Monday, July 4, 2022

Iris Identification: A Puzzle and a Problem

by Bob Pries

A short time ago I was asked if I could identify an iris. When I looked at the picture I thought “Wow, this is one I would love to grow also.” My favorite colors are brown and blue so I was eager to find the answer.

 Unknown iris

One of the first steps I took was to complete a reverse image search in Google Images. It is simple. You go to and click on the camera icon in the search box.  A screen will open to search by image. I chose the option to upload the image I saved.

The camera icon is shown above the arrow

Instantly Google Images gives you the 30 best matches. On my first try the image did not appear and the choices were interesting but barely similar. But I tried again later and to my delight the exact image appeared as the first choice. There several things to try next and each might head me in a different direction.  So I looked at the image Google had chosen at the top of the page and clicked on it. I noted that below that top image it noted there were 264 pages that featured this image.

Google Image search results

When I clicked on the search result, Google displayed each result for the image with the URL and title. Almost all the pages featuring this image were ads for various irises (most of which had no relation at all to the iris of interest.) But one search result caught my eye. It was Dave’s Garden and appeared to have a cultivar name attached. I clicked on the image and the Dave’s Garden page came up with a description for an intermediate iris named ‘Wrong Song.'  At last, I had a name!

Just to be sure, I searched for ‘Wrong Song’ in the Iris Encyclopedia, a wiki of the American Iris Society. This wiki is a comprehensive encyclopedic source of iris information and is curated by persons who serve as docents for iris-specific content. To my consternation, an iris with a very different appearance appeared in the encyclopedia entry for 'Wrong Song.' 

Iris 'Wrong Song' in the Iris Encyclopedia

The shape and color patterning were very close, but it seemed obvious that the image I was trying to identify had been colorized and photo-shopped to appear very different. My mind started thinking about the 264 internet pages that were using this altered picture. Although many were just using it as a generic iris picture, others were terribly misrepresenting this iris ‘Wrong Song.’ My heart started to hurt. You see, this isn't the first time people have been singing the wrong song about an iris. 

When the American Iris Society (AIS) was formed in the 1920s, one of its main goals was to clear up iris identification. Today the central mission of the AIS is to register irises. Registration provides a unique name for an iris and is accompanied by an official description. The goal is to prevent two different irises from having the same name or for any one iris to be given several names making communication difficult. 

It took two decades of work in the nineteen twenties and thirties to straighten out the many names that had been casually used for irises. The AIS had to plant test gardens and consult historical descriptions to determine which names were the most legitimate for which irises. It is discouraging to discover two irises on the internet today with the same name. One is the accurate registered iris, and the other is a mythical, colorized-version of the original.

There are a number of iris photos that have been colorized and published on the internet. Some, like the one I searched for, are quite beautiful. However, we should avoid naming a heavily-altered photo using the name of the iris from which it was derived. Someone purchasing an iris by this name may suffer sadness when the iris does not live up to their expectations.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Photo Essay: Rainbows and Rainy Days

by Mike Unser

It was a long, cold, wet spring in the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, I love photographing irises when they are sparkling in the wet. 

Here are some of my favorite photos taken this year of the historic irises in my collection.

 Would you you like to see more historic irises? Check out Historic Iris Preservation Society photo gallery, or the Virtual Historic Display Garden I prepared for the 2022 AIS National Convention

Monday, June 20, 2022

100 Years Bold: Our Centennial of Irises & People

by Heather Haley

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Iris Society (AIS), members received five fantastic supplements to copies of the quarterly bulletin IRISES. Their publication was a labor of love for the managing editor James (Jim) W. Morris and assistant editor Janis Shackleford. Three years of research, writing, and editing produced over 470 pages to delight novice and veteran iris enthusiasts alike.

These supplements are available for purchase through the AIS Storefront, and have recently been published in a single bound volume titled 100 Years Bold! This work contains many wonderful stories and remembrances of the irises and people that will delight any iris enthusiast. The following outlines the contents of each supplement and the addendum that comprise the bound volume.

