Monday, November 22, 2021

A Growing Iris Resource on YouTube: Part I

by Heather Haley

In this post, I share a delightfully growing iris resource. Sharing information on the World of Irises blog is one of many ways that the American Iris Society (AIS) uses the internet to organize and disseminate knowledge. Content draws on the various talents of individuals within our organization and helps to advance its mission: fostering the preservation, enjoyment, and continued development of the genus Iris.

Volunteers with technical expertise (or a willingness to learn) devote time and energy to social media efforts that promote aspects of AIS to other members and the general gardening public. The AIS Facebook page was created in 2009, which was later supplemented by a Twitter feed in 2011, a YouTube channel in 2016, and an Instagram account in 2019. 

The AIS YouTube channel started with a video featuring World of Irises bloggers, and has added a sizable amount of content during 2020 and 2021. If you are just getting started with irises, have the desire to learn more, or need to keep yourself occupied between bloom seasons, I highly recommend watching videos in the AIS webinar series. 

The following describes the webinars prepared, delivered, recorded, and posted by AIS volunteers in 2020.

Gary White is a past president of AIS and started growing irises soon after he finished college. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, with a focus on botany. He has been a member of every AIS Section and Cooperating Society, and has been judging irises for over twenty years. In this first webinar, Gary helped us look at irises and circumstances prior to the formation of AIS in 1920, and then described some of the irises, people, and events leading to the middle of the 20th Century.




Gary returned for a second webinar to share irises and people who were most influential several years after the formation of AIS. His story picks up from the end of the first webinar, the middle of the 20th century, and continues through near the end of the century. This webinar focuses on irises that you may be growing in your garden and people you may recognize.




Bonnie Nichols is currently serving as the first-vice president of AIS, and was the first president of the Novelty Iris Society when this Section was added to the organization in 2015. She has also served AIS as a regional vice president, and treasurer. Bonnie has always been drawn to flowers with unusual characteristics and color patterns. In two webinars, Bonnie shares her passion for novelty irises and offers a glimpse into "something new from something old."




Bonnie Nichols returned for a third webinar to share wisdom from her experience growing irises for as long as she can remember. As in my family, Bonnie's mother was the source of her interest in irises. Bonnie and her husband Hooker own a commercial iris garden; and both are prestigious emeritus judges with AIS. In this webinar, Bonnie shares "Growing Irises 101," and focuses on basics for culture of bearded types.

Jody Nolin has worn many hats in our society, including AIS president, regional vice president, treasurer of the Society for Japanese Irises, secretary of SIGNA, and editor for SPCNI. She is currently serving as the AIS Affiliate chair and tries growing any iris that will tolerate the weather and soil at her home in rural northwest Ohio. Jody maintains an assortment beardless and species irises, including Louisiana, pseudata, Siberian, Japanese, spuria, AND bulbous irises. In this webinar, Jody shares the basics and delights of growing beardless irises.


Descriptions of AIS webinars recorded during 2021 will follow in future posts. Until then, visit the AIS website for links to related organizations, information, and ways to connect with others who love irises. You may also wish to join, follow, or subscribe to AIS webpages on your preferred social media platform.

Monday, November 15, 2021

In Pursuit of Variegated Roof Iris

  by Bob Pries

Iris tectorum alba, Pries photo

Iris tectorum (the Japanese roof Iris) is one of the easiest species to grow. Many years ago, I heard about a variegated form and got very excited. In my eyes, the white flowers of Iris tectorum are one of the most enchanting of Iris flowers. Unfortunately, this variegated form was said to have blue flowers. I imagined how stunning the white flowers could be with beautiful variegated foliage.

When I finally saw some plants of this variegated form, I was somewhat disappointed in the quality of the variegation. It was much like some of the variegated, tall-bearded irises that have irregular streaks and stripes. It was, though, much more pronounced than what you see in virus-infected plants. However, the plants themselves were not robust growers, and this clone seems to have died out in cultivation.

