Monday, July 31, 2023

First Annual Abbeville Swamp Iris Seed Collection Project

By Gary Salathe

My non-profit, the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), has a Louisiana iris restoration project underway with our partners, the Friends of the Palmetto Island State Park, at the boardwalk in Palmetto Island State Park near Abbeville, Louisiana. One of the project's goals is to increase the number of Louisiana species Iris nelsonii (common name Abbeville Red iris) growing in the swamp at the boardwalk. Another goal is that after using the bloom to verify plants as I. nelsonii, they could be thinned out at some point in the future and returned to the nearby Abbeville Swamp. Since this swamp is the only place in the world where this Louisiana iris grows naturally, any I. nelsonii iris originated from there and was collected at some point.

 Kent Benton, Forest Benton, and myself (left to right) in a clump of I. nelsonii on April 5th in the Abbeville Swamp.    Photo by Henry Cancienne

An Abbeville Swamp landowner invited a small group of LICI volunteers to visit it during early April 2023 to see the irises during bloom. Although we were excited by the irises we found, it was also disappointing to find no irises growing in huge areas of the swamp. The exact reason is unknown. What it is known that collectors have aggressively removed irises in this swamp since their discovery in the late 1930s through the late 1990s, sometimes without the landowners' permission.

This past June, Louisiana iris enthusiast, iris grower, and LICI volunteer Kent Benton donated hundreds of I. nelsonii iris seedlings for the Palmetto Island State Park iris restoration project. They are currently growing at LICI's New Orleans iris holding area. Kent donated seeds his nursery created through a captured breeding process which utilized I. nelsonii iris pollen he collected at the Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk in 2021 with the permission of the park manager.

Kent's donated irises will be planted at the park’s boardwalk this fall, but many will not be mature enough to bloom next spring.  Efforts are underway to solicit donations of I. nelsonii irises from iris collectors to increase the number of blooming irises at the boardwalk in April.

LICI's volunteer, Kent Benton, is seen collecting pollen from a few of the I. nelsonii irises blooming at the Palmetto Island State Park on March 23, 2023, during a visit to the park. He received permission from the then-manager of the park to collect pollen to use for producing more I. nelsonii irises to be planted at the boardwalk in 2024.

In April 2023, Kent collected more pollen from the irises at the boardwalk during the bloom season. Unfortunately, a late frost destroyed many of the flowers at his nursery soon after they were pollinated. We were hopeful that created seeds could be planted and grown out at the boardwalk in the fall of 2024 and they would all bloom in April 2025. Alas, mother nature had other plans.

Next, we proposed collecting seed pods from the actual I. nelsoniii irises growing in the Abbeville Swamp when they ripen in July to stay on track with having more irises to plant in the fall of 2024 at the park's boardwalk. We think that almost all of these seeds would be wasted if they stayed in the swamp since the percentage of Louisiana iris seeds germinating, growing, and surviving into mature plants in the wild is extremely low, especially of the irises growing in standing water.

The plan is for the irises from these collected seeds to grow in their natural environment in the Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk swamp, where the public can enjoy them while they bloom. But more importantly, after they are confirmed to be true I. nelsonii irises, they will be moved back into the Abbeville Swamp into areas where no irises are growing. In 2 1/2 years, we can return to the Abbeville Swamp with a much higher percentage of plants produced from collected seed than if seeds germinated independently in the swamp. 

The photo on the left shows the 36" tall I. nelsonii irises blooming in one of the more remote areas the LICI volunteers found irises on their April tour of the Abbeville Swamp. The same area is shown on the right in July after 4 1/2 months of weed and swamp plant growth. The dormant irises and their ripe seed pods were covered by 48" tall weeds and brush.

After receiving the landowner's permission, I did an iris seed pod collection expedition to the Abbeville Swamp on July 12, 2023. Unfortunately, it coincided with an extreme heat wave hitting the area. I collected sixty seed pods after four hours of tiring and dirty work in the scorching heat that involved whacking through brush and weeds to get to the irises and their seed pods.

