Monday, February 22, 2021

Growing Irises Out East: Labeling Our Treasured Things

By Heather Grace and Alleah Barnes Haley

Labeling Potted Irises in 2019

For members of our family, irises aren’t just plants. Irises are treasures intertwined in our family traditions, celebrations, and memories. Every time we see an iris, we are reminded of the people we dearly love and our hearts fill with joy. We honor the work that brought plants to our gardens by choosing proper and durable labels during cultivation and division.

Alleah and her daughters Heather, Susan, and Keren enjoying production fields at Schreiner's Iris Gardens in Salem, Oregon.

Alleah’s experience with irises has a parallel with her youngest daughter Heather’s experience with historic family photos. When Heather received a trunk filled with mementos from her paternal and maternal ancestors, she found the photographs both wonderful and problematic. Without informative and durable labels, our family photographs became mysterious treasures that were difficult to identify once passed along. With over 80,000 registered varieties and counting, the same can be said for irises.  Without informative and durable labels, irises become mysterious treasures that are difficult to identify once passed along. We share a powerful lesson inspired by our numerous and now unidentifiable family photographs: Labels help future generations understand and appreciate a treasure we pass along.

Although Alleah quickly recognized her mother, she could not identify the man on the left or the woman in the center. They could be iris society members or friends from service organizations in New Mexico.

Our trunk contained mementos of a mysterious irisarian Heather had heard about her entire life but never got to meet. Alleah was highly familiar with this person and dutifully started labeling photos from memory for Heather. For at least an hour Alleah told wonderful stories about the first bona fide iris lover in our family, Heather’s maternal grandmother Gertie May Barnes. Gertie’s passion for this particular plant is the reason her descendants instinctively “ooh and ah” and discuss them as if they were close relatives. Irises have been part of our lives for as long as we can remember.

Around 1944, Gertie and her husband Bernard Otto Barnes moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Gertie sought out a hardy perennial that could withstand growing in that climate. What Gertie found was an extraordinary “garden diva” that inspired her membership in the American Iris Society (AIS), training to become an accredited AIS judge, and service as Regional Vice President for AIS Region 23 (New Mexico).

Gertie and the Barnes family's 1952 Packard

By the 1960s, Gertie had used almost two-acres surrounding the Barnes home to establish Willow Garden Nursery where she maintained a large collection of irises and sold perennials by word-of-mouth. Gertie used profits from her nursery to purchase new irises and attend annual National Iris conventions and those of another service organization. Aril and arilbred irises grow very well in New Mexico and were Gertie’s favorites. She became fast friends with aril fancier and hybridizer Howard Shockey and his wife Irene. Gertie also collected each American Dykes Medal winner and the yearly top 100 honorees of the AIS popularity poll (the “100 Favorites”). 

Gertie also enjoyed fishing, and she passed unexpectedly while doing this on Williams Creek Lake near Pagosa Springs, Colorado in late 1967. The boat she was fishing in with Bernard overturned and she was unable to swim. Bernard nearly lost his own life trying to save hers. Although we know the late Mrs. Bernard Barnes successfully hybridized irises and exhibited seedlings, we don’t believe any were formally registered with AIS nor introduced into commerce. Family oral history is that she didn’t feel her own hybrids were worthy of registration or introduction. 

The trunk Heather received contained nine iris show certificates awarded to her grandmother Mrs. Bernard Otto Barnes. It appears that Gertie exhibited iris seedlings starting in 1963 until her passing in 1967. 

We keep Gertie’s memory alive by growing irises like she did. Irises in our collection were purchased and/or received from members of an informal and extended “iris family.” We feel kinship to anyone growing labeled irises. Their combined effort makes it possible for us to enjoy and collect the irises we know Gertie had. Especially close to our hearts are owners of a garden toured during the 2019 AIS National Convention: Rudy Ciuca and Joe Lawrence of the C&L Vineyard Garden in Sonoma, California. Rudy and Joe are close friends of Alleah’s and have always been quick to aid efforts to keep her collection of American Dykes Medal winners complete and up to date. Most recently, they started helping Heather collect recipients of other AIS awards and notable cultivars her heart desires. At least 20 boxes of irises from various members of our “iris family” arrived at Heather’s farm during 2020, plus boxes of iris labels inherited as Alleah was downsizing. Perhaps only an iris lover would get as excited as Heather did about this inheritance! Each year, creating labels for irises we receive is our way of honoring our extended “iris family” and the traditions, celebrations, and days we spent together “oohing and ahhing’’ over our treasured plants. The names and dates appearing on iris labels prompt discussion and storytelling much like family photos do. Remember, labels help future generations understand and appreciate a treasure we pass along. 