There was one troubling fact. The insert image of the blue flowers was not Iris tectorum. At the time, I lived in zone 6 in Missouri. The image I thought looked very much like images I had seen of Iris japonica. But japonica does not tolerate zone 5 winters well. The foliage when received appeared more glossy.

Iris japonica flowers, Hensler photo
 
About the same time that I was eagerly searching for someone who could share a piece, I saw an advertisement in a general garden catalog. It showed an image of beautifully variegated foliage and a small insert of blue flowers. It proclaimed, "Variegated Iris tectorum for sale," so of course I ordered it. But the leaves were more slender than I. tectorum and it appeared I had gained a new house plant.

Variegated Iris japonica Pries photo

In trying to find out more about variegated Iris japonica, I found references that suggested there is more than one form of variegation and at least two types grow in Japan.

The next year I visited a very large perennial nursery outside of St. Louis. The proprietor—who I knew well—was proud to show me a huge planting of variegated Iris tectorum being used as a groundcover. It was absolutely gorgeous. I felt a bit guilty when I told him it was not Iris tectorum but japonica. I warned him it would not make it through the winter but he did not dig it up and it all perished. More and more I kept seeing Iris japonica incorrectly labeled as Iris tectorum in the trade.

Iris japonica, one of three focal points. The others are Brugmansia 'Snowdrift' upper right and variegated Curcuma; Pries photo

Since moving to North Carolina (zone 7) I have grown many forms of Iris japonica. Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery (zone 8) has selected several with differing flower colors. All the green leaf forms survive my winters. They are especially good as groundcovers under the dry shade of Pine trees. But I still love the variegated form which I maintain as a pot plant. It seems just a bit more tender than its green cousin. It is especially attractive as a focal point in my houseplant garden and is a feature of my deck garden of potted plants. I would be delighted to find other forms of the japonica but someday I hope to grow a true variegated tectorum.

Variegated Iris japonica repeats the angular texture of Yucca 'Colorguard' Pries photo

Monday, November 8, 2021

2021 IRIS BLOOM SEASON: MISSOURI, OREGON and TENNESSEE

By Phil Williams

Early this spring, Bryce Williamson asked if I would be willing to report on bloom season during my limited iris travels.  The request was difficult to refuse. Bryce dedicates many hours each week to supporting the American Iris Society as an admin for the Iris Lovers group on Facebook.

I have been purchasing and planting tall bearded irises since 1962 and joined the American Iris Society in 1966. Fifty-nine YEARS is a long time to live with an iris garden.  The only year in that span that I did not add new varieties was in 1971; the years before and since I have been a happy devotee to the GENUS IRIS.

The tall bearded season here lasted over 6 weeks – one of the longest seasons I can remember. Light frost, some cooler temperatures, cloudy days and very little moisture made for one happy iris grower!

A 14 hour round-trip to Missouri (over the Ozark Mountains in both directions) took me to the gardens of Barbara Nicodemus, Will Warner, and Peggy and Robert Koch. Iris friends create special friendships. The garden of Russell and Jill Watson is nearby (less than 4 hours round-trip) and I always enjoy my visit with them in their wonderful garden.  The trip to Oregon took me to Schreiner's, Roger and Lynda Miller's,  Mid America, Keith Keppel, and Robin Shadlow. This report covers nine gardens in 10 days away from home during bloom season! 

As I tried to condense my garden notes into one article, I finally decided on alpha-order by variety name. It will also make it easier for readers who are interested in how varieties preform in a different location. If a variety looked great many miles away and but was struggling where I live in Tennessee, it is not included in this report.

The following are my picks for the star performers of the 2021 iris bloom season. I chose not to include brand-new introductions as I have not had opportunities to observe them growing outside their home garden.


‘AIR TIME’ (Lynda Miller, 2018) A lovely soft blue-pink with beards that are coral pink in the throat which, dark purple at the tip and extend into a softer violet flounce. A star in Tennessee as well as in Oregon.