Supplement One: The Early Years

  • Forward: Looking Forward by Jody Nolin, AIS President
  • Managing Editor's Introduction by Jim Morris
  • Founder's Wall (partial list only)
  • Prologue to 1920 by Bob Pries
  • A New York Story by Anner Whitehead
  • Dr. John Caspar Wister by Andy Gwiazda, La Salle University
  • The American Iris Society Seal by Anner Whitehead
  • The Tall Bearded Iris: A Manufactured Marvel by Phil Edinger
  • The Schreiner Iris Garden Story by Liz (Schreiner) Schmidt, Steve & Ben Schreiner
  • Isabella Preston---The Grand Lady of Canadian Horticulture by Edwinna von Baeyer
  • The Sass Family by Gary White
  • American Iris Society Humor compiled by Jim Morris
  • Long's Gardens, Boulder, Colorado by Everett Long, Catherine Long Gates & Dennis Gates
  • Connecticut Iris Society & Elizabeth Park Conservancy by Ruth Bennett


Supplement Two: The Early Years Continued Through Golden Jubilee 1970

  • Historic Iris Images
  • Founder's Wall (partial list only)
  • Managing Editor's Preface by Jim Morris
  • Errata
  • Starting a Backyard Business by Miriam (Cooley) Ernst, Judy Nunn, and Georgie Johnson
  • Eden at the End of the Oregon Trail Introduction from the Cooley's 1993 Catalog
  • The Origins of the American Iris Society Checklists by Anner Whitehead
  • St. Louis and Iris History by Jim Morris
  • The Nashville, Tennessee Story: Remembering "Iris City" by Robert Strohman
  • Miss Grace Sturtevant of Wellesley Farms by Corinne Danforth
  • William Mohr and Sydney Mitchell by Anne Lowe
  • Fun Fact: USPS Hybridizers by Jim Morris
  • The Sex Doctor Alfred C. Kinsey, Indiana University compiled by Jim Morris
  • Rudolph E. Kleinsorge: A New Color Class---Brown by Anne Lowe
  • Phillip A. Loomis: "Irises don't come in that color..." by Anne Lowe
  • Evaluating A Little Iris History by John T. Black
  • The Japanese Iris by Currier McEwen, Eleanor Westmeyer, W. E. Ouweneel, and Clarence Mahan
  • Japanese Iris Come to America by Kathleeen Sonntag
  • The Median Iris Movement by Geddes Douglas
  • Greig Lapham: Nearly All Reds Traced to His Irises by Anne Lowe
  • Melba Bills Hamblen by Perry Dyer
  • Bee Warburton---Her Life in the World of Irises by Lynn Markham
  • AIS Humor compiled by Jim Morris
  • Spotlights 
    • Mrs. Anson Stiles Blake by Jody Nolin, Ohio
    • Mrs. Lewis Jones (Louise) Blake by William J. McKee
    • U.S. Grant by Jody Nolan, Ohio
    • Dr. Samuel Stillman Berry by Mary Ann Campbell, Missouri
    • Mrs. Horatio Gates Lloyd by Jody Nolin, Ohio
    • Benjamin Yoe Morrison by Jim Morris, Missouri
    • Jesse Ely Wills by Jim Morris, Missouri
    • Professor Manton Copeland
    • William Jon Krasting art compiled by Jim Morris, Missouri
    • George C. Bush as told by Dennis Hager

