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. 


  1. I am so glad to see this topic brought up on the blog. Even without extensive photo shopping, a single photo of an iris can be deceiving. Besides the climate and soil differences you mentioned, an iris can look vary different based on lighting, and how far along it is in the aging process. A photo in full sun can look very different than one in shade, especially in the redder tones. Irises that fade as they age, LA's in particular, can look like two different plants depending on when the photo is taken. When my Starlite Starbrite bloomed with yellow falls I thought the vendor sent me the wrong iris! Then they faded to the light bluish tint commonly seen in photos. Because of incidents like that, I always look up an iris in the AIS database and the NGA database to see the variations, and to compare with the vendor picture.

    And yes! Always buy from a reputable vendor. Preferably one that specializes in iris. Some popular catalog vendors/big box stores that sell all sorts of plants will not always sell you a correct iris, or an iris by it's correct name (saw one once with the name of one iris and the picture of another), nor do they care if they are wrong.

    Thank you for reminding us all to be careful to get the iris we want and will cherish. - Leslie Tevebaugh
    (AIS member)

  2. Thank you for the comments and for the additional information.

  3. Thank you! One thing I’ve always wanted but never had the never to buy is the black iris. My granny bought one when they first showed up on the market, and it never bloomed. Any suggestions on the black iris?

    1. none of them are true black yet, all have purple red or blue hues in different light, but backlit several look pretty black. I dont think it matters which one you get. they are really easy to sell locally in bloom if you dont like it.
      goth girls or pagans type girls (you know the type...ones into crystals and tarot cards) will buy your whole stock day one.


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