Monday, September 28, 2020

Photo Essay: Historic varieties from 1934

by Mike Unser

A selection of varieties I have grown that were introduced in 1934. New gene combinations from the previous decade were giving a wide range of novel forms, colors and patterns. The economic depression of the 1930's era was hard on the people of so many countries. Perhaps the need for hope and beauty fueled the innovation and creativity of these golden years for irises.

What are you growing from 1934?

Monday, September 21, 2020

Spring is in the air in New Zealand

by Maggie Asplet

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly it comes around to my turn to write.  Just about got caught short when I suddenly remembered I need this for Monday morning. Just as well we are a day ahead of my American friends.

I must say, it has been a very troubling time for us here in New Zealand, worrying about our friends and the horrific fires you have had in some areas.  Thank goodness for being above to make phone call to check you are all OK.

I certainly hope that the fires are more under control now than they were a week ago.

As you now head towards you colder month, we are moving through Spring and towards our Summer.  Yay.

My excitement is building as this will be the first flowering of my seedlings.  This is from crosses I did mainly at Thomas Johnsons, Mid America Iris Garden in 2018.  Sadly, all the seed that Thomas sent from 2019 was destroyed by our MPI people, an error they said, so I will not have any from that work, and with COVID19 who knows when I can return.


Seedlings are putting on good growth, just in the process of putting out the watering system now.  It is starting to get very dry and our overhead water had iron in it and marks the plants badly.

These first few sets of images I will show you are Standard Dwarf Bearded (SDB's) irises, that have been successful, and I am now waiting with baited breath for the outcome.  I will post images of the outcomes in the next article for you all to see how well (or not so well) I did.

Alaia by Thomas Johnson'18

Kerpow by Thomas Johnson '18

From this cross I had only 1 seed from 22 germinate but I'm very happy to say it is growing well and hopefully will be flowering soon.

My second successful cross with the SDB's was Slightly Tipsy X Kerpow.  This cross I have done both ways and was successful with both.  It will be interesting to see the differences with the new cultivars.

Slightly Tipsy by Paul Black '18

It is fair to say, that I did many crosses that did not set any seed at all, which is probably just as well, as it would have been a daunting task planting more than what I had.

Another successful cross has been Color X Kerpow.  Interesting to note there were 71 seeds but only 2 germinated.  Two is just fine by me.

Color by Paul Black '18

I would like to point out that I spell colour differently, and have to think twice when I type the name of this cultivar.  I automatically want to correct it.  Sorry Paul.

The next successful SDB cross was Love Spell X Peppito.  58 seeds arrived and 13 germinated.
Love Spell by Paul Black '10

Peppito by Paul Black '16

Another cross using Peppito was with Stylish Miss.  This was done both ways but with success only in the Stylish Miss X Peppito.  Not a lot of seed, just 12 and 7 germinated.

Stylish Miss by Thomas Johnson '17

I then crossed Stylish Miss with Lovable Pink, again a very successful cross producing 64 seeds of which 45 germinated.  So one would hope there is something great from all of those.

Lovable Pink by Paul Black '13

The last of the SDB's that I will showcase now is a cross between Carrot Flash X Eye of the Tiger.  26 seeds, 13 germinated.

Carrot Flash by Paul Black '17

Eye of the Tiger by Paul Black '08

So, if I don't have anything of much interest from these, then I will be very surprised.  By the time comes for me to write again, hopefully it will be to show you the outcome of some of these crosses.

A very big thank you to both Thomas Johnson and Paul Black for allowing me to annoy them so much and so look forward to when it is possible to return.  I so miss seeing all my 
American friends.

Please take care at such uncertain times, stay well and stay safe.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Progress with Arilpums

by Tom Waters

When I wrote my previous blog post on arilpums early in 2019, I had to focus mostly on history and theory, as I did not yet have much to show from my own seedlings. That has now changed, and the current state of this project is even better than I had dared hope.

As explained in the previous post, arilpums are arilbreds dwarfs that come from crossing pure arils with the dwarf bearded species Iris pumila. If the aril parent is a tetraploid, theory says the resulting arilpums should be fertile amphidiploids, a sort of arilbred analog of the SDBs. They thus have the potential of ushering in a whole new "fertile family" of miniature arilbreds.

Waters Q025-01

This spring, I bloomed two arilpum seedlings, both prolific two-year-old clumps covered in bloom. The first, Q025-01, from 'Merlin's Magic' (a selection of Iris stolonifera) x P002-05, a pumila seedling of Armenian origin, has a dainty Regelia look and some nice veining. The second seedling, Q053-01, from 'Tadzhiki Bandit' x 'Sudden Butterflies' is larger and huskier, with flowers reminiscent of tall arilbreds with Regelia ancestry, such as 'Stars Over Chicago' or 'Saffron Charm'.

I also had good bloom this year on an arilpum seedling from

Waters Q053-01

George Hildenbrandt, GH-11-4-2, from 'Dunshanbe' x 'Hidden Dragon'. This is a charming dark arilpum with nice aril-like flower form.

