Monday, July 20, 2020

Hybridizing with Iris reichenbachii

by Tom Waters

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post here titled “The Untapped Potential of Iris reichenbachii”. At that time, I could comment on the use of I. reichenbachii in median breeding only as a promising theoretical possibility. Now, however, I have some solid results from my own hybridizing work to share.

As mentioned in the earlier post, I. reichenbachii exists in both diploid and tetraploid forms. The diploid forms can be used with diploid MTBs, while the tetraploid forms are compatible with TBs, BBs, and tetraploid MTBs. It was the tetraploid grouping that I was interested in, so my first priority was to acquire tetraploid forms of I. reichenbachii. Alas, none of the plants or seeds available commercially or through seed exchanges have been identified as either diploid or tetraploid, so I had to make this determination myself. Not being equipped to make chromosome counts, this meant making test crosses and patiently waiting for the results.

Happily, it turns out that the tetraploid forms are not uncommon. The first two reichenbachii forms I started crossing with both turned out to be tetraploid. One is a yellow form, a collection from Mt. Vikos in Greece. The second is actually a group of plants of unknown origin I raised from seed obtained from a collector in Czechia. Most of these are violet.
I. reichenbachii ex Mt. Vikos, Greece
Waters T009-02, purple tetraploid I. reichenbachii

Waters T051-01,
I. aphylla X I. reichenbachii ex Mt. Vikos
I have three fertile tetraploid seedlings now. The yellow Mt. Vikos form gave me seedlings with I. aphylla and with the tetraploid median plicata ‘Saucy’ (Craig, 1998, IB). One of the violet forms gave me a seedling with the tetraploid median ‘Night Mood’ (L. Markham, 2003, SPEC-X). All three of the seedlings fall in the SDB height range and have the slender stems of I. reichenbachii. None are any competition for the modern, ruffled, dramatically colored median hybrids being produced these days; rather, their value is in further breeding. Because these plants are so small and dainty, they can be used to add these qualities to tetraploid MTB or BB breeding programs. So the next step is to cross these seedlings with the best modern BBs and tetraploid MTBs. It would be nice to have all the color patterns, form, and substance the modern BBs have to offer, but in a line of plants that was consistently small and delicate. This project is already well underway, as I have hundreds of seeds from using these seedlings over the past two years.

Waters T059-02,
Saucy X I. reichenbachii ex Mt. Vikos
Waters T060-01,
Night Mood X T009-02

A second project using I. reichenbachii is directed toward producing dainty MDBs. Most modern MDBs are produced by accident - they are just seedlings from SDB crosses that fall below the 8-inch height limit. These MDBs can be very lovely in terms of flower form and color pattern, but they can easily grow out of class, and often lack the daintiness and early bloom that one hopes for in a true miniature dwarf.

SDBs are the result of crossing TBs with the dwarf species I. pumila. What if one used I. reichenbachii instead of TBs? The result should plants fully fertile with SDBs and modern MDBs, but much smaller. I have three seedlings so far (more on the way) from crossing the Mt. Vikos reichenbachii with the I. pumila cultivar ‘Royal Wonder’ (Coleman, 2013, MDB). One is purple, the other two are yellow. All our about 5 inches tall, with one or two terminal buds. They bloom earlier, overlapping the pumilas and the first MDBs. They are indeed fertile with SDBs and with MDBs from SDB breeding. Once again, the value of these seedlings is not in competing with the showiest modern hybrids, but in further breeding, where they can be expected to produce a line of consistently dainty and early-blooming MDBs. Again, this project is on its way forward, with many seeds from using these seedlings with modern MDBs and SDBs.
Waters S026-01,
I. reichenbachii ex Mt. Vikos X Royal Wonder
Waters S026-02,
I. reichenbachii ex Mt. Vikos X Royal Wonder

These projects using I. reichenbachii are not for the impatient; they are multi-generation endeavors. Yet, there is something uniquely satisfying in breaking new ground.


  1. interesting Tom. I am glad that your original plants were tet.

  2. interesting Tom. glad that you original plants were tet.

  3. interesting tom, glad that your plants were tet