‘AMAZON QUEEN’ (Lynda Miller, 2018) Orchid standards and style arms have yellow midribs and edging; white falls blend to orchid at edges and dark orange beards. Remained in bloom for an extended period here.



‘BLIND AMBITION’ (Keppel, 2016) Mid yellow standards pale in the center; oyster white falls with narrow yellow edging; dark sulphur yellow on hafts and
 beards are brushed blue.

‘BLONDIE'S BLUSH’ (Sutton, 2013) Always a standout here! Pale cream, standards strongly flushed salmon with orange-buff edges; ruffled white falls have narrow orange-buff edging blending to salmon; bright orange beards! Beautifully ruffled, tatting on petal edges and very fragrant.


‘BREEZIN’ (Schreiners, 2018) Snowy white standards; bright burgundy red falls have clean white edging; orange beards. I particularly enjoy the way the individual flowers are perched on the branches in less than level positioning. It gives personality and movement that I find an exceptional trait in the garden!


‘CANEEL SUNSET’ (Kent Pfeiffer, 2020) I always brag on this deep, intense orange flower with incredible substance. There is non other like it. It is not gigantic and there is pink flushing around the tangerine-orange beards with heavy ruffling and delightful spicy fragrance. The plants are tough as nails – which is a requirement is you are born in the Midwest! My pet.


‘DESCHUTES’ (Schreiners, 2018) A shade of blue that you will find only in children of the Schreiner blues! Wide, crisp flowers with heavy substance on strong stalks. The falls are a bit darker than the standards and the blue-white beards are dusted yellow. It's mother is “Dodger Blue” and has gifted this iris with magnificent foliage!


‘FLIRTATIOUS GAL’ (Nicodemus, 2016) A fabulous perennial with very strong stalks displaying the flowers to perfection! Golden peach standards with lighter styles arms and crests. The falls are white, edged in peach with deeper golden peach on shoulders; beards are blended in all three colors. Indestructible plants and a very long season of bloom.


‘FRUIT SLICES’ (Lynda Miller, 2019) The standards are a soft orange-apricot blend with wine tinting on midribs; apricot-orange style arms have watermelon midribs. The falls are toasted watermelon, softly washed orchid with bright tangerine beards. This pretty lady flaunts what would seem to be pastel loveliness.... but when the sun shines through it! Yum! 



‘GILDED GIRL’ (Nancy Price, 2014) has large flowers on very, very strong plants. The stalks are strong and are loaded with buds. White standards have golden wire rims; golden yellow styles arms.  Falls are white with golden yellow overlay; deep yellow beards. Large, wide, very ruffled flowers are admired across the garden revealing hints of  green and biscuit tan. Indestructible plants!


‘HUGS AND KISSES’ (Paul Black, 2016) A cream-white flower. The standards have a peach base and the style arms peach. Warm white falls have peach on the hafts and matching veining beside orange beards. Under 36” here and does not have huge flowers, but it is a color blend like no other!



‘I'M SMITTEN’ (Barry Blyth, 2018)  Creamy pink standards are flushed orchid through the midribs; paler soft creamy pink falls have rose wash at hafts extending beside white beards that are brushed tangerine in throat. Pastel loveliness that is very difficult to describe, clearly flashing its very wide form gifted from her mother 'Magical'.




‘INSANIAC’ (Tom Johnson, 2012) White falls have very narrow golden halos; white style arms.  White falls have red-violet lines radiating out to wide rimmed yellow-white borders; bright tangerine beards. Do not be fooled! This lovely lady is as full of mischief as she can be!




‘IRISH BLIZZARD’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2018) Pure, snowy white! Perfectly formed flowers are held on upright stalks with not-so-wide branching … and the stalks do not get tangled in a clump like so many modern hybrids! The crisp white falls have pale green veining. It opens only one flower at a time and the effect is one of dancing ladies on a music box.  Semi-flaring, lightly-laced flowers have some green veining. Plants that hustle ..but they are not invasive. This pure white screams across the garden in strong contrast to all the colors around her!