Supplement Three: The Middle Years Through To The Millennium 2000

  • Managing Editor's Preface by Jim Morris
  • Errata & Unique Gardening Practice
  • AIS Regions Through the Decades by Jody Nolin
  • Reflections of Region 19 and Garden State Iris Society by Stephen Szmuriga
  • David F. Hall - The Flamingo Pinks by Anne Lowe
  • Farr's Catalogue of Hardy Plant Specialties
  • My Life With Irises by Philip Edinger
  • Hybridizer Joe Ghio: Tuscan/Genovese Hybrid by Joe Ghio
  • Region 14's Heritage, Part One by Roy Oliphant
  • My Life in the Iris World by Keith Keppel
  • Siberians---Milestones and Stepping Stones by Jan Sacks
  • Evolution of the Morgan-Wood Medal
  • History of the Washington Iris Club of Region 18 by Cindy Rust
  • Historic Pictures of Iris People Part One
  • AIS Region 4 Celebrated 60 Years in 2019 by Douglas H. Chyz
  • Bet You Didn't Know... John C. Wister Award by Jim Morris
  • Sutton's Iris Gardens by Mike Sutton
  • Fredericksburg Area Iris Society by Lois Rose
  • Wichita Area Iris Club - 71 Years of Beauty & Friendship by Patricia Ardissone
  • History of the Aril Society International by Tom Waters
  • Central Virginia Iris Society --- A Brief History by Kathy Huneycutt and Lois Rose
  • AIS Youth Program 
  • Founding of Francis Scott Key Iris Society from Society Records
  • Dykes Medal Winners Part One
  • AIS Humor compiled by Jim Morris
  • Historic Pictures of Iris People Part Two
  • Dykes Medal Winners Part Two
  • Spotlights 
    • Tell Huhlestein by Jim Morris
    • F. Cleveland Morgan by Judy Hollingworth

Supplement Four: The Millennium Through to 2020

  • Managing Editor's Preface by Jim Morris
  • Rare Edition --- A Pleasant Surprise by Joe Gatty
  • Comanche Acres: The Gilbert Wild's Buyout by Jim Hedgecock
  • Show Me Iris Society by Eric Tankesley-Clarke
  • History of Region 14, Part Two by Bryce Williamson and Jean Richter
  • Central Arkansas Iris Society by Robert Treadway
  • AIS History of the Last Twenty-five Years compiled by Janis Shackelford
  • Southern Illinois Iris Society by Marylyn J. Redenbo
  • White Country Iris Society History In the Natural State by Alice Jewell
  • American Iris Society 2020 Centennial Iris Winners by Jim Morris
  • Tall Bearded Iris Society History by Judy Keisling
  • Tall Bearded Iris Society Hall of Fame by Jerry Preston James
  • The Class The Stars Fell On by Jim Morris
  • The Spuria Iris Society by Darol Jurn
  • The Historic Iris Preservation Society (HIPS) by Cathy Egerer
  • Reflections from the Prairie State Region 9, Illinois, "The Illini" compiled by Debra & Dave Miller
  • AIS Humor compiled by Jim Morris
  • Society for Pacific Coast Native Irises by Ken Walker
  • British Columbia Iris Society: A Brief History by Ted Baker
  • Clara B. Rees Iris Society by Nancy Mirabella
  • The Early History of SIGNA by Will Plotner
  • 2020 Ackerman Essay Winner by Darby Redman
  • Historic Images of Iris People
  • Random Images
  • AIS Benchmarks of an Era 1995-2020 compiled by Jim Morris and Janis Shackelford
    • Presidents of the American Iris Society
    • Gold Medal Recipients
    • Hybridizer's Medal Recipients
    • Warburton Medal Winners
    • AIS Conventions and Themes
    • AIS Convention Themes and Logo Artwork
    • Distinguished Service Medal Recipients