As Heather was growing up, iris labels cemented her understanding of irises as a family  treasure. Her mother Alleah spent many hours commuting to work and supporting the activities her three children participated in. Alleah had little time to spare, and it often focused on caring for the 16 labeled irises in her garden. From her earliest age, Heather knew what irises were and of her mother’s and grandmother's love for them. The simple fact they were labeled sparked Heather’s curiosity. She wondered, why on Earth would anyone bother making little metal tombstones for their irises? None of the neighbors’ plants had these. Sometimes botanical gardens did, but those labels had strange sounding Latin names on them. Now, nearly thirty years later, Heather understands why Alleah was labeling her irises. It’s because Gertie did, and our extended iris family does. It becomes possible to share information widely, replace a plant you loved, and organize contests when many iris lovers know the identities of each “diva” blooming in their garden.

AIS Bronze Medal Certificates 

Grandmother Gertie May Barnes 1966

Granddaughter Heather Grace Haley 2019

Our family practices a labeling tradition started by Gertie May: using galvanized metal plant tags from See-Fine Flower Marker Company. The Idaho company was established in 1953 and its high-quality product accommodates engraved or printed labels. The name plate measures 1 ¾” x 3 ⅜” with rounded corners, held at a 45 degree angle atop a single sturdy galvanized wire. A similar stainless steel product with two upright wires is sold by Kincaid Plant Markers of Missouri, but our family has always used  See-Fine Markers. They don't twist when pushed into the ground and we get nostalgic about the botanical garden type markers Gertie liked. We also know See-Fine markers will survive battles against riding lawn mowers while maintaining readability and perhaps structural integrity. Alleah prefers the 20-inch size for median irises and submits orders through the U. S. Postal Service. Heather prefers the 26-inch size and submits orders by e-mail. Owners and pricing have changed at See-Fine over the years, but we are delighted the company is still in business.

See-Fine Flower Markers

Thad Brinkley

1314 Alder Avenue

Lewiston, ID 83501

(208) 413-6238

Heather’s husband Chris originally didn’t understand her desire to label irises. He also wondered, why on Earth would anyone bother making little metal tombstones for their irises? Heather and Chris tried compromising on short plastic labels that were less visually obtrusive. Unfortunately, heavy rainfall in North Carolina saturates the clay soil and washes lightweight plastic labels out of the ground. This defeats the purpose of labels. Alleah quickly responded to Heather’s request for her first See-Fine plant markers as a birthday present and her husband couldn’t refuse the gift. Today Heather and Chris sink metal markers deep into the soil to preserve both iris identity and marital bliss. 

Heather’s inheritance: Metal plant markers from Alleah’s garden

While discussing labeling methods with members of our local AIS affiliate, the Eastern North Carolina Iris Society (ENCIS), members Diana Dudley and her husband Dean Richards suggested burying plastic backup markers. A young visitor to their Bee Happy Farm once collected up a whole handful of metal iris markers and presented them to Diana as a bouquet! Alleah and many others have shared similar stories. Heather now buries a plastic backup label with every iris in her garden and checks them against the metal tag when it’s time to dig and divide irises. She also uses her plastic labels to tag irises for resale. The pot provides good drainage and if a label floats up it doesn’t leave the pot.

ENCIS members Susan and Glenn Grigg also suggested that drawing a planting map can help keep irises labeled. Alleah made lists and planting maps of irises in her garden for many years. They were rough pencil sketches of each iris bed with names of each iris in its approximate location. During Heather’s early days planting irises in her own yard, she accidentally created planting maps by printing out pictures from the Iris Encyclopedia and taping them to paper as she planned iris beds. Heather has far too many irises to do this now, but it was fun when her collection was small.

We must not fail to mention Markers and Labels, a comprehensive review of plant markers and labels researched and edited primarily by Historic Iris Preservation Society (HIPS) member Charlie Carver. This wonderful article appeared in the HIPS publication ROOTS Volume 31, Issue 1 (Spring 2018). A six-page treatment that includes many photos of labels from 15 U.S. companies including See-Fine, Kincaid, and Paw Paw Everlast. The latter was mentioned by ROOTS editor Nancy McDonald, who lives in far northern Michigan where nature provides 200-300” of snow each winter. This kind of weight bends the zinc Paw Paw Everlast markers, so she now uses Kincaid.