Hildenbrandt GH-11-4-2

The remarkable thing is that all three of these seedling produced seed for me this year when crossed with other arilpums. In my previous post, I mentioned that earlier hybridizers working with arilpums had found them to be infertile as pod parents. That is clearly (and thankfully!) not a general rule! Here are my successful arilpum x arilpum crosses this year:

Q053-01 x Aladdin's Gem gave 38 seeds
Q025-01 x Q053-01 gave 9 seeds
GH-11-4-2 x Q053-01 gave 23 seeds
GH-11-4-2 x Aladdin's Gem gave 3 seeds

These are not huge seed yields, but they are certainly adequate for continued breeding. I am quite optimistic that a number of the second-generation seedlings from these crosses will be fully fertile, and it will be possible to line breed arilpums without having to constantly go back to the difficult aril x pumila initial cross. This will also open up arilpum breeding for hybridizers who live in areas where either arils or pumila are difficult to grow.

Next spring should offer even more excitement, as I have more than 30 arilpum seedlings from various crosses that will be blooming as two-year-old plants. I got a sneak preview of one this spring,  Q066-08, from 'Tadzhiki Bandit' x P018-02, a pumila seedling originating from the Caucasus mountains. It looks for all the world like a miniature rendition of its aril pod parent, giving a rather more "onco" impression than others mentioned in this post. It has not yet been tested for fertility.

Waters Q066-08

All this has been an exciting vindication of a breeding project motivated mostly by theoretic possibilities rather than concrete experience. I'm now confident that arilpums have a bright future ahead.

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative

 By Gary Salathe

The following is my introductory posting for this World of Irises blog.  My name is Gary Salathe and I live just north of New Orleans on the outskirts of Madisonville, a small town in Southeast Louisiana.  I am a member of AIS, the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI) and the Greater New Orleans Iris Society (GNOIS).

I’d like to start off by thanking Bryce Williamson and Andi Rivarola for inviting me to become a regular blogger, joining the illustrious list of other World of Irises bloggers.  I’ll try my best to live up to their expectations. 

I’ve come to their attention because of the efforts I and others have been involved in to reintroduce native Louisiana iris species back into marshes and swamps of Southeast Louisiana in areas where they once grew in abundance. 

I made a decision earlier this year to split off my iris restoration activities and form a new non-profit with other like-minded individuals to concentrate on just this effort after spending a number of years dividing my time between various duties as a board of directors member and volunteer of the GNOIS.

This first blog posting will be an attempt to explain the “why and how” of what we hope to accomplish with our new non-profit by continuing and expanding our efforts, which we started three years ago within the GNOIS.  Future postings will be used to keep you updated on these projects.

 Photo:  The two people in this photo are ignoring the blooming irises nearby because the irises were so common as to be unremarkable when the photo was taken.   

Back in the early 1900’s Louisiana irises were so common in southeast Louisiana they were just thought of as weeds by the locals.  It was just a plant that clogged up their ditches. Their abundance was taken for granted.  But warnings began to appear in the following decades about how the draining and development of swamps threatened this native plant’s long-term survival.  Caroline Dormon, Percy Viosca and Dr. John K. Small, each a botanist, naturalist and early environmentalist, gave the first warnings starting in the 1920’s as they began to publicize this native plant and its habitat.  They saw the destruction first hand as they collected iris specimens from the swamp.   

Photo: Estimated land lost (in blue) from Louisiana coastal wetlands since the 1800's.

The plight of coastal areas of Louisiana from natural subsidence and erosion which has been accelerated by man-made activities has been well publicized.  The irises have retreated back into the deepest reaches of the freshwater swamps as salt water has advanced inland.  Combined with the increased use of herbicides by governmental agencies for roadside maintenance, it has become increasingly difficult for the people of Southeast Louisiana to experience first-hand wild irises in bloom each spring. 

The result is that a whole generation in Southeast Louisiana has never seen the springtime bloom of wild irises.  It's difficult to motivate people into helping do something about this loss if they have never seen a wild iris blooming in its natural habitat.  As they say; "Out of sight, out of mind."

Photo:  Many of the parishes in Southeast Louisiana now rely on spraying roadside ditches with an herbicide to control weeds.  Unfortunately, many of these ditches once held huge numbers of native irises which put the annual iris bloom on full display to the public.

What has been less publicized is that Louisiana with the federal government’s help is fighting back against the land loss and salt water intrusion.  A master plan has been created and is being put into effect to do large scale marsh restoration projects using state and federal funds and money from the B.P. oil spill penalties.  The Mississippi River, hemmed in by levees since the late 1800’s, is once again being opened up into the marshes through new control structures that will allow much needed fresh water and silt deposits to push back the salt water and rebuild land.  Although no one believes this will ever reclaim all of the land that has been lost, early results show that land loss is slowing down and new land is being created in isolated areas where the first of these Mississippi River diversions have been built.