Supplemental Addendum (5): The Rest of the Story . . . Continues On

  • Managing Editor's Preface by Jim Morris
  • Errata
  • Poetry Ban by Ann Branch Dasch
  • Prelude to New York 2020: Looking back at Tall Bearded Iris History by Jim Morris
  • Mr. Hybridizer Ben Hager (1915-1999) by Keith Keppel, Phil Edinger, and Jim Morris
  • Shoulders by Ben R. Hager as related by Jim Morris
  • Minute Man National Park, Concord, MA by Barbara Schmieder
  • Region 6 Iris History by Jean Kaufmann
  • AIS Round Robin Program by Jim Morris
  • Region 13 Affiliate History by various authors
  • Personalities in Iris Heaven, Region 13 by Jim Morris
  • East Tennessee Iris Society and Greeneville Iris Society, Region 7 by Kim Bowman
  • Mid-America Iris Garden by Paul Black
  • Texoma Rainbow Iris Society - A Brief History by Martha McDowell
  • Heart of Iowa Iris Growers by Pam Messer
  • Iris Chronicles from AIS Bulletins
  • The Santa Fe Iris Society by Barbara Mann
  • Ontario Iris Society by Terry Laurin and Kate Brewitt
  • History of Region 18 by Riley Probst and Dave Niswonger
  • Enchanted Vista Iris Society by Patricia Randall
  • South East Missouri (SEMO) Iris Society by Charles Pickett
  • Missouri's Mr. Hybridizer Dave Niswonger by Charles Pickett and Nyla Hughes
  • Fire Fighter's Memorial Gardens by Dennis Luebkin
  • Society for Louisiana Irises by Patrick O'Connor
  • History of the Sun Country Iris Society by Jenine Cook
  • A Look Back in Time: WWII Effect on AIS by Fred Cassebeer
  • Mesilla Valley Iris Society by Ann Colwell, Fern Gold, and Scarlett Ayres
  • Red Iris by Kelly D. Norris
  • World of Irises, the Blog of The American Iris Society by Andi Rivarola
  • Albuquerque Aril and Iris Society History by Rae Phillips and Helen Crotty
  • The Greater Kansas City Iris Society by Debbie Hughes
  • AIS Humor compiled by Jim Morris
  • Delaware Valley Iris Society: A Look Back by Ron Thoman
  • Sharlot Hall Museum Historic Iris Gardens by Kathleen Shaffer and Dennis Luebkin
  • The iGenerations and AIS by Jim Morris
  • A Bit of History From the Tulsa Area Iris Society by Jerry James
  • Region 15, Southern California and Arizona by Jim Morris and Phil Edinger
  • North Plains Iris Society Golden Anniversary (2019) by Dawn Boyer
  • Scent in Irises by Jim Morris
  • The Next 100 Years of Irises by Kelly D. Norris
  • Historic Images of Iris People
  • Random Images
  • AIS Benchmarks of an Era 1995-2020 compiled by Jim Morris and Janis Shackelford
    • Bennett C. Jones Award for Outstanding Median Hybridizing
    • Editors of the American Iris Society Bulletin IRISES
    • Foster Memorial Plaque awarded to AIS members by the British Iris Society for the advancement of the genus Iris
If you are new to AIS, or irises in general, don't miss this exciting opportunity to read and celebrate the people and plants that have brought us together.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Golden Iris Flowering in my Garden

 By Kathleen Sayce

I wrote about the golden iris misses in my garden during my search for Iris innominata plants and or seeds from various sources in October 2021. Since then Tom Fischer, a member of the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris, took pity on me and shared seeds from his plants with me two years ago, and this spring, here's the result--flowers!

Iris innominata flowering in my garden with good dark yellow base color and red veins. 

I have several pots, so my next garden project is figuring out where to grow my own patch of this species. It is going to take a few years for my plants to come close to their parents, but as we know, gardening is all about patience. 

A beautiful clump of golden iris in Tom Fischer's garden.  

All it took was 27 years of patience and a determination to keep trying! Thanks, Tom!

Monday, June 6, 2022

Is There Life After Bloom Season?

by Tom Waters

Although I am an unabashed iris enthusiast and grow a garden that is dominated by irises, I want an outdoor space with more than just rows of irises. In particular, I like my garden to be a pleasant and interesting space to sit in or walk through, any time of the year. So over the years, I have acquired a collection of mostly care-free plants that flower during the months when the irises are not in bloom. I live in the arid southwestern US although at an elevation (6000 feet) that keeps us a little cooler than the true deserts of this region. My location is in the United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 6a. 

Although most of the plants I describe in this article will be happy in most of the western US, this post is not really intended as a plant list, but more as a recounting of how I have gone about making my outdoor space a garden that features irises, rather than just a giant iris planting. If you share that goal, I hope that you will pick up a few ideas as you read on.

Although I love to read books and watch television programs about garden design, I confess I am not the type who plans a garden on graph paper and then goes out to buy the plants. Rather, I create the garden first, try lots of different things as I think of them, and then see what works. If I like how something turns out, I do it more. In this way, the garden is more the result of evolution and editing than of advance planning.