Some seed pods collected on July 12th from the I. nelsonii irises in the Abbeville Swamp.

The next morning, Thursday July 13, 2023, during a presentation on germinating iris seeds I gave to members of the Acadiana Native Plant Project, some seed pods were opened, and the seeds were planted into one-gallon pots. I taught the attendees Kent Benton's method of germinating seeds in which he gets between a 70% and 90% success rate. The 455 seeds will be germinated and monitored by the group at their native plant nursery in Arnaudville, Louisiana.

Photo: Members of the Acadiana Native Plant Project are seen on July 13th planting seeds after opening the seed pods collected the day before at the Abbeville Swamp.

Later that same day, near Livingston, Louisiana, I gave Kent some mature pods to germinate the seeds. The next day he reported planting 465 seeds from the seed pods into pots. 

Kent Benton on July 14th after planting the seeds he was given from the Abbeville Swamp into containers.

On Friday, July 14th, the rest of the seed pods were opened, and 474 seeds were planted into one-gallon pots by staff and interns of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) nursery in Thibodaux, Louisiana. They will germinate the seeds as a joint project with Nicholls Farm. The farm is managed by the head of the Biology Department at Nicholls State University.

The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) nursery at Nicholls University in Thibodaux, Louisiana    

The groups agreed to help germinate the seeds when LICI determined that the irrigation system used at its iris-holding area for their mature irises would put too much water onto them.

We are excited that a thousand or more of the very rare I. nelsonii plants will come from the 1,400 seeds planted into pots this week! I am very grateful for our friends and partners in this seed-germination project: Acadiana Native Plant Project, Kent Benton, and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program in conjunction with Nicholls State University.

Tammy, an intern with BTNEP, is seen just before she covers with soil the 474 iris seeds she helped to plant into pots at the BTNEP nursery. 


All seedlings that come from our combined efforts will be given back to LICI in about five months to grow out at our iris-holding area in New Orleans. They will be ready for planting at the Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk during the fall of 2024.

I'm hopeful that with more time available to plan a visit back to the Abbeville Swamp during next spring’s bloom, and with the permission of the landowner, of course, we may be able to significantly increase the number of seeds that we can collect next summer to farm out for germinating to boost the number of seedlings available for growing out even further.

The hoped-for outcome of all of this work by all of the groups that are part of this project is to have a couple of thousand I. nelsonii irises blooming at the Palmetto Island State Park’s boardwalk by the spring of 2025.

A group of civic leaders in New Iberia, Louisana, have begun organizing the inaugural Bayou Teche Native Louisiana Iris Festival for March 28th through the 30th in 2025. The festival will be based in New Iberia, but the last day of activities will take place in Palmetto Island State Park at the boardwalk to celebrate the restoration of the I. nelsonii planting there. The educational type festival will also have talks open to the public about this rare iris and the need to preserve its native habitat.

Alison Miller during her meeting with LICI at the Abbeville Cultural & Historical Museum & Art Gallery on Wednesday, July 12, 2023 in Abbeville, Louisiana.

Although awareness of the Abbeville Red irises at the Palmetto Island State Park will be elevated by the iris festival in 2025, the Vermilion Parish Tourist Commission has already extensively promoted the iris bloom at the park each spring. During a July meeting with the Executive Director of the Tourist Commission, Alison Miller, I committed LICI to helping the tourist commission get the word out about the iris restoration project at the park and to increase awareness of the Abbeville Red irises while they bloom next spring. She also said the tourist commission would help with marketing the inaugural Bayou Teche Native Louisiana Iris Festival. She said they regularly get people from all over the country come into the visitor's center and ask about the Abbeville red irises, especially during the iris bloom each spring.

I. nelsonii irises blooming at the Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk on April 5, 2023

Starting next spring, and each year, as all of the I. nelsonii flowers are blooming at the Palmetto Island State Park's boardwalk, iris experts will be asked to walk through the swamp to verify that each iris is, in fact, an I. nelsonii specimen. After the 2025 iris festival, the process will begin of returning many of the irises back to the Abbeville Swamp to be replaced at the boardwalk with a new crop of iris seedlings created using the prior year's seeds collected from the Abbeville Swamp. My hope is that the boardwalk planting at the park will become a clearing house for irises grown from seeds collected from the Abbeville Swamp to be confirmed while they bloom so they can head back into the swamp as full-size plants.