Photo: This is just some of the marsh restoration projects and Mississippi River diversions that are in various stages of being put into place or receiving approvals.

The marsh restoration projects are creating opportunities to reintroduce native plants into marshes that previously held brackish or salt water and now have returned to being fresh water.  

Non-profit organizations have sprung up to begin reforesting these areas with cypress trees, so we asked a simple question, “Why not include native Louisiana iris species in this effort?”

We also discovered that all but two of the numerous swamp boardwalks found in the area’s wildlife refuges, national and state parks and public nature preserves had no Louisiana irises growing next to them.  We felt that a real opportunity existed to bring the native Louisiana irises back into the public’s consciousness by planting irises along these boardwalks where they will be permanently protected and be in view to the public as they bloom each year.  Once this is accomplished our thought is that demand will increase for irises to be used in commercial and governmental marsh restoration projects, furthering our long-term goals.

The Boy Scout Road Trail boardwalk in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge is located in a marsh that decades ago changed from being a fresh water marsh into a brackish marsh and has now changed back into being a fresh water marsh.  Although there are thousands of irises growing on a trail less than 1/4 mile away, there were no irises growing along the boardwalk where a majority of the refuge visitors go to instead.

We then discovered that still to this day there were irises being destroyed because of properties being developed.  

Photo:  A parking lot expansion underway that threatens to bury the 2,000 Louisiana irises shown in the background.

We also found that there were many homeowners who had dug up wild irises years ago from nearby swamps and planted them in their ponds or around their homes and are happy to donate them now.  

Photo:  Iris giganticaerulea species Louisiana irises growing in the front yard of an individual that lives near a swamp.  He dug up some wild irises a few years ago and planted them around his house.

We concluded that “rescuing” irises from being destroyed because of development and thinning out irises on homeowners’ properties offered us the possibility of a ready supply of plants to use in marsh restoration projects. 

Our first step would be to plant these irises next to boardwalks that were being used by people to experience and learn about the swamp and marsh habitats.  It would allow them to see this unique native plant growing and blooming in its natural habitat, the first time for most of them. 

Since all that I am describing involves hard sweaty labor we set out to find younger volunteers that would help get the job done.  We discovered that many young people want to help out in saving the environment and they felt that reintroducing irises back into the swamp as accomplishing this.  We connected with local organizations that bring in college students from around the country to volunteer on marsh restoration projects and they included our iris restoration projects for their groups to work on.

Photo: Out-of-state college students working planting irises along a refuge boardwalk this past January as part of their five days of volunteerism trip to New Orleans.

With all of the pieces in place we spent the last two years developing the program.  In late 2018 to early 2019 we rescued and replanted 8,000 I. giganticaerulea irises.  From October 2019 to January 2020 we rescued and replanted almost 13,000 more. 

At many of the places where we planted the irises the managers and their staffs were being introduced to the Louisiana iris for the first time.  Although irises may have been found somewhere on their properties, saving or managing the lowly iris was not on their priority list.  However, they are now fully on board after two seasons of seeing the excitement the blooming irises created among visitors to their boardwalks.  The Louisiana iris has now moved up in importance. 

In late April we launched the new non-profit to continue the program on a much larger scale.  It is named the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI). 

Photo:  LICI volunteers in masks rescuing I. giganticaerulea species Louisiana irises recently from a site that is to be developed.

Then COVID 19 hit.  But we discovered two things: There were enough people in our area that had time on their hands and were itching to get out of the house and accomplish something because of the lock-downs that we could still get volunteers and they were also willing to do more events than what we would typically expect.   Even though we were working in smaller groups because of the social distancing requirements we were able to do more events because the volunteers had the time to give.  At one point about six weeks ago we actually did two volunteer events on two different days in one week for two weeks back-to-back.  (Whew!)


Photo:  LICI volunteers are shown setting up the iris holding area in July.  We kept the number of volunteers for each event to ten people or less in keeping with social distancing protocols for fighting the COVID 19 virus.  

We solicited and received donations from various organizations to set up an iris holding area to plant the irises we rescued into containers for them to strengthen and grow to get them ready for planting in the marsh this fall and winter.

And that’s where we stand, as of today. 

We are hopeful that the college student volunteers from around the country will begin to return next spring.

We believe we have close to 6,000 I. giganticaerulea species Louisiana irises growing in containers at our iris holding area.  We’re taking a little break and then will start up later this month visiting sites and getting the needed permits to prepare for planting them.  The demand for these irises is so great that we believe we can get all of these irises planted by the end of November and dig up a whole second batch for planting in January if the irises and local volunteers are available.  

Our volunteer events will need to be spaced out and likely done on weekends now that things are loosening up on the COVID 19 lock-downs and many people in our area are going back to work.  We had hopes of rescuing and replanting 20,000 irises this season, but it will all depend on whether or not the volunteers are available.  No matter, our plan is to give it our best shot. 

Stay tuned for future postings as things develop!!

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative website can be found here:

Our Facebook page can be found here: