Monday, January 17, 2022

Miniature Dwarf Bearded Irises: A Starter Kit

By Tom Waters

This time of year, most gardeners in the northern hemisphere are patiently (or not) waiting for spring to come. If you are a bearded iris enthusiast like me, that probably means you are anticipating the earliest blooming of them all: the delightful miniature dwarfs. 

In the American Iris Society classification system, miniature dwarf bearded (MDB) include bearded irises up to 8 inches (20 cm) in height. Often overshadowed by their larger relations, the standard dwarf bearded (SDB), the MDBs nevertheless offer something special to the iris garden. Many of them bloom before the SDBs, when there is little else in flower. Their daintiness gives them an added charm: some iris enthusiasts are fascinated by tiny flowers and enjoy the surprise of encountering an unexpected bloom in some little corner of the garden. If you try growing an MDB, you'll be glad you did!

But how to get started? Many commercial growers only offer the larger bearded irises, and those that do sell MDBs may have just a few. With SDBs so outnumbering the MDBs, it can take a little extra effort and attention to seek out these tiny gems. In this post, I make a suggestion of a "baker's dozen" MDBs for someone looking to get started. This is not just a list of personal favorites; the irises in the list have been chosen because they represent the full range of the class, in terms of color, form, climate adaptability, genetic type, and historical era. This is important because not all MDBs are alike. Only by sampling a full range of types can you get a good feeling for what the class has to offer and discover your own preferences. All the irises on the list have been available commercially in recent years and are widely grown in gardens where MDBs are found. They should not be too difficult to obtain. 

In addition to the obligatory hybridizer and year, I have also included the ancestry type of each iris in the list. Type I MDBs come from SDB breeding, type II from crosses between SDBs and the species Iris pumila, and type III are pure I. pumila. For a basic introduction to these types, see my earlier blog post Dwarfs for Every Garden. For a more thorough, technical explanation, see my article The Miniature Dwarfs, which first appeared in the 2019 edition of the Dwarf Iris Society Portfolio.

‘Alpine Lake’ photographed by Tom Waters

'Alpine Lake' (A. and D. Willott 1981, type II) is a much-loved classic MDB with crystal white standards and falls with a pastel blue spot. Virus sometimes makes the falls a bit splotchy, depending on weather; but it is still one of the best.

‘Beetlejuice’ photographed by Tom Waters
'Beetlejuice' (P. Black 2013, type I) is a unique plicata with distinctive "whisker" lines on the falls. It sometimes sends up stalks that push the height limit of the class, but the compact shape of the flowers preserves its "dwarf" look.

‘Cinnamon Apples’ photographed by El Hutchison
'Cinnamon Apples' (P. Black 1990, type I), one of Paul Black's earlier creations, is notable for its rich reddish brown color in a class where blue, purple, yellow, and white tend to predominate.

‘Ditto’ photographed by Barbara-Jean Jackson
'Ditto' (B. Hager 1982, type I) is not only a delightful little iris with its cream color and bluish red spot, but it also reblooms in some climates.

‘Dollop of Cream’ photographed by Tom Waters
'Dollop of Cream' (P. Black 2006, type I) is a personal favorite. Earlier than most type I MDBs, it often ushers in the season here. I also appreciate the pastel color and the tasteful ruffling that is not too overdone.

‘Gecko Echo’ photographed by Jeanette Graham
'Gecko Echo'
(B. Kasperek 2007, type I) is unmistakable for its deep mustardy fall spot.

‘Gold Canary’ photographed by Tom Waters
'Gold Canary' (A. and D. Willott 1981, type II) really lights up the garden in early spring. 

‘Hobbit’ photographed by Tom Waters
(L. Miller 2004, type III), a tiny (4.5 inches!) blue pumila from Lynda Miller, is one of the best of this type.

‘Icon’ photographed by Tom Waters
'Icon' (Keppel 2008, type I) is a real zinger with its intense orange color and contrasting spot. Also an early bloomer here.

‘Little Drummer Boy’ photographed by Tom Waters
'Little Drummer Boy'
(A. and D. Willott 1997, type III), a striking pumila with deep navy blue spots is an enduring favorite.

‘Royal Wonder photographed by Tom Waters
'Royal Wonder' (C. Coleman 2013, type III) is a robust, floriferous purple pumila - incredible impact for such a little iris.

‘Small Token’ photographed by Tom Waters
'Small Token' (L. Miller 2014, type II) is a rich and subtle red color on a very diminutive plant. Unique!

