Monday, February 14, 2022

Novelty Irises: A Lace Story

by Sylvain Ruaud

We can't say that 'Chantilly' (David Hall, 1943) is a very pretty flower. For color, its okay. A light lavender iris, with shoulders clearly marked with yellow that infuses the heart. But for the shape, it is rather mediocre, with recurved and drooping sepals (falls). In fact, what catches the eye are the edges of the floral pieces that are finely curved, like lace. Hence the name, CHANTILLY, which does not refer to cream, but to the famous activity of which the eponymous French city has long been proud. As soon as it appeared, this iris became popular thanks to this frizzled flower edge, original for it's time.

'Chantilly' photo by Mikey Lango

However, the serrated edges were not entirely new in the 1940s, because this aspect had appeared for more than ten years in the seedlings of the Sass brothers. The brothers considered it more of an anomaly. But the visitors to their nursery found it pretty; and Hans Sass eventually decided to register two curly varieties, 'Midwest Gem' in 1936, and then 'Matula' in 1935. Several iris hybridizers seized the opportunity to start development of this ornament. Especially Agnes Whiting, who used 'Matula' extensively to pass on the lace factor to her descendants. She registered several lacy varieties, such as 'Gold Lace', 'Mirabelle', 'Etude' and especially 'Pathfinder' (R. 1948). Tell Muhlestein, on the other hand, used 'Midwest Gem' instead and ended up with 'Gold Ruffles'. Dr. Phillip Loomis went another way to develop the curly edges of his flowers. He found that his pink orchid 'Morocco Rose' (1937) was able to transmit the relevant factor. 

'Pathfinder' scanned from the 1955 Schreiner's catalog 

'Morocco Rose' scanned from the 1937 Quality Gardens catalog

But was David Hall, breeder of 'Chantilly' and great hybridizer, particularly of pink iris, who reached a really and deeply serrated iris. After 'Chantilly' his efforts led to introduction of 'Limelight' (1952) then 'June Bride' (1952). However it was another variety, the medium pink 'May Hall' (1954), not frankly cut, which proved to be the best for the transmission of lace. Although we don't know why, pink irises propagate this phenomenon well. From this variety, breeders like Orville Fay and Nate Rudolph introduced characteristic lacy edges in their irises. This is the case for 'Truly Yours' (Fay, 1949), a soft yellow iris. The yellow becomes white the closer one gets to the edges, which are finely laced. Iris judges did not fail to appreciate the progress of 'Truly Yours' and awarded it the Dykes Medal in 1953. The same award honored 'Rippling Waters' (Fay, 1961) in 1966, a mauve variety with nicely chiseled edges. It has become one of the pillars of modern hybridization. Rudolph's rose-colored irises have identical features; notably, the delicate soft pinks 'Pink Ice' (1962), 'Pink Fringe' (1967), and 'Pink Sleigh' (1970).

'Pink Fringe' scanned from 1977 Schreiner's catalog

'Pink Sleighphoto by Christine Cosi

Of course both origins, 'Chantilly' and 'May Hall', not to mention 'Morocco Rose', have been crossed, directly or via their descendants, to obtain remarkably embroidered petals. Gordon Plough used this route to introduce lacy irises into his lines. Opal Brown did the same. We owe Plough, for example, for 'Butterscotch Kiss' (Plough, 1957), not only very curly, but also marking the appearance of a new hue barium yellow, among yellow irises; 'Rainbow Gold' (Plough 1960), a golden yellow iris which we find in the pedigree of many well-known varieties like 'Bride's Halo' (H. C. Mohr, 1973), 'Milestone' (Plough 1965), 'Starring Role' (D. Palmer, 1973) and 'Trader's Gold' (Plough, 1982). Opal Brown got 'Buffy' (1969) and its offspring 'Queen Of Hearts' (1974). 'Queen Of Hearts' the latter just missed the Dykes Medal in 1981.

'Starring Role' photo by Mary Hess, Bluebird Haven Iris Garden

'Queen Of Hearts' photo by Sylvain Ruaud

Schreiners Gardens also reacted to lacy possibilities by crossing 'Midwest Gem' and 'Chantilly'. From this union were born, a few generations later, quality curly varieties like 'Lime Fizz' (Schreiner, 1969) and the famous, splendid, ultra-curly 'Grand Waltz' (Schreiner, 1970).

'Grand Waltzphoto by Christine Cosi

Serrated edges are now very common in large irises. Common features also include widely-branched stems, soft undulations, and sepals (falls) that widen at the base. 'Grand Waltz' (Schreiner 1970) is no stranger to this expansion. Its' children and grandchildren are numerous and often reproduce the ornaments of their illustrious ancestor. One of the most cut out is—without question—the famous 'Laced Cotton' (Schreiner, 1980) which could very well have been added to the American Dykes Medals awarded to the products of the firm of Salem, Oregon. It missed the supreme distinction in 1986. Paradoxically, 'Song Of Norway' won the most votes from accredited judges. It is a stiff variety and rather stingy in curls! 'Laced Cotton', a pure white self, is entirely bordered in very fine serrations, and this character interested a great number of hybridizers. 

'Laced Cotton' photo by Christine Cosi

Schreiner's subsequent crosses not only produced 'Queen Of Angels' (1995) with its jagged edges, but also 'Carte Blanche' (1996) and 'Arctic Age' (1999). 'Mystic Lace' (Aitken, 1990) takes from 'Laced Cotton' the delicate curls of its petals, and from 'Mystique' (Ghio, 1975) its pretty indigo blue gradient. 'Pure As The' (Innerst, 1989) is also an abundantly frizzled white. 'Rhonda Fleming' (Mullin, 1993) is a superb bright mauve flower with a white center, both frizzled and wavy; 'Lady Bird Johnson' (Mahan, 1996) combines the of qualities of refined pale blue color and perfect shape with frizzling and waviness. The same goes for the lavender blue 'Fancy Stuff' (O. Brown, 2001). 

'Queen Of Angels' photo by Christine Cosi

'Mystique' photo by Mary Hess, Bluebird Haven Iris Garden

'Pure As Thephoto by Klaus Burkhardt

Outside of the United States, 'Laced Cotton' has been used extensively. It is the star parent of the Slovak Ladislaw Muska who has produced many interesting embroidered cultivars such as his fetish bicolor 'Don Epifano' (R. 1989) and the aptly named lavender 'La Dentelle' (1995) which can be described as frizzy. 'Oedipussi' (1990) is the contribution of the German Harald Moos to the glory of 'Laced Cotton' and its cut petals. 'Zlatohlavek' (Seidl, 1997), is the yellow - and Czech - version of 'Laced Cotton'. Finally, let's not forget 'Cumulus' (Cayeux, 2001), a lavender neglecta, which includes in its genealogy the prestigious names of 'Laced Cotton', of course, but also those of 'Condottiere' and 'Silverado'.

'Cumulus' photo by Christine Cosi

'Laced Cotton' is, however, only one of the descendants of 'Grand Waltz' with its heavily embroidered edges. Rick Ernst's products, all cousins, are part of this large family. They include 'Different World' (1991), 'Rainbow Goddess' (1994) or 'Tracy Tyrene' (1988). Let's also mention 'Ruffles And Lace' (Hamblen, 1982), whose name says it all; 'Lilac Breeze' (Tompkins, 1987), a lovely bluish pink; and many Schreiner products, such as 'Fabulous Frills' (1976), really crepey; 'Michele Taylor' (1984), and her cousin 'Prettie Print' (1980), a pure soft mauve wonder gracefully bubbled with bright mauve lace.

'Different World' photo by Christine Cosi

'Tracy Tyrene' photo by Christine Cosi

Today, lace-edged irises are fairly common. 'Chantilly', with such a well-chosen name, has greatly inspired hybridizers from all countries. They have abundantly exploited its performances and offered to the public more and more beautiful flowers whose standards and falls are adorned with the most charming ornaments.

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