The Markers and Labels article also describes many plastic markers. Alleahs’s iris hybridizer friends Ross and Barbara BeVier, formerly of My Wild Iris Rows nursery, recommend products from Macore Corporation in Oregon. The BeViers used 1.25” wide x 12” long heavy duty white plastic markers in their iris fields. Heather uses the smaller 1” x 6” version for her plastic backup markers.


PO Box 338

Lafayette, OR 97127


Family members differ slightly in how they create identification labels to adhere on plant markers, and methods reflect our needs and goals. If we need to quickly make a few labels, we all own Brother P-Touch label makers loaded with ½ in. wide TZ-231 laminated white tape with black lettering. Using laminated tape is important because labels need to be reasonably waterproof. If many labels are desired, we start typing away on a computer and find the nearest laser printer. Avery 5520 Weatherproof Address Labels are available from office supply stores and have thirty 1” x 2 5/8” adhesive labels per sheet. Ink-jet printing won’t stand up in outdoor conditions, and regular paper labels just aren’t durable enough. Some office supply stores sell their own brand of weatherproof labels, but in our experience Avery brand is best. Such labels have been known to last at least ten years!

Labeling supplies

Most of the irises we grow and treasure were created through hybridization.  At minimum, their plant labels include the registered name, hybridizer, and year of introduction. It is important to understand that the year an iris is introduced into commerce may be later than the year the name was registered with AIS. In the Iris Encyclopedia entries, the year of introduction appears next to a business name at or near the end of the description. The year of registration often appears with a capital R and is listed near the beginning of the description. AIS e-members can quickly access a database of iris introductions and registrations without pictures. This database is useful if you are trying to make labels in a hurry, or want to determine if an iris name is available. 

Sometimes our labels also distinguish between hybridizers with the same last name by adding a first initial. Alleah likes to add abbreviated descriptors next to cultivar name, for any iris other than tall bearded. For example, iris cultivar ‘Concertina’ is an intermediate bearded (IB), space age (SA), rebloomer (RE). If an iris is part of Alleah’s American Dykes Medal collection, she includes this honor and the year it won. Heather likes to include this highest AIS medal and other AIS awards on labels she makes for her nursery business, the Broley Homestead. She uses the various awards on her iris labels to describe the multi-year, multi-tier “Miss Universe'' like competition in which judges evaluate irises of all types for their worthiness in the garden. ‘Concertina’ earned the Award of Merit in 2006, so Heather’s label for it looks like this:

Weatherproof address label on galvanized metal plant marker

In 2020, our current family matriarch and iris expert Alleah Haley continued training her eldest daughter and two granddaughters in methods for digging and labeling our treasured plants.  The crew, including Heather, spent a week digging and processing over 300 bearded and beardless cultivars. Alleah had decided it was time to downsize, sell her home in Northern California, and move closer to family.  Luckily for the irises, she decided to sell during digging season. Like many long time iris lovers, Alleah seemed to be growing irises everywhere and in every way imaginable. It was a labeling adventure we will not soon forget. Remember, labels help future generations understand and appreciate a treasure we pass along.

Gertie’s descendants spent three summers digging irises together in preparation for Alleah’s move to North Carolina.

Labeling is just as important during division as it is during cultivation, perhaps even more so. Until Alleah’s oldest daughter and granddaughters started helping her dig irises, they were unable to appreciate how methodical the process is to keep the identity of an iris known. They developed a new appreciation for labeling irises, and were eager to inherit metal plant markers too. We dig one cultivar at a time and place its metal marker upside down in a large plastic flower pot.  Next, we break apart rhizomes and place those that have not bloomed in the pot with the metal plant marker. Digging is VERY tiring. When we want a break, we move pots holding each cultivar to the shade for further processing. To avoid confusion, the cultivars stored in one pot are processed by one individual and it is their responsibility to ALWAYS know the identity of what they are handling and labeling. 

Labeling irises in the shade is a lot more enjoyable than labeling in the sun.

After trimming iris roots and leaves to the desired length, we set about making temporary labels for our treasures. For bearded irises, we use rags to gently wipe away a waxy layer (a protective cuticle) and write the iris name on a single inner iris leaf using a black permanent marker. Beardless irises are “diapered” by wrapping the rootball tightly in wet paper towels with a rubber band. A plastic knife with iris name written in black permanent marker is added next, followed by a tightly wrapped plastic bag and another rubber band. 

Because labeling is so important, it helps to buy good permanent markers.  Some irisarians swear by Milwaukee Tool Company “Inkzall'' markers available in the tool section at Home Depot. If these are not available, a black Sanford Ink Co. Sharpie or  Bic Mark-It do just fine. However, it seems like the “Inkzall'' markers don’t dry out as badly when uncapped for long periods of time. Fair warning: labels made using porous paper or written with a permanent marker might not last long outdoors. It is important to create durable labels before the temporary one deteriorates. If you forget, your planting map quickly transforms into a treasure map!