‘Zipper’ photographed by Jeannette Graham
(D. Sindt 1979, type II) is a standout with its deep yellow petals and electric violet beards. A true classic.

If you haven't tried the miniature dwarfs, I hope this "starter kit" gives you a good taste of what the class has to offer. If you already grow some, maybe this list will inspire you to pick up a few more and diversify your collection. Mine usually start blooming the last week of March here in northern New Mexico. I'm counting the weeks!

Monday, January 10, 2022

Busy as a Beaver

 by Gary Salathe

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), of which I am on the board of directors, has an on-going iris planting project at the Northlake Nature Center near Mandeville, Louisiana. The project started as a Greater New Orleans Iris Society (GNOIS) project in 2017 and LICI picked it up in 2020. Between 2017 and 2020, over 3,000 Louisiana irises were planted by various volunteers.

The Northlake Nature Center was established in 1982 to preserve, study, and publicly exhibit the natural and cultural resources of southeast Louisiana.

The idea was that this site would showcase all five species of the Louisiana iris and educate the public about this native plant, which has been part of the culture of south Louisiana for generations. The Northlake Nature Center’s raised boardwalk provides an ideal safe and accessible way for the public to view Louisiana irises growing and blooming in their native habitat.

The irises were planted in a cypress tree swamp at the nature center. This swamp was created by beavers damming up water drainage that runs naturally through a portion of the property. The beaver dam is ancient. It has 100-year-old cypress trees growing on it. It’s the only reason the cypress swamp is there.

This 2018 photo by photographer John Paul Duet shows some of the blooming irises while the water level in the cypress swamp was at its normal height.

Two years ago, a hole developed in the beaver dam that brought down the water level in the cypress swamp where the irises have been planted. Other competing grasses and bushes took advantage of the newly exposed mud and moved into the iris areas. In the last year, two hurricanes flooded the cypress swamp for extended periods of time and submerged the irises. (The holes in the beaver dam allowed storm surge tides to quickly push water into the cypress swamp.) These combined water level issues have led to the loss of many of the Louisiana irises.

This 2018 photo shows the Louisiana irises that were part of the iris planting project. The irises are in standing water because the water in the cypress swamp is at is normal height. This kept competing weeds, bushes and trees at bay.

Prior to 2020, beavers usually showed up in winter or early spring to repair any holes in their dam and stayed for a couple of months. Once they had eaten all of the available food in the swamp created by their dam they would move on to other ponds in the area.


This photo was taken during the winter of 2018 the day after the beavers repaired their dam for the last time. 

In late 2019, a tree fell across the dam allowing the water in the cypress swamp to drain down. Unfortunately, the beavers did not show up that winter or the spring of 2020 to make repairs. They still haven’t shown up. The beavers are still in the area at other ponds, and it’s likely they have not come back because the number of people visiting the boardwalk spiked during the COVID pandemic. It seems that everyone is trying to find outdoor activities to do and visiting the Northlake Nature Center is one of them. Beavers are very skittish about being around people so it could be a long time, or never, before they come back.


This photo, taken two weeks ago, shows the deepest of the three holes in the beaver dam that have developed since 2019.

This photo from 2020 shows how the grasses and weeds had begun crowding out the irises. They were able to move into the bare mud exposed by the water level staying down in the cypress swamp because of the holes in the beaver dam.

The CEO of the Northlake Nature Center accepted LICI's offer to repair the hole in the dam, which had grown into being three separate holes within a 20-foot section of the dam. We'll consider bringing in more irises to replace the ones killed off after our repairs to the dam stabilize the water level in the cypress swamp and kill back the competing grasses and bushes by flooding them.

The volunteers begin work on Wednesday, January 5, 2022 repairing the beaver dam by digging clay from a nearby natural gas pipeline right-of-way.

The day for the beaver dam repair finally arrived on Wednesday morning January 5, 2022. We organized a volunteer event to get the job done. A group of student volunteers from the University of South Dakota, hosted by a local wetlands restoration non-profit, Common Ground Relief, combined with our volunteers worked hard to repair it. 

Charlotte Clarke, Executive Director of Common Ground Relief, is shown bringing a load of clay to the beaver dam repair site.

Each layer of clay brought in was tamped down using wood timbers. After each layer was compacted, a new 6-inch-deep layer of clay was added.

Most of the crew is shown right after the last wheelbarrow-full of clay was dumped out. 
A job well done!

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