The Friends of Palmetto Island State Park have created a new page on their website. The page not only has links to Facebook postings and articles about their partnership with LICI and what the goals are for the project, but it also has a donate button for a fund they have set up so everyone can help to maintain, enhance and expand, the Abbeville Red iris exhibit at the boardwalk by donating. Here's a link to the page: The new donate button is at the bottom of the page, and any help will be greatly appreciated.

The LICI Facebook page can be found here.

You can email me at:

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Summer 2023 Edition

By Andi Rivarola

A warm welcome to those who are seeing IRISES, the Bulletin of The American Iris Society for the first time. If you are a member of The American Iris Society I hope you enjoy this new issue.

The Summer 2023 issue of the AIS Bulletin is already available online, accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. The print copy has been mailed via the U.S. Post Office. On the cover, Dallas Convention President's Cup winner 'Decked Out' (Tom Burseen 2015, TB).

Note: to access this area of the website, you must have a current AIS Emembership. (AIS Emembership is separate from the normal AIS membership.) Please see the Electronic Membership Information are of the AIS website for more details.

You're really going to enjoy this issue. There's extensive coverage of the Dallas Convention, starting on page 10 all the way to 42 with extensive corage by several authors and photographers. 

Update on the AIS Integrated Online System on page 43. Want to know what the IOS is? Take a read please. 

Bryce Williamson covers Region 14's Irises and Iconic Landscapes with lovely photos and descriptions, pages 44 - 49. 

Claire Schneider covers the Latest AIS news from online resources, on pages 50 to 51.

Are you a hybridizer? Check this communication piece by the AIS Registrar on page 53.

Feeding Your Container-Grown Iris is explained on pages 54 -55.

On pages 56 to 58, read about Adding Variety to your Garden with Iris Grown from SIGNA Seeds. 

And exclusive report on AIS Youth in Region 14 by Carolyn Hoover is on page 59.

The Ackerman Your Essay Contest Results and entries are on pages 60 through 67.

Don't forget the Beginner's Corner, on pages 76 - 77.

And, lastly, Section Happenings on pages 78 through 79.

There's a lot more to see and read in this edition of IRISES, either in digital or print formats.


Support the Work of The American Iris Society by Becoming a Member:

Not a member of the American Iris Society? Please see our website for information about becoming one:
Happy Gardening!

  • The Annual Full Membership receives both benefits described above.
  • Participate in AIS’s bi-monthly Webinar Series featuring AIS experts from around the U.S.
  • Get to know about our lesser known irises, such as species, spuria, Japanese, Louisiana, Siberian and other beardless irises.
  • Participate in the Annual convention. The next convention will be in Portland, OR in 2024.  
  • Support AIS's Mission of education, conservation, research, preserving historical archives, and outreach projects.
  • Did you know that The American Iris Society is the registration authority for all rhizomatous irises worldwide?  
  • The Iris Encyclopedia is available 24-7, 365 days a year, and filled with a wealth of iris knowledge. Stop by for a visit!

Monday, July 24, 2023

Incredible Arilbreds

by Jeff Bennett

An incredible bed of arilbred irises in bloom

Among the many types of irises, there are categories of irises called arils and arilbreds. Now without getting too technical on the differences between the two, I’ll just basically say that arils are a group of wild species irises from the eastern area of the Mediterranean, including Turkey, Syria, Israel, etc.; and the middle of Asia where Regelia-type irises are from. Their exotic blooms, generally one flower per stalk, are breathtaking to see. Their growing requirements are also hard to understand for gardeners that like to water their plants and take great pleasure in doing so. Watering aril irises in the summer probably means you won’t see them next spring as they will succumb to rot.