Irises with temporary labels and Heather’s plastic backup labels

In our gardens, irises added to our collection receive a metal plant marker with weatherproof label soon after planting. By giving our treasured plants informative and durable labels we connect with people we love, even when they aren’t with us. Those outside our immediate family seem to appreciate knowing the heritage and community behind our iris collection, and eagerly support our effort by adding the plants from our extended “iris family” to their garden. Even gardeners who choose not to label irises from us recognize they are growing something very special. Our love of irises becomes intertwined with theirs. Remember, labels help future generations understand and appreciate a treasure we pass along. 


Alleah Haley with iris ‘Beverly Sills’ (Hager 1979)

For Comments:

What do you use to label your irises and why do you do it?

What iris topics would you like to read about in a future post?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Winter 2021 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 Winter 2021 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, a shot of Schreiner's Iris Gardens, from the 2020 AIS Photo Contest. Part 4 of the Centennial Supplement was mailed in January and a picture of the cover is below. 

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.

On page 3, enjoy the 2020 AIS Tall Bearded Iris Symposium with many images dispersed throughout several pages.

Remembering Friends, those that have left us recently, are described by the Jim Morris on pages 11 — 15. 

The 2020 AIS Photo Contests Winners are described, with beautiful images starting on page 20 through page 23.

Debbie Strauss writes about the AIS Foundation Ackerman Yout Essay Contest on page 24. 

For information on AIS Sections you may will find Section Happenings on pages 25 though 27.

International Iris News is on page 28. 

A rare view of the 2020 Winners of The Iris World International Photo Contest on page 29 and 30.

A lovely write up about The Iris Society of Australia on pages 32 and 33. 

And, information about the Premio Firenze, the International Iris Competition of Florence, Italy on page 34 — 36.

Old Dog — New Tricks is an in-depth article that you will enjoy, by Paul Black about iris class changes by the prolific hybridizer that he is, on pages 40 — 43.

Iris Illustrations by Botanical Artist Minnelli Lucy France on pages 46 and 47.

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, February 15, 2021

A Trip Down Memory Lane - Part One

By Maggie Asplet

Well, what else is there to say? COVID19, you have a lot to answer for, in particular my not being able to travel back to see my friends in Salem and Portland, Oregon for at least another year.

Usually, at this time, I am busy planning my next visit back, which is hard to believe especially the horrific weather conditions happening in Salem (and elsewhere) right now. It is hard to believe the destruction I am reading from Facebook posts.

So here we have it, unable to travel, so this is going to be a serious and humorous look at my last trip in May 2019.

One of the things none of you will be aware of is the time we leave home (midnight) to begin our travels, which leaves us sitting for hours waiting to check-in for our flight. Here I am with my traveling companion Wendy Begbie, who has the largest iris nursery in New Zealand.

Our first stop was Hawaii, meant to be for a 3 hour stop over, but due to a problem with our tickets we missed our next flight and to our shock (tongue in cheek) and horror, had to spend a night in Honolulu.  What are two girls to do but go and explore, which we did.  In the mall we came across this amazing stand where you get to make jandals (New Zealand name for flip flops) to your hearts desire.  Never seen anything like it before.  

It might look as though I didn't indulge, I did.  My granddaughter now has my pair.

Due to our unforeseen stayover, I think it is fair to say that a couple of nights in Honolulu would not go amiss, just to see the magnificent gardens and parks.

Taken at the airport, this is sure an indication of some stunning flora and fauna to see next time.

We finally arrive at Mid America Iris Garden and Sebright Gardens just about in the middle of the night.  First thing on the agenda is to wander arounds the house display gardens, and what a picture they always are and to heck the irises, here and down the road a couple of miles in the paddock (New Zealand term for field).

Irises at last

Beautiful display gardens

Irises, yes there were plenty of those.  Here is a selection of some of my favourites.  I guess this list would sure change once I can visit again.

These are some of the SDB irises that I used and will finally get to see what I have achieved this Spring (October 2021).  In the second set of photos the unnamed image is Basket of Goodies - Black '15.

One of the chores that I like to help with was feed the chickens and visiting the fantastic peacocks, especially the white ones - just stunning.

Sebright Chickens

By arriving prior to the main tall beard irises flowering, it gave us spare time to go visiting.  One of our favourite places is Schreiner's.  How can you not love their display gardens.  Just so inspiring with the companion planting and then returning when in full bloom.