My iris bloom season is centered in May, and the tall bearded bloom extends into June. I grow many plants of Iris pumila and other dwarfs, which start blooming early in April or at the very end of March. Spring bulbs are of course the obvious way to beautify the garden before the bearded iris bloom season. I gravitate toward daffodils and crocuses, rather than the more formal bedding bulbs such as hyacinths and tulips. I like bulbs that can be scattered around and surprise me when they come up. Although I like the smaller botanical crocuses, I confess that the Dutch giants are really the only ones that make much of an impact here. I do pay some attention to color: the yellow ones are mostly in a bed along the driveway, whereas the quieter garden in the back yard is given over to the white and violet crocuses, and white ‘Thalia’ daffodils.

True geraniums, columbines, and blue flax all start blooming during iris season and continue on for months afterwards. The geraniums need some room to themselves, but the flax and columbines are airy enough that they can live amongst the irises without crowding in on them. The columbines are in only a few places, as they require some shade here. The blue flax is an amazing plant, with long arcing stems and beautiful spectrum-blue flowers. It keeps blooming right through the summer and into autumn. Blue flax seeds itself, so after a few years it will be anywhere in the garden that I want it to be (with no attention or extra effort on my part).

I grow a few daylilies too, as they are showy and bright. I have heard some people recommend not to mix daylilies and irises, since the irises don’t like as much water as the daylilies need. Frankly, in my climate, it’s almost impossible to give irises enough water to bother them. Mine do fine together!

I have a couple very aggressive self-seeders that I enjoy: Mexican feathergrass (Nasella tenuissima) and clary sage (Salvia scarea). The feathergrass ripples in the wind and adds interest to the landscape all year round, since the leaves look nice even when dry over winter. The clary sage blooms profusely as the irises are finishing, through July, and the dried seedheads also look nice through the autumn and winter. Bumblebees and hummingbird moths love them, and we get little birds who come in large numbers to peck around for their seeds. Some people can’t abide aggressive self-seeders, but I don’t really mind. It’s not like you can stop weeding the garden if you don’t grow these things! Since I’m weeding regularly anyway, it makes no difference if I am pulling up these guys rather than something else that would be there instead. The trick is to get used to how they grow and not be taken by surprise. They can seem innocent while young, but that is when you have to be ruthless if you find them in a spot where they will be unwelcome when fully grown.

Last year, I grew a stand of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), thinking to do my bit to help out the monarch butterflies. I completely misjudged how big these things get! I love them, though, both the flowers and the raucous cotton-candy like seed heads. This year, they are getting some severe editing. I will restrict them to areas in the back of the bed, behind the irises, not amongst them!

Fallugia paradoxa and Penstemon eatonii

Speaking of seed heads, I somehow managed to live my whole life in New Mexico without noticing Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) until seeing it at a native plant society gathering a few years ago. Now I am in love! This is a shrub that can grow quite large. It displays simple white flowers late in iris season, followed by pinkish, feathery seedheads that persist until frost. It’s a native here, and requires no care at all once established. With very few exceptions, this is one of my rules: I water and weed the iris beds routinely, but any plant that needs special attention beyond that doesn’t get a place in my garden. I’ll try any plant once; a few might earn a second try, but after that they are off the list.

I also grow quite a few different penstemon species. Most bloom at the end of iris season or shortly afterwards and their flowers last maybe a month or so. Some penstemon species bloom longer. Red ones are pollinated by hummingbirds, although I have seen hummingbirds enjoying the violet ones too.

Most of the other plants in my garden look their best in early summer, and the garden tends to ramp down as the year progresses. My favorite autumn-blooming plants are the hylotelephiums, such as ‘Autumn Joy’ and its ilk. I need to remind myself to get more of these. I have only a few in one spot, but could enjoy them in lots of other places.

One of the consequences of not doing advance planning is that you can end up with “holes” – periods of time when there’s not much in bloom and the garden seems on hold. One solution is to stay alert for this; and when the lull comes around, go visit friends’ gardens and local nurseries and see what looks good. Even if you don’t buy them right away, you can record which plants could be introduced to fill the gap.