‘JUST BEFORE SUNRISE’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2017)  Dark, mysterious, bold and fascinating! Very rounded flowers have smoky lavender standards flushed golden tan with purple veining; style arms are smoky lavender with yellow-tan crests. Falls are velvety royal purple, edged lighter, with yellow/sienna beards and stately ruffles. Very intense, dark, and stands out from across the garden. Tough plants with clean, wide foliage and strong growth habits.


‘LASH OUT’ (Paul Black, 2019) Difficult to describe, all petals are a blend of gold, amber, lilac, amber-red, lavender and orange. Not fairly tested here yet but I am hoping next year it performs like it did in Oregon this spring!


‘MAGICAL’ (Joe Ghio, 2008)  This has been around for a long time. It grows a bit slower than many modern varieties but it can remain undisturbed in a clump for an extended time. The foliage is not as wide and upright as I would prefer, but the wide, elegant, form is being passed on to its children with some very exciting new varieties from Mike Sutton. When our familiar soggy bloom season turns sunny and warm, she is a star performer!


‘MORE THAN RUFFLES’ (Paul Black, 2020) Standards are slate-mauve; style arms are light tan-peach. Falls are mid-violet with texture veins, soft khaki hafts and narrow lighter fall bands; dark orange beards. So very colorful!


‘MYSTIC ART’ (Tom Johnson, 2019) Full, smooth, medium pink standards; falls are rose to lavender-pink with softer pink edges. Beards are purple shading to mauve and orange at tips.  (This combination of colors gets my attention and I keep hoping to see an equally perfect flower some day with deep, purple-mauve falls displaying a fiery orange beard!) I am happy to be growing this fine iris variety in my garden!


‘NEW IMAGE’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2018)  Crisp, upright, deep peach standards have orange highlights; styles are deeper peach with frilled orange crests. Candlelight falls have soft mint-yellow veining that deepen toward the wide, peach fall rims; midribs and back of falls are green. Very ruffled, well branched, tall, strong and indestructible.


‘PAINTED LOVE’ (Tom Johnson, 2016) Mid-gold standards are blushed red-violet; styles are buff tan.  Wide falls are blue-violet with yellow-orange beards! Another clean, smooth, well formed and striking bi-color from Thomas that makes me smile! 


‘QUE SERA SERA’ (Tom Johnson, 2020) Lovely, soft yellow flowers are infused pink; light lemon style arms. Lavender and rose blended falls have deeper texture veins and a ruffled and laced band of yellow; orange beards. A gorgeous pastel!


‘SENOR JINX’ (Schreiners, 2018) Looking for the darkest, smoothest, nearly black iris yet? Oh my word! It is very dark. It has yellow beards. The petals are wide and it is a giant step forward in “black” irises! The stalks are strong and well branched. The foliage is tinted blue with clean foliage. The photo in the Schreiner catalog is EXACTLY what the flower looks like. In the garden the effect is truly BLACK with very good form! It is a treasure!


‘SMOKY DUSK’ (Kieth Keppel, 2017) Standards and style arms are described as nightshade; the falls are grape with a small circle of white around dark lime-yellow beards. The name is an apt description. Very rounded form. Great garden color!  I am hoping the falls recurved here this year because of my cultural imperfections!


‘SULTRY ATTIRE’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2016) Deep rose-orchid flowers are heavily infused violet, edged and feathered in tan-cinnamon. Matching style arms have copper crests. Falls are deep burgundy-brown  with tiny veining around bold burnt sienna-brass beards. Fabulous plants, excellent stalks and good bud count.


SUNNY GLITTER’ (Schreiner, 2019)  Standards are pale chartreuse yellow. Falls are slightly darker and surrounded by wisteria purple wash; yellow beards and fragrance aplenty. The colors are not bold, but from a distance the yellow shines through and it is a color I cannot recall seeing in the iris garden before. Good growth habits and a heavy bloomer with good bud count.