Home gardeners can obtain that exotic iris "look" with easier cultural requirements when hybridizers breed arils with the bearded iris cultivars we know and love. These irises are called "arilbreds." They come in all heights, from dwarfs to talls. Depending on which species were crossed, their offspring display different heights, petal shapes, and distinctive blotches or veining. Some people are afraid to try growing arilbreds and I don’t understand why. Maybe it’s the word "aril" in the name? I received my first arilbreds in 2017 and grew them for the 2019 American Iris Society Convention in San Ramon, California. I planted the arilbred guests right in line with the other bearded irises. I was not told to treat them any differently. I was pleased to watch 'Galaxinia', 'Heart of Hearts', 'Perry Dyer', and 'Red Ahead' as they prospered and were standouts at the convention. These exotic-looking irises grew just as big as their bearded half-cousins planted next door.

Arilbred iris 'Perry Dyer'

After seeing such interesting arilbreds at a local show put on by the Mount Diablo Iris Society, I decided to plant a couple of beds dedicated to arilbreds. Tracking down arilbred irises is not the easiest task, as most commercial iris gardens only sell a few (if any). Then I discovered that the Aril Society International (ASI) has an annual rhizome sale every July. Only members can purchase during this online sale, so I joined and diligently made my selections. The delivery of 40 or so rhizomes arrived a couple weeks later. In general, arilbred rhizomes are smaller than regular bearded irises, so don’t be surprised by rhizome size. Their striking flowers make up for this in a big way.

In late July 2021, I received my second order from ASI and some from other sources I could find. New beds prepared for just the arilbreds were ready and plants were transferred from their pots (I always plant my orders in pots so they can get a good start). By late winter 2021 to early 2022, all the arilbreds were in the ground in alphabetical order. That summer they were increasing like gangbusters! I knew that the bloom in the spring of 2023 would be excellent.

 'Kalifa's Robe' getting ready to bloom in January 2023

Fast forward to January 2023. After the wettest January anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area could remember, not only the first arilbred,  but the first iris bloomed in the garden on approximately January 24. 'Kalifa’s Robe' started it all. A huge purple flower with a dark signal blotch. Then 'Warrior Prince' and 'Desert Snow' bloomed on February 9. 'Noble Warrior'  bloomed on March 14. By March 18, new varieties were opening daily. Arilbreds are early bloomers compared to tall bearded irises. The last photo I have of an arilbred in bloom was around May 15. So almost four full months of arilbred bloom is what was achieved at Dry Creek Garden in Union City California in 2023.

A beautiful and healthy clump of 'Kalifa's Robe' (B. Hager, 1990)

Historic arilbred iris 'Oyez' (C. G. White, 1938)

Arilbred iris 'Diamonds and Rust' (E. Jensen, 2017)

Arilbred iris 'Rosy Celebration' (Tasco, 2021)

But not to be outdone, 'Lu’s Child' and 'Pashtun Princess' were in rebloom by June 13. The first bloom for 'Kalifa’s Robe' lasted a full 90 days and then got going again by sending up three more bloom stalks in late May.

'Lu's Child' (D. Eaves, 2010) in rebloom 

'Pashtun Princess' (Ransom. 2011) in rebloom

Try growing a few of these beautiful varieties in your garden. The ASI online rhizome sale is running through Saturday, July 29, 2023 5:00 CST. Please visit the ASI website for ordering and payment information.

Arilbred iris bed at Dry Creek Garden

EDITORS NOTE: All photos by author Jeff Bennett

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Garry Knipe's Pacific Coast Irises

[FYI, this blog is reposted from 09/27/2021]

By Bryce Williamson

For at least the last 10 years, plant societies have been in membership decline. There are many reasons for this. One of the important reasons for this is reduced garden space in major urban areas. As an area becomes more crowded, lot sizes diminish or fade into nothing. It is not a hopeless situation, however, for the avid gardener with a little bit of space. For the iris grower, a small garden means it will be impossible to grow everything, and specializing is necessary. When specializing is done right, it is even possible to have a hybridizing program.