I don’t put a lot of effort into finding plants that bloom in autumn. Summers here are hot and dry, and everything gets stressed. By the end of the season, both garden and gardener are looking ahead to the peace of winter, rather than seeking to recreate the exuberance of spring and early summer. I do, however, love the autumn crocuses (Crocus speciosus), which pop up suddenly after a rain and give a final burst of color as the gardening year winds down.

With a little experimentation and some time, it is possible to have a garden that is mostly irises but still holds interest and looks nice year round. Even iris nuts deserve a pleasant outdoor space!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Sun Sets on Rainbows: Part III...the Show is On!

by Jeff Bennett
Jeff in the garden at Dry Creek

In previous blog posts (Dec 2020Jan 2021May 2021Oct 2021, I've been sharing information about the Dry Creek Garden ) and events leading up to the 2019 American Iris Society national convention (Part IPart II). In this post, I will continue sharing memories of "The Sun Sets on Rainbows." 

It’s now two weeks out to displaying the iris planting at the Dry Creek Garden for the first time. All the years of preparation and planning have been leading up to one important day, April 27, 2019. Only our volunteers knew what was growing on the hill in Union City, California. As final touches were made at Dry Creek, few were present to see what was happening. The convention began on Monday and most people were busy completing convention tasks at the hotel in San Ramon and in other host gardens. We got rain up to the week before the convention, and then a heatwave arrived on Tuesday. We wondered what 91-degree temperatures would do. Were miserably hot temperatures in store for us? It was at this time that I realized that a fantastic showing was on the way!

Bearded irises in full bloom in the Dry Creek Garden 

On Wednesday, I entered some flowers from Dry Creek in the convention iris show. While there, the convention chair, Shirley Trio, asked me how the bloom was. Not wanting to give anything away, I just said it was “ok.” There were lots of happy iris people walking around at the show. I was like the fly on the wall, observing the acquaintances chatting and happy to be together at an iris convention. I really didn’t know anybody except the locals, but a few famous people were pointed out to me. National conventions often attract the "Who’s Who?" of irisdom. 

For the next few days, I was back at the garden while convention attendees went on their tours of the other guest gardens. With 737 guest irises there were a lot of stickers to put on iris labels to indicate which convention awards each iris was eligible for. Stars... lots of stars: red, green, gold, silver, etc. But finally, it was done! The day before the garden tour at Dry Creek, out came the tables, chairs, tents, restrooms, and banners. You’d think someone was getting married. As I left Friday evening, just hours before visitors arrived, I just stood and looked at what we did. All for one day: April 272019.

Convention attendees observing irises and comparing notes

When morning came, questions popped into my head. Will the buses be able to get into the parking lot? All four of them? I realized there was no need to worry about that now. Before I knew it, two busloads of people disembarked and were headed our way. Each traveled up the dirt road to the irises on the hill. They were met by volunteers from Mt. Diablo, Sydney B. Mitchell, and Clara B. Rees Iris
Societies, along with hot coffee, morning snacks, and the like.

John Pesek of the Clara B. Rees Iris Society (on right) greets members of the Toth family of Pickrell, Nebraska (left)

Enthusiastic garden visitors meandering in all directions to admire plants in bloom

Pathways made it easy to get close and appreciate each of the hundreds of irises in bloom

Convention attendees poured in and spread out like warm syrup, stopping along the way to snap photos, stare and smile. Everything was in bloom! The tall bearded, border bearded, species crosses, intermediate bearded, miniature tall bearded, arilbred, spuria, Louisiana, and Siberian irises, and (of course) the poppies. California poppies were front and center. Irisarians from all over the United States and Canada were joined by six people from China and two from Mexico City, and all got to see California poppies in all their glory among the iris beds and beyond. And ... the weather was perfect!

Native California poppies and flags waving gently under perfect blue skies

A musical ensemble consisting of a harpist, viola and bass played for visitors to enjoy, including the general public. They too had been waiting for us to open. Just after noon, the other two buses arrived to have their lunch before seeing the garden as they had just come from the beautiful Cummins garden in Scotts Valley near the coast. After they arrived and mingled with the first two buses, the first buses loaded up and went to the Cummins garden.

Convention attendees enjoyed delights for their eyes, ears AND stomachs!