SUNNY SEAS’ (Lynda Miller, 2019) Bright yellow standards and style arms. Lavender falls are edged and washed buff; yellow hafts. The beards are orange in the throat and midsection and end in small, lavender “hooks” instead of elongated horns! So happy that Lynda is working with the horned, spooned and flounced varieties; she is doing a great job. Her new creations have quality flower form and plants that grow well.


‘SWIVEL HIPS’ (Tom Johnson, 2016) Smoky pink standards are heavily infused royal purple. Very wide, ruffled, velvety royal purple falls are ruffled with lighter banding and smoky pink beards. Good plant habits.


‘TEN CARAT DIAMOND’ (Gary Slagle, 2013)  A magnificent creation! Creamy white standards are soft yellow at midrib; falls are creamy white with soft yellow fall reverse; white beards are tipped yellow. This is not just another white iris.  This is a magnificent creation! Very wide, crisp, clean with tough and durable flowers. The plant increase is just right—you can leave it in a clump for 4 years without any decrease in quality. The foliage is crisp, wide and erect. The stalks are ramrod thick, perfectly branched and the flowers have amazing substance. The flowers remain open a full three days--many times for four days if there is no pounding rainfall. It has been a star here for three straight years! Keep your eyes open for new seedlings from Gary. (His Facebook nickname is “Fanatic”!)


‘VANITY GIRL’ (Tom Johnson, 2016) Standards are a lovely, smooth medium pink; the falls are white with matching pink hafts, brushed paler pink at edges.  Beards are white, brushed coral, and pale lavender at tips. (It's Mom is ‘VENITA FAYE’, that outstanding soft pink from Keith Keppel in 2008.) Venita should be very proud of this tough garden iris that never disappoints!


‘WINTER HAVEN’ (Anton Mego, 2020) Mike Sutton is rendering iris growers a great service in many ways … in this scenario, we would never see Anton's fabulous creations were it not for all the work and effort Mike puts into getting his creations grown, selected and introduced to the gardening public. This flower has white standards with green veining and midribs; the style arms are white.  The ice white falls have violet-blue haft marks around the orange beards with red-violet haft markings in the throat. It grows like a champ, the flowers are wide and with outstanding substance; the stalks are strong and robust.  So unique and very, very close to perfect. 

There you have it …. a very fine iris season in 2021.  Very fine, indeed!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Ben Hager’s Master Plan to Save the MDB Class

 by Tom Waters

Forty-some years ago, when I was a precocious iris-obsessed teenager, I convinced my mother that our vacation to California to visit my sister and her family should become a tour of iris hybridizers’ gardens. So it happened that I ended up in Ben Hager’s living room, with a huge bouquet of ‘Beverly Sills’ on the coffee table, talking irises while my mom and sister politely enjoyed the ambience and hospitality.

Hager presented a somewhat intimidating figure, with his bald head, precise beard, and dry wit. He was also something of an iconoclast. At an after-dinner speech at the 1980 American Iris Society convention in Tulsa, he basically dismantled the whole premise of the judges’ training program by asserting that judging irises was an utterly subjective undertaking; and we should give up our pretensions of authority and just let people like what they like, which is what we all do anyway.

As a hybridizer, Hager had few equals, in my estimation. He worked with all classes of irises, and won high awards wherever he turned his attention. He created the tetraploid miniature tall bearded (MTB) irises almost single-handedly, by sheer force of will, it seemed. Furthermore, he had a rare combination of creative, inspired vision coupled with solid knowledge, dogged persistence, and patience. I rank him along with Sir Michael Foster and Paul Cook as one of the true ground-breakers in the history of iris development.

Today, I want to talk about one of Hager’s grand projects, an effort to re-create the miniature dwarf bearded (MDB) class, a work that spanned four decades.

In the 1970s, new MDBs were created by hybridizers combining standard dwarf bearded (SDB) with the species Iris pumila in various combinations. There were basically three possibilities: pure pumila breeding, pure SDB breeding, and SDB x pumila crosses.