Schreiner's Display Garden

The exterior of the delightful souvenir shop - check out just how the walls of the shop are made????

THEN, we finally get to full bloom season, what a picture the place is.  Given the size of the nurseries that Thomas has, when you see if for the first time, it is rather gobsmacking awesome.

As there is still so much to show you from a wonderful trip, I am going to finish this - part one - with a photo of us (the two New Zealanders with their Australian friends) enjoying the hospitality of Iris Royalty - to me they are.

We are very fortunate to have mentors like the Schreiner Family, Thomas Johnson, Paul Black, Keith Keppel.  Fabulous times together - now we wait until we can do this again.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Pronouncing Botanical Latin: a Personal Perspective

By Tom Waters

No One Knows How To Say It

As a passionate student of both horticulture and language, this is a subject I have strong interest in. If you search the web (or a library) looking for guidance on how to pronounce a particular Latin name, you will quickly find an array of conflicting recommendations. You are also likely to see such recommendations prefaced by a remark such as the following (no, I cannot bear to link to this site):

Relax! The good news is there is NO "correct" way to pronounce them! You may pronounce them any way you wish, and you will be just as "correct" as any Ph.D. botanist. So have confidence, and just say them however feels comfortable to you. Anyone who corrects you is only showing their own ignorance, and the correct response is to just smile and say "Yes, that's what I said, (and repeat the name as you pronounced it before).

In my experience, the more strident the assertion that there is no correct pronunciation, the more scattered and arbitrary the pronunciation advice that follows. Still, the sentiment above has been expressed in milder form by a number of respected writers knowledgeable in botanical Latin, including the modern pontiff on the subject, W. T. Stearn:

How they are pronounced really matters little provided they sound pleasant and are understood by all concerned...

Now one can hardly take exception to the pragmatic assertion that the purpose of language is to communicate, and if one is communicating successfully, there is no cause for anxiety or concern. Yet it strikes me as odd that people writing about the pronunciation of botanical names so often feel obliged to include such a disclaimer. Writers on other disciplines do not. When was the last time you read a chemistry text that reassured students with "You can say OX-i-gen, ox-EYE-gen, or OH-zee-gen, and they are all correct!"

From the standpoint of linguistics, which regards the spoken language as primary and the written language as secondary, it is quite a strange circumstance that a community of speakers would not know how to say the words they use. How did this come about?

A Little History of Latin as Spoken in England

Long after the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin remained the lingua franca of Europe, particularly among the learned. Although it ceased to be a native language, it did not cease to be a spoken language. Even into the nineteenth century, classically educated people in Europe would converse in Latin, as well as writing and reading it. Because the language was in continuous use, its pronunciation changed with the locale and the era, as does the pronunciation of any language. Especially significant were the changes that occurred in England. During the Middle English period, English experienced what is known as "the great vowel shift", which dramatically changed the sounds of the long vowels: A went from "ah" to "ay", E from "eh" to "ee", and I from "ee" to "eye". Thus Old English mis (pronounced "mees") became Modern English mice. Keep in mind that this shift in pronunciation was not something people were conscious of; it happened gradually over several generations. The older pronunciations were forgotten. And the change carried the pronunciation of Latin words with it. So as "mees" changed to "mice", so linum (Latin for "flax") changed from "LEE-num" to "LYE-num". (Of course, there have been many other changes in English pronunciation between when the Romans introduced Latin to England and the present day, but these are some of the most pertinent for the present discussion.) Other pronunciation changes were happening all over Europe, so that Latin as pronounced in England was different from Latin as pronounced in Germany, which was different again from Latin as pronounced in France.

As many of our modern sciences blossomed from the seventeenth century onward, they took their terminology from Latin. Botany was no exception: following Linnaeus's system of binomial nomenclature, every species was assigned a genus name and species name, both in Latin form (although the root words from which these names were formed were often Greek or from some other language). In England, these Latin (or Latinized) names were all pronounced as Latin was pronounced in England at the time. There was at this time no disagreement over the pronunciation of words in Latin. Even those constructed on Greek roots were easy to pronounce for anyone with a classical education (just as people of our generation knew how to pronounce "internet" when the word first appeared, since although it was a new word it was made up of familiar components.) Furthermore, many technical terms were adopted straight from Latin into English, with perhaps only a minor change in form. Many of these borrowings from Latin are transparent to us today: area, species, orbit, formula, momentum.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Open Your Mouth...