It was a wonderful day that I will never forget! So many heartfelt compliments. Our pathways were very wide, so those with mobility issues could actually get close to any clump they wanted and take their own picture. They asked what kind of fertilizer we were using to get such big plants and flowers. "None" was my answer. No sprays for leaf spot either. Just great California Sun that Sets On Rainbows!

John Jones conducting an in-garden judges training session

Jeff discussing irises in the garden with volunteers, hybridizers, and guests.

As the last visitors left to get on the buses, I drew a breath of relief. My job was done: have lots of flowers blooming on the day they visit!

Please come visit Dry Creek Garden some spring in Union City, California. A beautiful iris display awaits you just up that hill. 

A sign with painted irises is ready to welcome you to the Meyers Cottage and Dry Creek Garden

All photos courtesy of local photographer Cali Godley

Monday, May 23, 2022

It was a Challenging Year, but the Iris Bloom Made it all Worthwhile.

by Gary Salathe

The Louisiana iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), of which I am a member of the board of directors and a volunteer, managed to get 6,000 wild Iris giganticaerulea (a species of Louisiana iris) planted in refuges and nature preserves between last year’s bloom and February of this year. We needed to utilize local volunteers for this effort because COVID-19 pandemic prevented out-of-state college students from coming in to help. Before the pandemic our marsh restoration projects allowed the college students to fly into Louisiana from across the country in organized trips to accrue service credit hours by volunteering for local projects.

Our iris conservation projects rescue rhizomes that are threatened with destruction, and then we relocate them to area refuges and nature preserves. In the process, we are restoring irises to areas where they once were plentiful. 
Over the last two years many more volunteer events were required because we were using local volunteers. The groups of six to eight older volunteers from the local area require more time to accomplish what 15 to 20 out-of-state college students could do in a single outing.
Local volunteers working on a LICI iris rescue in July 2021.

Another challenge we had in meeting our iris planting goal was due to our taking on a major tree-replanting project at a US Fish & Wildlife Service refuge. The refuge is also home to one of our largest iris restoration projects. The tree-planting project not only diverted our attention from rescuing and planting irises, but took up huge blocks of our volunteers’ time. However, a big positive was that we played a key role in reforesting an important area of the refuge after our volunteers killed off thousands of Chinese tallow trees. The tallow tree is an invasive tree species that out-competes native trees and crowds out the Louisiana irises.

What also added to the difficulty of matching the 8,000 Louisiana irises we rescued and planted in the 2020-2021 season was the fact our area was hit by very powerful Hurricane Ida on August 29, 2021. We ended up spending a lot of volunteer hours helping to get many of the refuges' boardwalks back in shape after they were damaged by the hurricane. The good news is that the irises at only one of our projects were significantly set back by the hurricane. The rest recovered in time for this spring’s iris bloom.

An example of the damage that Hurricane Ida did to one of our iris restoration projects is shown by these photos of the Louisiana irises at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in New Orleans. Right: before Hurricane Ida; left: the same area one month after the hurricane. We went in and planted 2,500 irises this past winter to help replenish the irises lost there to the hurricane.

As the iris bloom began, we switched hats from being iris rescuers to being amateur iris public relations specialists. One of our partners on many projects, Common Ground Relief, worked with us to create the second annual interactive Google map of where to go see wild irises in bloom. We ranked the 16 sites on the map from the best to the very good. We then published a Facebook posting of the map that ended up reaching over 47,000 people. Over 17,000 people actually clicked on the map. The map and the excitement it created resulted in numerous news reports about the locations found on the map in area newspapers, social media, and TV news shows. The end result was more people than ever going out to the sites - most of which were our iris restoration projects - to see the irises in bloom. It was a huge win for all involved, including the landowners that saw attendance pick up at their sites.

Since late January the college student groups have begun to return. We have already completed our first iris rescue and have two groups coming at the end of June that we hope will fill up the remaining containers at our iris holding area with irises for this fall and winter's plantings. We've had many new sites request irises and we still want to add more to our existing projects, so we have set a goal to get at least 8,000 irises rescued and planted during the 2022-2023 iris rescue and planting season. 