Hager rejected pure pumila breeding (although he did introduce one, ‘Ceremony’, in 1986) for two reasons. First, being just a single species, it lacked the genetic variety needed to get the innovative colors, patterns, and forms that hybridizers crave. Second, he found its growth habit (mats covered in bloom, like rock-garden plants) to interfere with the appreciation of the form of the individual iris bloom.

Hager also rejected the SDB x pumila route, although it was very popular with other MDB hybridizers of the time. The issue here was poor fertility. Seedlings from this type of cross show only limited fertility, and are almost impossible to cross amongst themselves, making line breeding an impossibility. Hager felt strongly that a class of iris can only be improved and developed if a fertile family can be established, so that breeding can continue for many generations without fertility barriers arising. He introduced no MDBs from this type of breeding.

That left pure SDB breeding as a recipe for creating MDBs. Hager recognized this as the path of greatest promise, but not without reservations. This is the type of breeding with the greatest variety of colors and patterns, and the most adaptable to mild-winter climates. MDB-sized seedlings do arise from SDB x SDB crosses, but they are the exception (most seedlings will be SDBs like their parents). Hager wanted a more focused program than just waiting for these happy accidents. He wanted a line of MDBs that would produce more MDBs, consistently.

He found his answer in his tetraploid MTB work. The tetraploid MTBs were derived from crossing tall bearded (TB) and border bearded (BB) with the species I. aphylla, a many branched iris genetically compatible with TBs, although much smaller. Crossing his tetraploid MTBs with I. pumila, he reasoned, would produce irises of the same chromosome type as the SDBs, but presumably consistently smaller. Furthermore, they would be completely fertile with MDBs from pure SDB breeding, part of the same fertile family. You may read one of Hager's articles on this plan on the DIS website.

'Libation'
'Gizmo'
'Prodigy'
  








Hager introduced the first MDB of this type, ‘Prodigy’, in 1973. Its pod parent is a seedling of TB ‘Evening Storm’ (Lafrenz, 1953) X I. aphylla ‘Thisbe’ (Dykes, 1923). The pollen parent is the I. pumila cultivar ‘Atomic Blue’ (Welch, 1961). It is thus ¼ TB, ¼ aphylla, and ½ pumila.

Next came ‘Libation’ in 1975. It is a child of ‘Prodigy’ crossed with a seedling of MTB ‘Scale Model’ (Hager, 1966) x I. pumila ‘Brownett’ (Roberts, 1957). Since ‘Scale Model’ is half TB and half aphylla, ‘Libation’ has the same ancestry breakdown as ‘Prodigy’: ¼ TB, ¼ aphylla, and ½ pumila. ‘Libation’ won the Caparne-Welch Award in 1979.

The third and final of these initial progenitors of Hager’s MDB line is ‘Gizmo’ (1977), with the same parentage as ‘Libation’.

Hager then set about crossing these (and similar seedlings) with SDBs and MDBs from pure SDB breeding. As such outcrossing progressed, the amount of aphylla ancestry decreased and the amount of TB ancestry increased. The goal was to retain the small size conferred by I. aphylla, but bring in the diverse colors and patterns of the SDBs. Hager now had a line of seedlings specifically designed to consistently yield fertile MDBs in each generation.

In all, this project produced 34 MDB introductions. Hager died in 1999, but Adamgrove garden continued to introduce his MDB seedlings through 2003. Hager also introduced 19 MDBs from pure SDB breeding, and the above-mentioned pumila ‘Ceremony’.

Here is a list of all 34, grouped by the amount of aphylla ancestry present in each.

25% I. aphylla

Prodigy (1973), Libation (1975) Caparne-Welch Award 1979, Gizmo (1977) Caparne-Welch Medal 1987

Between 12% and 24% I. aphylla

Grey Pearls (1979), Bluetween (1980), Macumba (1988)

Between 6% and 11% I. aphylla

Footlights (1980), Bitsy (1991), Cute Tot (1999)

Between 4% and 5% I. aphylla

Pipit (1993), Jiffy (1995), Self Evident (1997)

3% or less I. aphylla

Three Cherries (1971), although not part of this line, is listed here for completeness, since it has aphylla in its ancestry from the appearance of TB ‘Sable’ (Cook, 1938) in its pedigree.

