Monday, October 4, 2021

(Still) Searching for Iris innominata

 by Kathleen Sayce

A conversation with a lapsed and now renewed member of Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris (SPCNI) reminded me of my long search for Iris innominata by seed and plant form for my own garden.
I. innominata x ? in my garden

In 2010, I joined the SPCNI field trip to southwest Oregon, where I was able to see tens of thousands of Pacifica irises flowering in the wild, including thousands of I. innominata. Flower colors varied from pale yellow to intense, dark golden yellow, almost orange, with veining from dark yellow to red. This spurred me to grow this lovely iris in my own garden.
I. innominata in Southwest Oregon, 2010

The search for I. innominata plants or seeds began innocuously. As a new member of SPCNI, I ordered seeds from the SPCNI annual seed exchange. I also ordered from SIGNA’s seed exchange. Plants were purchased from a variety of sources in the western United States. All were labeled I. innominata

Meanwhile I read about Iris x aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’, an early garden cross between I. douglasiana and I. innominata by Edith Hardin English in her Seattle, Washington garden. She liked the golden flowers but disliked the short stems and the ease with which flowers melted in heavy rain, sentiments with which I completely agree! 

 The SIGNA Checklist of Hybrids described Iris x aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’ as “Soft golden yellow flower with veining reduced to markings of deeper yellow, two flowers to each stem." The name was published as I. aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’ in the National Horticulture Magazine, October 1948, and reprinted in the Bulletin of the American Iris Society, p. 40-42, #125, April 1952.” [page 146, SIGNA Checklists of Iris] The article was reprinted in the Almanac for SPCNI, Spring 1977 with a note by Jean Witt that English was the first person in the Unied States to hybridize I. innominata. Note that all PCI species easily hybridize with each other, so wild crosses between I. douglasiana and I. innominata are likely, as both live in Southwest Oregon. 

But I digress—back to the outcome of my search through seed exchanges and nurseries for I. innominata

Three times the plants I purchased turned out to be I. douglasiana or other Pacifica iris selections, none matching I. innominata for plant habit and leaf characters even when flowers were (rarely) yellow. I retained a lovely I. douglasiana x unknown PCI cross with a sturdy short grow habit, of unregistered name ‘Burnt Sugar.’
I. pseudacorus sold as I. innominata. Not!

Four times the seeds also were not I. innominata, and tended to undistinguished lavenders. The most spectacular fails were two: A plant from a rock garden nursery that was actually I. pseudacorus, identified when it flowered, and a seed lot that grew into Spuria irises of unknown flower color but unmistakable growth form. My garden is too cool and dry in summer for spurias to thrive, so out it went.
Iris 'Burnt Sugar', unregistered Pacifica iris with I. douglasiana genes

Debby Cole took pity on me after a few years and sent me a few seeds from one of her yellow-flowered innominata-like plants, which upon flowering from seed in my yard we concluded were most likely to be I. innominata x I. bracteata. These had short stems, yellow flowers and the narrow dark green leaves of I. innominata. The veins on the falls were reddish brown. 

Another I. innominata x ? grown from seed 

The plants lived for years in my garden, flowering well until a hedge grew up that shaded them a bit too much. If I can find them this fall, I intend to move the plants to the wild lawn at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in a few weeks, in hopes that they will enjoy that locale. The trigger for this remembrance was that newly returned SPCNI member casually mentioning that he grows I. innominata in his own garden. All I can say is he’s lucky. I haven’t managed to get it, let alone grow it!

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