College students from Iowa State University are shown in March planting irises into containers at the LICI iris holding area in New Orleans. The irises were rescued by them that morning as the first LICI iris rescue for the 2022-2023 season.

For the rest of this blog posting, I’m just going to let pictures tell the story of the blooming irises at area refuge boardwalks and hiking trails during this spring’s bloom. Most of these sites were the locations of our iris restoration projects.


 LICI volunteer Mike Glaspell once again took some great photos at the Lockport, Louisiana boardwalk this year during the iris bloom there.

 LICI board of directors member and volunteer, Paul Christiansen, sent in some really nice photos of the blooming irises at our Bayou Sauvage refuge project. 

The naturally occurring Louisiana irises on the Boy Scout Road trail in the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge once again did not disappoint.

OK, I know this isn't a photo from one of LICI's projects, but I wanted to stick it in here because it had more meaning to me than any iris project I worked on this year.  It shows me introducing my 18-month-old newest granddaughter, Hazel, to Louisiana irises at the Greater New Orleans Iris Society's iris nursery during 
the bloom there in April.

LICI's friend and volunteer, Henry Cancienne, took his annual tour of iris locations across south Louisiana again this year, sending us pictures almost every day. This photo was taken just before sunrise at the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge boardwalk. 

Irises blooming at the Town of Jean Lafitte boardwalk. The irises there took the biggest hit from Hurricane Ida, but still managed to produce some blooms as they struggled to come back.
The irises at our project at the Cajun Coast Visitor Center in Morgan City, Louisiana are in their second year. They are beginning to put on real show in the swamp at the entrance to the visitor center.

A personal highlight from this year's iris bloom (next to introducing my granddaughter to Louisiana irises) was getting to meet US Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland during the crawfish boil held in her honor at the Bayou Sauvage Ridge trail boardwalk pavilion on Saturday, April 9, 2022. Her tour of the boardwalk was timed perfectly with the peak bloom of the irises in our project there.

The irises blooming in our project at the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Joyce Management Area's Swampwalk boardwalk did not disappoint. It confirmed that we made a good decision declaring it #1 on our map of places to see wild blooming irises.

The irises at our Grand Isle, Louisiana iris restoration project accomplished the job we hoped they would; they brought people into this hard-hit area helping businesses come back from the direct hit they took from Hurricane Ida.

Our new project at the Pelican Park Recreation District in Mandeville, Louisiana is not very impressive - the first year bloom never is. I included this picture because what is impressive and very exciting to us is that the director has given us permission and encouragement to fill the entire shoreline of this detention area with our rescued irises as far as you can see in the photo. The plan is for them to grow them out for our future iris restoration projects.

The irises at our project in the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge are doing great and are expanding.

The irises in the "Iris Grove" at the Northlake Nature Center near Mandeville, Louisiana are expanding again after being knocked back by high water in 2021.

The irises in our project at St. Bernard State Park are only in their second year, but they really put on a show this spring when they bloomed. This is another one of our projects that has real potential.

Ordinarily, I would not have included this project in this year's list.  It's on the banks of Bayou Teche in City Park in the town of New Iberia, Louisiana. It's only the first year, so by my standards, the bloom was not that big of a deal.  However, I included it because the local folks from the town that are helping us with this project reported that it created quite a stir in the local community, plus our volunteers were very excited about the bloom.  All I can say is that they need to wait until next year's bloom, because we plan on bringing in a few hundred more irises this year.

We did not plant any of the irises shown in this picture, but I guess you could say it's an iris project we are particularly proud of that we did this year. We helped the National Park Service count and map Louisiana irises that we found growing in the middle of the Chalmette Battlefield.  Info can be found here

Louisiana irises blooming at our project in Fontainebleau State Park near Mandeville, Louisiana.

The irises we planted at Sankofa Wetland Park and Nature Trail in New Orleans are doing well in their second year.

The LICI Facebook page can be found here

You can email Gary Salathe at:

Although LICI “is a bare-bones deal”, as Gary likes to say, he is quick to add that they can always use donations to their cause. They have a “Donate” button at the top of their website home page here. They are currently raising money for maintenance and supplies at the LICI iris holding area.

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