Petty Cash (1980), Hot Foot (1982), Bugsy (1993) Caparne-Welch Medal 2000, Dainty Morsel (1994), Doozey (1994), Fey (1994), Fragment (1995), Hint (1995), Chaste (1997), Ivory Buttons (1997), Nestling (1997), Trifle (1997), Simple Enough (1998), Small Thing (R. 1998), Sweet Tooth (1999), Wee Me (1999), In Touch (R. 1999), Downsized (2001), Dulcet (2001), Pattycake Baker Man (2001), Behold Titania (2003), Fair Moon (2003), Gallant Youth (2003), Into the Woods (2003), Pirate's Apprentice (2003)

'Grey Pearls'
photo: El Hutchison
As far as I can determine, other hybridizers did not take up this project as Hager had envisioned it, although they did of course use a number of his irises in their own crosses. My own work with similar crosses has had mixed results. I cross tetraploid MTBs with pumila each year, but so far have only bloomed one cross to evaluate, MTB ‘Tic Tac Toe’ (Johnson, 2010) X I. pumila ‘Wild Whispers’ (Coleman, 2012). The seedlings were all too large for the MDB class, looking like elongated SDBs or MTBs with deficient bud count. So the MTB x pumila type of cross is by no means guaranteed to give MDBs in the first generation.

I do have an interesting MDB seedling from I. aphylla X I. pumila. This type of cross produced MDB ‘Velvet Toy’ (Dunbar, 1972). My seedling is 5-6 inches in height, and has a distinctive flowering habit. It is branched at the base like I. aphylla, with both branches bearing 2 terminal buds each. The four blooms open in succession, at the same height, with no crowding. It would be nice to see if this trait could be carried on to plants with a more refined flower. Crossing it with SDB ‘Eye of the Tiger’ (Black, 2008) gave seedlings that were SDB size or taller, though in a fun variety of color and pattern. I continue to make crosses with it, mostly selecting smaller MDBs to pair with it now.

So far, my work with I.reichenbachii X I. pumila seems the most promising in terms of giving me a consistent MDB line to work with.

Kevin Vaughn has reported good results using Hager’s ‘Self Evident’, and I have recently acquired this myself, as well as a few others from Hager’s line.

How should one assess this ambitious program? On some level, it can surely be deemed a success, as it gave Hager many successful and popular MDB introductions. Without detailed records from his seedling patch, however, it is hard to assess how consistent the line was or how much his selection work over the years contributed to the outcome. Perhaps similar results would have obtained just by applying the same selection effort to pure SDB lines.

'Self Evident'
photo: Jeanette Graham

We also have to note that Hager’s tetraploid MTB project is his most lasting legacy among the bearded irises classes. Tetraploid MTBs are here to stay, having been taken up by successive generations of hybridizers. The MDB project did not fare so well, although that may not be any fault of the plants themselves. Almost all new MDBs today are small selections from pure SDB breeding, not produced from MDB-specific lines as Hager envisioned. This may just be a numerical inevitability. There is so much work being done breeding SDBs that MDBs popping up in SDB seedling patches just can’t help but outnumber MDBs from the few dedicated lines that hybridizers have worked with. The situation is reminiscent of that of the BBs, where some good dedicated lines have been established, but they are still swamped by small selections from TB crosses, just because so many more TB crosses are made each year.

'Bugsy'
photo: El Hutchison
If you are interested in hybridizing MDBs, I encourage you to heed Hager’s wisdom and work toward MDB-specific breeding lines, perhaps using I. aphylla, perhaps carefully selected from SDB work, or perhaps using other species.

If you are not a hybridizer, but enjoy growing MDBs in your garden, please seek out and preserve the Hager MDBs discussed in this post. They are a window onto a fascinating thread of iris history.

 

 

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