By the late nineteenth century, linguists had worked out, based on careful study of ancient sources and comparisons between the various Romance languages, how Latin was actually pronounced in the classical era of Caesar and Cicero. Latin began to be taught according to this reconstructed classical pronunciation, rather than the English pronunciation that had been familiar up to that time. This was a positive change in terms of appreciating the previously forgotten sounds of the ancient language, but it gave rise to problems in using the Latin or Latinized technical vocabulary of the sciences. In most cases, the traditional English pronunciation was retained, as the words had already become quite familiar. Thus species remained "SPEE-sheez" (the traditional English pronunciation), rather than becoming "SPEK-ee-ess" (the classical pronunciation).

Note: I've come across a few references that erroneously use the word "traditional" to refer to the reconstructed classical pronunciation of Latin. In this context, the word "traditional" does not mean "oldest", but instead refers to what has been handed down through tradition (with changes along the way), rather than what has been reconstructed by linguists studying ancient Latin.

But for words less often encountered, such as the names of lesser-known genera and species, English speakers after 1900 were left in a state of uncertainty. The traditional English pronunciation was no longer being taught, and fewer people had any instruction in Latin at all. So from the 20th century on, people encountering a Latin species name for the first time would either (1) use the traditional English pronunciation if they could infer it from the pronunciation of similar names they had actually heard spoken, (2) use the classical Latin pronunciation if they had learned this in school or from books, or (3) make something up. You will find all of these approaches evidenced in the pronunciation guides now in circulation, almost always mixed together without much attempt at consistency.

Botany (or biology, more broadly speaking), I think, has suffered worse from this confusion than the other sciences that make use of Latin terms, simply because we have so many names to contend with (many of which will be encountered in writing before they are ever heard), rather than a manageable set of technical terms whose pronunciation is reinforced by use in conversation. It is small wonder that writers on the subject have given up trying to maintain a pronunciation system that is shared by all.

OK. Now What?

So what is one to do, assuming that one is actually interested in pronouncing the names in a way that has some basis in linguistic tradition, rather than just arbitrary guesswork? For me, it comes down to two viable choices: (1) use the traditional English pronunciation, or (2) use a mixture of the traditional and classical systems, informed and tempered by the practices of people you converse with.

Why not just use the classical pronunciations exclusively? Surely this has the best claim to being the "real" pronunciation of Latin. The reason is that many plant names have become familiar in their traditional English pronunciation, and they are here to stay. Iris itself is a perfect example. The classical pronunciation is "EE-ris". Try this at your next local iris society meeting or at your local nursery and see how it goes. Many other examples are easy to come by. Who is going to talk of "gair-AH-ni-ums" instead of "jer-AY-ni-ums"? "SAY-dum" instead of "SEE-dum"? "nar-KISS-us" instead of "nar-SISS-us"? (If you do adopt a consistently classical pronunciation, though, you will come closer to the way many non-English speakers pronounce the names.)

My own inclination is to use the traditional English pronunciation, up to the point where it isolates me from contemporary practice in my area. An example is the term plicata, which is "pli-KAH-ta" classically and "pli-KAY-ta" traditionally. In North America, at least, I don't ever expect to hear the latter as the name for the familiar iris color pattern - or the pseudo-species for which it was named. I will, however, say "re-tik-yoo-LAY-ta", "flor-en-TYE-na", and "hoog-i-AY-na", even though I often hear "ret-tik-yoo-LAH-ta", "flor-en-TEE-na", and "hoog-i-ANN-a". The traditional English pronunciations have several advantages. We can use English words borrowed from Latin as a pronunciation guide (alpine helps us pronounce alpinus, albino helps us pronounce albinus, variegated helps us pronounce variegata, etc.) It also provides a consistency that reinforces the pronunciation of common elements in different names, and thus makes new names easier to pronounce when you encounter them. Finally, it connects us to the English-speaking botanists and gardeners of the past, who knew no other way to pronounce Latin. W. R. Dykes and Sir Michael Foster are excellent company, in my view.

If you mix traditional and classical pronunciations (provided you get your mix from listening to others, rather than randomly), then your choices are less likely to stand out in your locality, and will probably come closer to what people in your area would expect, having encountered the names only in writing. 


Just in case anyone should interpret the above to imply that I'm some kind of obsessive pronunciation enforcement officer, have no fear. It is bad manners to correct anyone's pronunciation, particularly in an area where informed people can and do have different preferences. My approach is to respect others' informed choices, to encourage struggling beginners (it's much more important that they want to talk about iris species at all than that they pronounce them well), and to work to inform myself as best I can, so that I can be a resource to others if asked. In my experience the oft-cited unpleasantness of people correcting each other's pronunciation is a rarity.