Within a small garden in California’s Silicon Valley, Garry Knipe is specializing and doing it right. When I visited, one of the first things I noticed was the usage of all space—at the front, back, and even the sides of the house. It also helps, in his case, that one of the neighbors has allowed him to infringe on their property.


From that small space and specializing in Pacific Coast Irises (PCIs), Mr. Knipe is producing stunning flowers. His seedlings regularly draw “ohs and ahs”at the local Clara B. Rees Iris Society show, winning many blue ribbons and almost always the seeding cup.

Garry has three goals in his hybridizing: bloom time, color, and cold-hardiness. He is working on early blooming varieties in many colors and the eye candy of whites, lavenders, and violets that have an area that is really blue or turquoise in color at the heart or center line of the flowers. To date Garry has only introduced one iris, ‘Premonition of Spring’ from the early blooming line.

‘Premonition of Spring’ 

‘Premonition of Spring’ 

His higher priority is the enhancing the blue and turquoise colors that originally came from Dr. Lee Lenz's work with I. munzii. Unfortunately, like I. munzii, the Lenz introductions were very difficult to grow and died off quickly. Fortunately, their genetic merits were utilized by a few PCI breeders in the 1970's. Garry is now actively selecting some of the stunning violets and lavenders with blues and turquoise shadings for introduction. That latter work has its basis in plants produced from the Lewis Lawyer lines as well as hybrids from Santa Cruz’s Lois Belardi and a seedling from Joe Ghio. The smaller space does slow him down and he can only grow 100 to 400 new seedlings every year.



A third current hybridizing goal has been added to help extend the climatic range of the Pacific Coast Iris by making crosses between cold hardy species like I. tenax and other known good growing hybrids. These seeds get distributed to members of the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris for testing in more difficult climates.


Another garden interest of Garry's is breeding South African flowers of the genus Moraea. In particular, he is very interested in those species and hybrids that have very intense blue- or teal-colored eyes.

Since these relatively small plants can be grown tightly spaced, his small yard can accommodate large numbers of seedlings. Garry recognizes the help of Michael Mace in getting started.  View some of Mike's Moraeas at His beautiful creations prove that it is possible to add to the gardening pleasure of gardens large and small even if he does not have a lot of space.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Using Species in MDB Breeding, Part 1: Iris lutescens

by Tom Waters

I’m a hobby hybridizer, working on a very small scale (I can only raise about 200 seedlings each year). So from the outset, I planned to focus on niche projects, rather than trying to compete with the large-scale hybridizers and their well-established breeding lines. I identified some projects that I thought might have value, but that few others were working on. One of these is to develop a line of true-breeding miniature dwarf bearded (MDB) irises.

As I’ve written previously, most MDBs produced today are small selections from standard dwarf bearded (SDB) breeding. Because the lines of the top SDB hybridizers are so advanced, this approach indeed produces many fine MDBs that display all the variety of color and refinement of form found in the modern SDBs. With a few exceptions, however, hybridizers do not have dedicated lines aimed specifically at producing MDBs. Rather, they select them from among their SDB seedlings that happen to fall below the height limit separating the two classes. Since these plants are genetically no different from SDBs, they are likely to produce SDB-sized seedlings, and some are prone to growing out of class, showing foliage and stalks out of proportion to their size, or having flowers that are too large and coarse.

In earlier times, most MDBs were produced by crossing SDBs with the species Iris pumila, which indeed produced smaller, daintier plants than those from pure SDB breeding. Unfortunately, these plants are unbalanced tetraploids with limited fertility, making them dead-ends.

If one is seeking a true-breeding line of MDBs, there are several options. One is to start with the SDBs and keep selecting for smaller size. Another option is that promoted by Ben Hager: cross tetraploid MTBs with I. pumila, then cross those seedlings with small SDBs or MDBs from SDB breeding. The idea here is that the MTB X pumila crosses will produce genetically smaller plants, and the genes for small size can be stabilized in the breeding line.

A third approach, which I have been exploring, is to expand the gene pool by using species (or combinations of species) that are small in size but belong to the same fertile family as the SDBs. This not only has the potential of creating a line of true-breeding MDBs, but also increases genetic diversity, which may give more variety of forms and colors. This is the first of a series of posts on this project, focused specifically on my hybridizing with I. lutescens and its close relations.

