocate and devotee of MDBs. We now once again have a functioning society with a full slate of officers and a content-rich newsletter in final preparation for publication early this year. If you love dwarf irises and would like to be part of this renaissance, the DIS would love to hear from you!

Monday, January 20, 2020

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Winter 2020 Edition

By Andi Rivarola

A warm welcome to those who are seeing IRISES, the Bulletin of The American Iris Society for the first time. If you are a member of The American Iris Society I hope you enjoy this new issue.

The Fall issue of the AIS Bulletin will be available online soon, accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. The print copy has been mailed via the U.S. Post Office. On the cover, the 2020 AIS Centennial logo created by Lori Galletti, also this issue comes with Part 1 of the Centennial Supplement. Parts 2, 3 and 4 will be published during 2020.

Note: to access this area of the website you must have a current AIS Emembership. (AIS Emembership is separate from the normal AIS membership.) Please see the Electronic Membership Information area of the AIS website for more details.

This edition of IRISES will be one of a kind, and all of us hope that you will enjoy it and also share with family and friends. Happy AIS Centennial Anniversary!

Enjoy the 2019 AIS Tall Bearded Iris Symposium starting on page 3.

The AIS Centennial Convention Program is described starting on pages 16 — 18.

Did you know anything about the 1920 Period Dress? Well, if you are attending the National Convention you will have a chance to dress as in the 1920s. For more, read the article on page 19. 

Attention iris hybridizers: The 2022 AIS National Convention organizers is requesting guest irises for their Dallas, Texas location. Take a look in page 20.

The 2019 Photo Contest results are on pages 24 — 29. Lovely shots. Congratulations everyone!

Ever heard of target burning for weeds, insects and pests? Please read the article Going for the Burn, on pages 30 — 33. 

A reprint from this very blog, What's Wrong with the AIS Awards System, gives you lots to think about. Don't miss it on pages 35 — 37. 

There's a lot more to see and read in this edition of IRISES, either in digital or print formats.

Not a member of The American Iris Society? Please see our website for information about becoming one:

Happy Gardening!

Monday, January 13, 2020

On the Road Again: Lauer’s Flowers

By Bryce Williamson

The saga of visiting iris gardens in Oregon and Washington continues. When I arrived at Kevin Vaughn’s, we made the executive decision to both go to see Larry and Marcy Lauer in Independence, basically just a hop and a skip away from Kevin’s. I needed directions, of course, since I had always approached their garden along the river.

'King of the Road'
Larry and Marcy lived in Wilton, California for many years and there they met Jim McWhirter and Larry starting hybridizing. On his retirement from the United States Post Office, they headed north and ended up with an acre in Independence 10 miles south-east of Salem. 

The town is charming with many of the turn of the 20th Century buildings being renovated. It has become a bedroom community for Salem as gentrification in Salem has forced many people to live miles from the Oregon capital. From my first visit to this garden to my last, the changes in the town are striking—where there was open space around the garden, new housing is almost to the property line. You will see the change in the next picture taken last year and the image below it taken the year before.

Larry has had many awarding winning irises, but his most widely grown iris is the Dykes winning ‘Stairway to Heaven’. More recently, Larry has become increasing interested in reblooming irises and is focusing his current projects on that area. Larry has also been working a line for red amoenas, an interest of Kevin too, so they had much to talk about.

Larry Lauer with Kevin Vaughn in the seedling patch
In the last several years, I have greatly admired Larry’s ‘King of the Road’, but it seems to have slipped through the cracks of the American Iris Society awards. A warm, satisfying color combination, it also attracted the attention of Schreiner’s and they have it listed in their catalog. I had to look for it for two years to find plants to buy, but it is now happily growing in my garden.
The image is from two years ago before the two story homes went up next door.
Another Lauer introduction that is happily growing here is ‘Blinded by the Light’, a very bright and very early orange. Oddly orange colored tall bearded irises don’t seem to be in fashion these days.

'Blinded by the Light'
While I visiting mainly to see Larry's seedling and introductions, he grows many new irises and some of them that impressed me included the following three. 

'Dark Storm'--Rick Tasco
'Ocean Liner'--Keith Keppel
'Jungle Mist'--Paul Black
The last iris looks quite green in the garden and when I had a commercial nursery, I always found "green" irises sold well and were in high demand.

Among Larry's introductions and seedlings, I took pictures of the following; the first two remind me of Gaulter colors and patterns.

Lauer B-10-31
Lauer B-44-1
Lauer B-76-31
Lauer E-53-2
Lauer F-17-4
'Higher Ground'---Lauer 2019
After a too short visit to the garden, it was back on the road again. I needed a good nights sleep since I had caught an early flight from San Jose to Portland and I knew tomorrow with visits to Schreiner's and Mid America would be a long day.

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Top 10 Posts of 2019

As we start the new year, it is time to look back at the ten most viewed posts on The World of Irises in 2019. Did you see and read them all when they went live? Did you miss any? If you missed one or more, follow the link to the post.

In tenth place, we find Anna Cadd’s guest post about the important spuria iris Wadi Zem Zem.

In ninth place, the post of the 2019 Wister Medal winners was a popular.

'Autumn Explosion'--Image by K. Brewitt
Bryce Williamson’s post about Napa Country Iris Gardens occupies the number eight position. This is part of his series “On the Road Again” and he has continued the series this year with posts about his trips to Oregon and Washington.

Leslie and John Painter with Phil Williams, Spring 2018
Image by Bryce Williamson
The World of Irises always likes to bring our readers breaking news. For that reason, the results of the 2019 Florence iris competition can be found in position seven.

‘Chachar’ by Seidl Zdenek from the Czech Republic.
Bryce Williamson’s report on the 2019 American Iris Society Convention is in the sixth position. If you were unable to attend, this post gives you some idea of what you missed.

Horton Garden--image by Bryce Williamson
Moving into the top 5 posts for views during the year, position five is occupied by the report on The French Iris Society’s Franciris 2019. This post introduced not only the wining irises, but also brought to the attention of iris growers around the world the names of some new hybridizers.
'My Red Drums'--Image by Andi Rivarola
Number 4 for the year was Robert Hollingsworth’s post about what may be the single most important Siberian introduction/parent of all time—'White Swirl’.

'White Swirl'
Next in line for views was Dennis Berry’s guest post about building iris beds. The post not only included instructions, but wonderful images to walk the viewers through the process.

Image by Dennis Berry
As the suspense builds toward the most popular post of the year, second place was the results of the Dykes Medal voting by The American Iris Society Judges. This year produced a win for Mike Sutton, the first time a hybridizer from Idaho has won this award.

'Bottle Rocket' Image by Colleen Modra
And with trumpets and drum rolls, the post most viewed in 2019 was Tom ‘s Three Myths About Bearded Irises.

No, this iris will never "revert to purple"
As we start the new year of post, you can subscribe and receive automatic notification of posts by filling in the boxes at the top left.