An Anecdote in Three Parts

Let me conclude with a story of one iris name and its pronunciation, spanning several decades. When I was a teenager, I was already interested in Latin and knew its (classical) pronunciation rules. In one of our iris society round robins (a sort of pre-internet discussion group, conducted through the quaint media of paper, typewriters, and envelopes), the question came up of how to pronounce Iris pseudacorus. I asserted that pseuda- meant "false" and that I didn't know whether corus had a long or short o in Latin, which would determine which syllable to stress. Bee Warburton, one of the iris world's luminaries, patiently explained that there is plant called Acorus, the sweet flag, that the prefix pseudo- lost its -o- in the compound, and that Acorus is stressed on the first syllable. So the pronunciation can only be "sood-ACK-or-us". It was my first encounter with the names as living words, words that could be understood if you knew about the plants as well as the language.

Recently, while attending an open house at an amazing display garden in my area, someone remarked on irises growing in a watercourse, and asked if they were Louisianas. The garden owner said they were not, but could not recall the name. He said they were the fleur-de-lis. Being helpful, I suggested pseudacorus. Because I was stressing the a instead of the o, he didn't recognize my suggestion as being the same as the name he had read in books. I mention this because it provides a cautionary note to the oft-repeated advice to "say it however you like, people will understand". There are some advantages to using a shared pronunciation.

Finally, out of curiosity, I decided to try to verify Warburton's assertion that the a is stressed, and that it is short. Internet searches quickly revealed many web sites stating with authority that the pronunciation is "sood-AY-cor-us", many others stating with authority that it is "sood-ACK-or-us", plenty holding out for "sood-a-COR-us", and one lone site with enough honesty (or bewilderment) to offer a choice of pronunciations. None of them provided the etymology in enough detail that I could verify the vowel lengths in either Latin or Greek. In this research game, you soon find that the older the source, the more reliable, consistent, and informed it is likely to be. If you can get back to the nineteenth century, any book you find is likely to be written by someone who actually knew some Latin and Greek, and who had a good idea what the words meant and how they had been adapted. Sure enough, I eventually came upon A Manual of Scientific Terms: Pronouncing, Etymological, and Explanatory; Chiefly Comprising Terms in Botany, Natural History, Anatomy, Medicine, and Veterinary Science: with an Appendix of Specific Names, by the Reverend James Stormonth (1885, digitized by Google), wherein I learned that all three vowels are short in Greek akoros as well as in Latin acorus. Bee was right all along. Not that I doubted that.

Footnote: -oides

One often finds, in pronunciation guides that are informed and careful, the advice that this ending, common in plant names, should be pronounced "oh-EYE-deez". The reasoning is sound: -ides comes from Greek -eidos, "resembling", with the -o- as a connective. Thus the i is long, and the short o is separate from it. Yet strangely, I kept encountering venerable and reliable sources suggesting it be pronounced "OY-deez". Why should that be? I learned that in the traditional English pronunciation of Latin, when two vowels are in hiatus, the first usually became long. Furthermore, oi is a diphthong in Anglo-Latin, though an uncommon one. Since most of the words with this ending are coined technical terms, not natural borrowings into Latin from Greek, early speakers of scientific Latin in England may have had some latitude in pronunciation, whether to regard the -oi- as a diphthong or not. In the cases where a coined Latin word with this ending was borrowed fully into English (asteroid being a prime example), the -oi- was pronounced as a diphthong. "OY-deez" is certainly more natural for English speakers than the trisyllabic alternative.

Interesting factoid.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Wrapping up this winter's iris planting season

By Gary Salathe

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), of which I am part of, is in the process of winding down our iris planting projects for the 2020 - 2021 fall and winter Louisiana iris planting season.  

In two previous World of Irises postings I explained how our group finds native I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris that are threatened with destruction.   We relocate the irises into public refuges and nature preserves after getting the landowner’s permission.  The purpose of this is to engage the public to try and motivate them into helping to preserve and protect native Louisiana irises by making their blooms easily visible rather than hidden from view in the deepest corners of the swamps and marshes. If we can’t bring the public to the wild native irises, then the idea is we will bring the irises to the public.



Photo on right:  Bringing blooming native Louisiana irises to the public is the goal.




In years past it has always been our goal to finish up planting irises in the swamps and marshes of Southeast Louisiana by the end of December, but this year’s disruptions with getting volunteers signed up due to COVID 19 restrictions and concerns slowed down our pace. 