I. lutescens is a dwarf species found in the Mediterranean lands of southwestern Europe, particularly Spain, France, and Italy. There are many related but different populations in this range, which are sometimes given species status, but more often treated as synonyms of I. lutescens. I. subbiflora in Portugal and I. bicapitata in Italy, are almost always treated as separate species, but are part of the same continuum of types found in I. lutescens. Before the 1950s, most dwarf irises found in gardens in western Europe and North American were forms or hybrids of I. lutescens. After the first SDBs were produced, hybridizers quickly abandoned the older I. lutescens dwarfs in favor of the SDBs, which showed wider color possibilities and improved form.

Given this history, I did not at first think of using I. lutescens in my own hybridizing projects. On reflection, however, it seemed that those hybridizers of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s were excited about exploring the potential of the new SDBs, and not really concerned with creating true-breeding MDB lines. I. lutescens might indeed still have something to offer toward that goal. In nature, its forms span the MDB and SDB height ranges, and flowers are smaller than those of typical SDBs.

I. subbiflora ex Spain
(SIGNA seed)


I. lutescens (SRGC seed)

Early on, I grew a plant of I. subbiflora obtained from the SIGNA seed exchange, collected in Spain. Apparently this raises some doubts about its identification, as there is some question whether there are populations of I. subbiflora in Spain, or only I. lutescens. My plant is not as tall as most descriptions and photographs of I. subbiflora, normally being about nine inches in my garden.

Crossing the subbiflora with SDB ‘Kaching’ (Black, 2009) produced a lot of deep red seedlings, mostly of small SDB size, although height varied from year to year and with location in the garden. Although I enjoyed these seedlings, they were larger than what I was aiming for; so I made an effort to use MDBs, rather than SDBs, in future crosses, and to seek out small plants of I. lutescens to use instead of this I. subbiflora. A cross of I. subbiflora with MDB ‘Circa’ (Johnson, 2015) produced attractive plants near the MDB height limit, but still not as small and delicate as I would like.

'Kaching' X S004-01
'Circa' X S004-01

I raised a small purple I. lutescens from seed from the Scottish Rock Garden Club (SRGC) seed exchange. It’s about half the size of the I. subbiflora plant. Crossing this with MDB ‘Miniseries’ (Keppel, 2011) gave me a couple promising seedlings: one with small reddish flowers have rather tall stems; the other has mid-sized purplish flowers on shorter stems. I’d be happier if I’d gotten the small reddish flowers on the small stems! But these are interesting, and I will continue working with them.

S019-01 X 'Miniseries'
S019-01 X 'Miniserie

I also crossed the SRGC I. lutescens with MDB ‘Pearly Whites’ (Black, 2014) and MDB ‘Beetlejuice’ (Black, 2013); and a number of these seedlings bloomed this spring. They were all interesting to look at, mostly nicer in form than expected. It’s too early to be sure what height they will settle out at, but this year most of them looked more like small SDBs than like MDBs.

'Beetlejuice' X S019-01
'Beetlejuice' X S019-01

'Pearly Whites' X S019-01

I acquired some other small lutescens plants to work with: one from the Berkeley Botanical Garden, and one from Sean Zera, raised from SIGNA seed. I have not yet bloomed seedlings from these. I keep acquiring more I. lutescens seeds, hoping to expand my collection, particularly in colors other than purple. I. lutescens grows here, but doesn’t seem really happy. My high desert zone 5/6 garden in New Mexico is a long way from the south of France.

I am enjoying working with species in MDB breeding, but it must be emphasized that this is a long-term project. Any use of species in breeding must be followed up with several generations of crossing back to modern hybrids if one wishes to meet current expectations of width, ruffling, and substance. It appears that some persistence will be needed to combine the genes for short stems, small flowers, and narrow foliage in the same line. Still, I’m finding these explorations to be a very satisfying use of my small space and limited resources.