Monday, January 31, 2022

Photo Essay: Kleinsorge Browns

by Mike Unser

Dr. Rudolph E. Kleinsorge introduced his creations from 1929 to 1962. He was renowned for his brown and brown-blended irises, many of which were instrumental in the development and advancement of later varieties. In this photo essay, I share a selection of his brown varieties that I grow. They are listed alphabetically with year of introduction in parenthesis.

'Aztec Copper' (1939) displays colors of smoky violet blended with copper.

'Beechleaf' (1955) has a brown self pattern overlaid with violet.

'Black and Gold' (1943) with striking variegata pattern.

'Bryce Canyon' (1944) is named for displaying similar colors to the rock formations in the National Park in Utah.

'Buckskin' (1939) with namesake tan color.

'Calcutta' (1938) has delicate tones of cocoa-brown.

'Crown Prince' (1932) is a variegata with orange-yellow standards and dark, red-brown falls.

'El Paso' (1949) has a luminous, golden-brown color.

'Fortune' (1941) with lively old-gold coloration. 

'Gypsy' (1944) with delicate coppery-gold standards and solid chestnut brown falls.

'Oregon Trail' (1943) was named to honor the 100th anniversary of the Oregon statehood.

'Pretty Quadroon' (1948) in coppery tan with brown beards.

'Thotmes III' (1950) was named for a pharaoh who sent an expedition to gather plants, which included irises.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Kleinsorge, I created a video presentation about his life and legacy in irises.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Let the Iris Buyer Beware

By Bryce Williamson 

There is an old Latin saying, caveat emptor, meaning "let the buyer beware." This phrase reminds us that the buyer assumes risk that a product may fail to meet expectations or have defects. This certainly applies when buying irises, or any plant in general. For that reason, this post will have only one image. It is an image that I detest, though it appears every once in a while usually with one of two comments: "It is real?" or, "Where can I buy this iris?"

This image has been manipulated in a computer to alter the flower's appearence

For the record, the answer to either question is “no.” No iris of this color existsit is a classic example of a “Photoshopped” or computer-manipulated image. Hybridizers would die and go to iris heaven to have a flower of this color. I’ve seen this non-iris offered for as little as $5.00 per plant. Sellers were not only located in the United States of America, but also in many other countries around the world. If you order it, and if it arrives (a very big if), and if it finally blooms, you WILL be disappointed.

Which leads me to another “let the buyer beware” issue that often is a topic on iris sites: Does the iris live up to its picture? The answer to that question is a bit complicated. First, buyers should be aware that images always approximate the flower you will see when the plant blooms. No matter how hard a nursery tries, there are too many factors that affect flower color when it blooms in the garden. These factors include cultural conditions, like soil pH. There are also numerous variables which affect image color when physically printed or uploaded to the World Wide Web. Long ago I had a color cataloguea catalogue printed by one of the top Japanese companiesand images would look different year to year when printed from the same color separations. That talk of color separations will tell you that it was in a different century.

However, a savvy iris buyer can do two things to help himself/herself exercise good judgement. First, learn to recognize a computer-manipulated image. I have firsthand experience with a larger grower that uses images which have little to do with the actual plant. The grower advertises ‘Disco Music,’ an iris I hybridized, registered, and introduced in the 1970’s. The plant sold as ‘Disco Music’ by the larger grower is NOT the iris I introduced. I see numerous complaints from gardeners about this firm shipping poor quality stock, sending the wrong plants; and if they bloom, that flowers have no resemblance to the image in the catalogue. I advocate for having the good sense to spend money at a reliable iris grower: the prices are lower and the quality of the plants is better. If you are new to the iris world, you can reach out to a local iris society (listed by region) or the Iris Lovers group on Facebook and ask for recommendations. 

The second thing to consider is how satisfied you were with a prior purchase. If you do buy irises year after year from one grower and find the images rarely look like the flower when it blooms, then quit being foolish and buy elsewhere. This can also work in reverse--one of the highlights of my last two bloom seasons was a new variety that I would never have bought based on the color image.

That brings me to the final points of this tirade. Pay attention to where you buy. Plant materials are, in theory, inspected, which is especially important for plant material moving between countries. There are many horror stories about plant material from outside a country bringing diseases and unwanted insects into the country. 

A tourist returning from Latin America destroyed many ornamental fuchsias by bringing home a cutting that introduced Aculops fuchsiae, commonly known as fuchsia gall mite. It feeds on fuchsia plants, causing distortion of growing shoots and flowers. It is a horticultural pest. Actually pest is not a strong enough term, but I digress.

Southern California is now fighting the Huanglongbing (HLB) disease which is caused by bacteria spread by insects like the Asian citrus psyllid. HLB is fatal to citrus trees and thousands are being destroyed to prevent its spread beyond quarantine boundaries. I fear that sooner or later, some foolish person will buy a citrus tree in Southern California and bring it, and HLB, into Northern California.

Regulations and quarantines are intended to keep our plants as healthy as possiblebut they only work if we adhere to them. Recently iris nurseries in Australia, where they have a strict and expensive process for importing irises, have found growers buying from out of the country, circumventing the quarantine protocol, and potentially bringing in new diseases and pests. This isn’t responsible behavior, and consequences could be disastrous (as they have been for fuchsias and citrus).

If customs or the various agricultural agencies find seeds and plants brought into the country without the correct certifications, they destroy those items. When asking for a PayPal refund, try explaining, "I was illegally importing plants/seeds and want my money back."

As I wrap this up, please keep in mind the adage, “let the buyer beware”; and “if is too good to be true, most likely it is not true.” I will now step off my soapbox and go back to trying to figure out how to come up with a turquoise iris the hard wayby making lots of crosses. 

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.

2 1/2 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 then 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, so 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!