The self-imposed deadline of the end of December is based on the theory that any irises planted later than that will likely not bloom in mid-March to the first part of April, which is usually our bloom period.  We have discovered through experience, however, that if the full grown irises are planted in clumps (and sometimes as singles) with the root ball still intact, and all of the soil is still attached, many of the irises will not even realize that they have been transplanted.  They can still be planted until the end of January with the expectation that they will bloom 1 ½ to 2 months later.  This is especially true if they are planted in the typical soupy and rich waterlogged muck that passes as soil in our area’s marshes and swamps.  The “end of December rule” is likely true for planting bare root Louisiana iris rhizomes in typical garden soil and the actual deadline may be much earlier.


Photo:  An example of a clump of irises with dirt still attached to the root ball that we tried to focus on planting starting in mid-December.








The only reason to care about whether or not the freshly planted irises bloom in the spring is that the volunteers really, really want to see the result of their work and the owners of the property, who are sometimes disinterested about their new irises, need that spring “bling” payoff to get them hooked on irises.  

Photo:  The volunteers involved and the landowners where we have iris planting projects usually need some iris bloom “bling” the first spring after the irises are planted. 

In projects where we are just adding to an existing stock of irises that we planted in the past, whether or not our new ones bloom is not as important.  We moved these plantings lower on the priority list so that they could be done in February.  Each one of these smaller iris plantings will require only a few volunteers to complete.

Our plan is to have our iris holding area in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans empty of irises by the end of February. (We're almost there.) Our revised goal of planting 8,000 I. giganticaerulea Louisiana irises for this past year will then be accomplished thanks to everyone that has volunteered to help us.

Here is a list of the iris plantings and rescues we were able to get completed since I last reported in my mid-November World of Irises posting:



Photo on left:  We went back into the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in late November and added more irises to our three previous plantings that started in September.


Photo on right:  In late November we also did another iris rescue event from the site we had worked in this summer to fill containers at our iris holding area that had been emptied of irises from our earlier iris planting events.




 Photo on left:  In mid-December we planted irises at the Sankofa Wetland Park & Nature Trail in New Orleans using volunteers from the Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans.



Photo above:  Also in mid-December we did a small iris rescue event in St. Bernard parish in a drainage canal where the parish was considering spraying the water hyacinths with a herbicide because they were starting to block the drainage.


Photo on left:  December was a busy month.  The first of three iris plantings that took place over a five week period at the Town of Lockport, La boardwalk was done.








 Photo above:  In late December we did the first of what turned out being three iris plantings over a one month period at the Town of Jean Lafitte, La. Wetlands Trace boardwalk.


Photos above:  In the first days of January, 2021 we did an iris planting at the Bayou Teche Paddle Trail trailhead in Breaux Bridge, La. (left)  and on the same day an iris planting at the Chitimacha Tribal Nation of Louisiana in Charenton, La. (right)

Photos above: On January 9th we did an iris planting as part of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s cypress tree planting event in the Manchac swamp located south of Ponchatoula, La. 

Photos above:  On January 13th a small group of our volunteers planted irises at the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge near Houma, La.  These added to the irises that were planted there last year. 


Photo above:  On January 16th we organized an iris planting in a freshwater bog at the Nature Conservancy’s Grilletta Tract in Grand Isle, La.   Some members of the Native Plant Initiative, Grand Isle Garden Club and the Terrebonne Parish Bird Club volunteered to get the irises planted.

 Photos above:  Four days later on January 20th volunteers from Common Ground Relief worked with LICI volunteers to plant irises in the swamp next to the Cajun Coast Visitors & Convention Bureau's visitor’s center in Morgan City, Louisiana.  It was the third iris planting we did there during January.






Photos above:  On January 24th a small group of our volunteers planted irises at the Joyce Wildlife Management area, which is  located south of Ponchatoula, La.


Photo above:  On January 27th working with volunteers from the St. Tammany Master Gardeners Association, Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater New Orleans, Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans, Sierra Club of Slidell, Common Ground Relief, Limitless Vistas, as well as our volunteers, we planted irises at Fontainebleau State Park near Mandeville, La.


Photo on left:  Two days later we planted irises at the 40 Arpent Wetlands Observatory in Chalmette, La.


We have a few small “clean-up” iris planting projects that need to get done in the next few weeks involving either lesser number of irises or that have sites that are too treacherous to include large numbers of volunteers. 

 A very big “THANK YOU!!” goes out to all that have volunteered to help us this past year and to our donors that allowed us to create and maintain our iris holding area.

We will be doing Facebook postings, likely in early to mid March, as the native Louisiana irises begin to bloom to invite all of our volunteers to come out to boardwalks and trails where they planted irises to celebrate the results of everyone’s hard work!!

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative website can be found here:

Our Facebook page can be found here: