Monday, October 30, 2023

Chicken Trees vs Louisiana Irises (The irises won!)

 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. One critical job that needed to be accomplished was to remove the Chinese tallow invasive tree species from the boardwalk swamp where the irises would be planted.

This photo was taken at the boardwalk swamp this past April. We hope to have 2,000 I. nelsonii species of the Louisiana iris blooming at the park's boardwalk for the 2025 Bayou Teche Native Louisiana Iris Festival. The second day of the festival will be held at Palmetto Island State Park to celebrate the I. nelsonii Louisiana iris.

The Chinese tallow is a drought-tolerant tree native to China and Japan. It was first introduced in South Carolina during the 1700s as an ornamental tree and then for making soap from seed oils. It can be found from eastern North Carolina southward to Florida. From Florida, it spread westerly through Louisiana and Arkansas into Texas.

This August 2023 photo was taken from the Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk in the swamp where the irises will be planted this fall. As seen in the photo, all trees that are 30' tall or smaller are invasive Chinese tallow trees.

Chinese tallow trees can be identified by broad, waxy-green leaves, often with an extended tip or "tail." New growth briefly appears reddish.

In the early 1900s, it was used as an ornamental tree in Louisiana because most of Louisiana's native trees do not produce fall-colored leaves. The Chinese tallow tree does.

The Chinese tallow tree can be easily spotted in Louisiana forests when its leaves change color in late fall. Once this happens, the green color starts to fade from the leaves, and then reds, oranges, and yellows become visible. The leaves from most of Louisiana's native hardwood trees turn brown in color.

The south/central part of Louisiana, where Palmetto Island State Park is located, is part of Louisiana's Acadiana region, also known as Cajun country. In this region, the Chinese tallow tree is known as the "Chicken tree."

The Chicken trees needed to be removed from the park's boardwalk swamp before the two iris plantings planned for later this year. This was because the Chicken trees would compete with the irises, just as they were competing with the native Bald Cypress in the boardwalk swamp for moisture and nutrients in the soil. Also, trying to remove the Chicken trees after the irises were planted would risk volunteers trampling the irises. A decision was made by LICI and the park manager to set September 9, 2023 as the day to remove the Chicken trees.

I'm shown giving the opening remarks at the Chicken tree removal event in Palmetto Island State Park. I spoke on the history of the Abbeville Red iris and its discovery.   I also explained why the display of these irises at the park's boardwalk is so important to so many people, literally from around the world. It is a place to see this rare species of Louisiana iris in bloom. Photo by Henry Cancienne.

The September 9th event was co-hosted by Palmetto Island State Park and the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), with the Friends of Palmetto Island State Park, Inc. sponsoring the event by supplying snacks, drinks, and sandwiches. In the days leading up to September 9th, it became a community-wide event with volunteers signing up from a Scout Troop in Lafayette, Abbeville Rotary Club, Abbeville Garden Club, Vermilion ARCH 4-H club - including some of the parents, Friends of Palmetto Island State Park, Inc., volunteers from people staying at the park, and LICI's volunteers. Approximately 50 volunteers showed up for the event.

The swamp was dry due to the extreme drought the area has been experiencing. Dry conditions made it easier for the volunteers to get around and do the work. 

 Volunteers begin work at the Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk swamp at the September 9 Chicken tree removal event. Photo by Henry Cancienne.

The park manager, Andrea Jones, was very supportive of the effort. She lined up many of the volunteers, allowed her staff to help deliver, set up, and take down everything needed for the event at the boardwalk base station, and allowed the group to use the nearby meeting room building and its porch.

 Two volunteers are shown with loopers and the flagging used to mark each Chicken tree.

Small red flags were set next to each Chicken tree so the volunteers would not need to determine which trees in the swamp needed to be cut down. Then, volunteers with either tree limb loopers or a chainsaw would cut the trees down. The cut trees were hauled to the swamp's edge and left to rot among the palmettos. A few volunteers then squirt each tree stump with an herbicide to kill the roots. They would collect each red flag as they were finished. Most trees ranged in size from twenty feet tall or less with a 1" to 1 1/2" diameter trunk.

Stewart Broussard, president of the Friends of Palmetto Island State Park, Inc., is seen here working with the other volunteers to clear out Chicken trees during the event.

As a way to add a festive feeling to the event, a local aspiring singer/songwriter, Brody Lemaire, along with his singer and percussionist sister, Zoey Lemaire, offered to donate their time to come out and play for the other volunteers as they worked. Their playing and singing were a wonderful background for the groups working out in the swamp.

Volunteers at work removing Chicken trees during the September 9 event.

At the end of the event, I told the group, "I have no idea how many Chicken trees were pulled up or cut down, but it was a lot! When the Abbeville Red irises we will be planting this winter bloom throughout the swamp at the boardwalk next spring, everyone will have a clear view of the show, thanks to the work y'all did here today."

This is the final "Goodbye" group photo of most volunteers and park staff participating in the Chinese tallow tree removal volunteer event at Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk swamp on September 9, 2023. Photo by Henry Cancienne.

One last video to show the iris spirit of the volunteers!!

Monday, October 23, 2023

A Step into the Past of Iris Lore: Sydney B. Mitchell

By Bryce Williamson

While recently researching a judges’ training program, I found myself reflecting on how some of the important iris personalities of the past have faded from the conversation even though they played critical roles. Then, at Region 14’s 2023 fall meeting, Joe Ghio talked about “In the beginning…” Joe’s comments caused my mind to recall the contributions of Sydney B. Mitchell. His work is significant for three reasons; any of them would have ensured his place in iris lore.

First, Mitchell saved and introduced the Mohr irises after William Mohr’s early death in a car accident. The Mohr-Mitchell iris "San Francisco" went on to become the first American Dykes Medal winner.

'San Francisco' (Mohr, 1927)

Second, Lloyd Austin is often considered the father of space-age irises. Yet Mitchell’s plicata breeding played an important role in their development. Lloyd saw potential in a Mitchell plicata seedling (later introduced as ‘Advanced Guard’) and from that iris produced the world’s first horned iris: ‘Unicorn.’

'Advance Guard' (Mitchell, 1945)

'Unicorn' (Austin, 1954)

Finally, Sydney B. Mitchell loved Pacific Coast Native (PCN) irises and promoted them. Part of Sydney’s promotion effort was sending seeds around the world. Seeds sent to the United Kingdom would grow to become the foundation of PCN’s adapted to the English climate and ultimately Marjorie Brummitt's ‘No Name,’ winner of the British Dykes Medal in 1976.

'No Name' (Brummitt, 1973)

From Mitchell PCN seeds sent to Australia Hargreaves produced lovely seedlings, though none of these were named introductions. Later, Stanley Lott, Heidi Blyth, and John Taylor would carry on the Australian line for PCN irises and produced some lovely flowers.

European Mist’ (Heidi Blyth, 2009/2010)

Hargreaves seed made its way back to the United States, and a red seedling was widely crossed by Joe Ghio as one of the foundation parents of his lovely PCIs. Of course, Joe Ghio also has access to seed from Jack Craig who most likely obtained seed directly from Mitchell.

Red Light District’ (Ghio, 2015)
Going Bananas’ (Ghio, 2010)

Sidney B. Mitchell received the AIS Hybridizers Medal in 1941. The American Iris Society's medal for PCN irises is named for him, and rightly so. His book Iris for Every Garden helped the popularity of all types of irises and its chapter on hybridizing inspired a new generation of hybridizers.

The influence of Mitchell lives on today in modern tall bearded hybridizing and Pacific Coast Native irises.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Using Species in MDB Breeding, Part 2: Iris aphylla x Iris pumila

 by Tom Waters

This is the second of three posts on my experimenting with various species in breeding miniature dwarf bearded (MDB) irises. Here’s a quick recap: Most MDBs today are small selections created when breeding standard dwarf bearded (SDB) irises. I think there is value in creating a line of true-breeding MDBs: fertile plants that are MDB-sized and consistently produce MDB-sized offspring. Ideally, such a line would be compatible with SDBs (and MDBs from SDB breeding), so one could use all the wonderfully developed modern MDB and SDB cultivars.

Certain dwarf species and combinations of species are compatible with SDBs in terms of their chromosome configuration. One such species is Iris lutescens, and in part 1 I described my work with this species to date. In this post, I look at hybrids from I. aphylla x I. pumila and their usefulness in MDB breeding.

I. aphylla crossed with I. pumila produces fertile hybrids having a chromosome configuration that is compatible with SDBs. The MDB Velvet Toy (Dunbar, 1972) is an early example of such a hybrid. We might also include Ben Hager’s MDBs from his aphylla-derived MTBs crossed with I. pumila as another variation on this basic type, although the MTBs have tall bearded and border bearded ancestry as well as I. aphylla.

 I. aphylla x I. pumila

My own aphylla x pumila seedling, S006-01, is an interesting little plant. The flowers are purple and not particularly distinctive, but the plant is quite small, at around five inches in height. It also has a unique branching pattern. It has basal branching inherited from I. aphylla. The branch and the main stem are of equal height, and each is topped with a double-budded socket. The four buds open successively, so there is only one flower open at a time. This seems to me a very desirable trait to introduce into MDBs, but so far none of its seedlings have inherited it.

I have bloomed a number of seedlings from SDB Eye of theTiger’ (Black, 2008) X S006-01. They were a carnival of different colors and patterns, but unfortunately, none had the daintiness I was looking for. This spring, seven years after I made the cross, a straggler bloomed that seems genuinely small and MDB-sized. I will keep an eye on it in coming seasons.

Eye of the Tiger X S006-01

Realizing that I probably should be crossing this seedling with small MDBs rather than SDBs, I used Dollop of Cream(Black, 2006) and ‘Icon’ (Keppel, 2008) for the next round.

The ‘Dollop of Cream’ seedlings had fairly nice form, some blue, some white. They bloomed near the boundary of the MDB and SDB classes, but I am hoping they may settle out on the smaller side when grown in normal garden conditions. I kept a blue one with small flowers to evaluate further.

Seedlings from 'Dollop of Cream' X S006-01

The ‘Icon’ seedlings are more exciting color-wise, in various shades of orchid with deeply saturated spot patterns and dark blue beards. I describe the color as “juicy”. Sadly, they produced hardly any pollen, and I couldn’t really test them as pod parents because they bloom earlier than anything else except the pure I. pumilas. I did get a scant 8 seeds from sib-crossing two of them, so we shall see. Again, height is rather marginal, near the boundary between MDBs and SDBs. I’m keeping them all in hopes that they may produce more pollen in the future.

Icon X S006-01

I do believe my I. aphylla x I. pumila seedling has the potential to bring me toward my goal of a line of true-breeding MDBs. I have seeds from it crossed with Self Evident (Hager, 1997) and Miniseries (Keppel, 2011).  And it will also be interesting to take this one more generation further and see what emerges.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Spring Beginnings in Australia

by Mel and Bailey Schiller

Harvest Moon over a field of irises

A wonderful sight is the September Harvest Moon in Australia: September 29th 2023. Lighting the way for the next 6 months will be extra daylight that helps us get our chores completed. We give thanks and show gratitude for each of you that join our family on our bearded iris journey. We wish you all fulfillment and happiness in your lives as we enter the summer months in Australia.

Bloom season has started strong and early for us down under. Dwarf bearded irises have been blooming for the last 3-4 weeks. Over the last week or so the taller classes have started blooming as well. 

Miniature dwarf bearded iris 'Ribbit' (Johnson, 2020)

Opening on the first day of Spring was probably the best formed and most interesting miniature dwarf bearded iris we grow: the green-toned beauty 'Ribbit.' A fantastic grower and reliable bloomer, it has been a joy to grow since we imported it into Australia in 2020. 

Miniature Dwarf bearded iris 'Twinkle Little Star' (Black, 2020)

Following closely was another miniature dwarf; 'Twinkle Little Star'. This iris has been a very good performer for us since we imported it. Generally, dwarf varieties don't perform very well for us here in South Australia. Our Winters don't get cold enough for these little irises to truly thrive. Yet, we persist because we think they are absolutely adorable. We have also been hybridizing dwarf iris and selecting for those that perform well in our climate. 

Standard dwarf iris' Tallica' (Blyth, 2015)

Another iris blooming right at the beginning of Spring was 'Tallica.' Although this Australian-bred standard dwarf has never reached its registered height for us, it is a fantastic performer in our gardens. As you can see by the photo, it puts on a wonderful display!

Standard Dwarf bearded iris 'Done Me Wrong' (Baumunk, 2009)

'Done Me Wrong' is not the greatest performer in our climate. However, we love the look of large beards on a dwarf iris, so it gets to stay around. It is always very early and one of the first standard dwarfs to bloom.

Intermediate bearded iris 'Plasma' (Blyth, 2007)

Although not registered as a rebloomer, 'Plasma' has been a reliable rebloomer in our garden since we first acquired it. It has bloomed sporadically over Autumn and Winter and sent up its first Spring stems last week. Very popular with garden visitors, you can see why!

Intermediate bearded iris 'Lumistreak' (Black, 2022)

Imported last year from America, intermediate bearded iris 'Luminstreak' is proving to be an overachiever, blooming in its first Australian Spring. Normally, imported varieties only bloom in their second or third Spring, once they acclimate to our conditions. 

Miniature tall bearded iris 'Tic Tac Toe' (Johnson, 2010)

The best performing miniature tall bearded iris that we grow, 'Tic Tac Toe' always puts on a spectacular display. Most years it also blooms quite heavily in Autumn. 

Miniature tall bearded iris 'Say Red' (Craig, 2008)

'Say Red' is quite a vigorous bloomer for us, and it has been difficult to grow a decent clump. We have yet to have any success in using it in our hybridizing.

Arilbred iris (OGB+) 'Emerald Fantasy' (Tate by Shepard, 1983)

We absolutely adore the dramatic arilbred 'Emerald Fantasy.' If only this colour and pattern could be replicated in tall bearded irises. The arilbreds are a bit behind this year, normally starting to bloom at the beginning of September. We don't mind though--as there is more choice of iris to hybridize with!

Arilbred iris (OGB) 'Zizah' (Rich, 1983)

'Zizah' was the first arilbred to bloom this Spring, we almost didn't notice it as the stems are quite short. A classic colour combination in arilbreds, stunning!

Border bearded iris 'Stegosaurus' (Sutton, 2012)

'Stegosaurus' is the first border bearded iris to bloom each year. We love the unusual hard spikes along the edge of the standards. We have tried using it in our hybridizing with limited success. It is a very difficult parent but will occasionally set a pod. 

Border bearded iris 'Smiling Bright' (Ryks, 2020)

Close behind 'Stegosaurus' is the South Australian hybrid 'Smiling Bright'. A fantastic grower and increaser, it puts on a massive display of flowers each Spring. It makes quite a statement!

Blyth seedling A157-A:(X262-X:(Early Encounter sib) X Kiss The Princess)

Barry is known for breeding extremely early tall bearded varieties and this is one the earliest to date. Starting to bloom at the very beginning of Spring, it is probably not suitable for many American gardens but is perfect for us here in Australia. Late bloomers tend to burn in our hot Australian sun, so Barry worked on extending our season out in the other direction. This seedling has passed all the checks and will be introduced next year. 

Tall bearded iris 'Zofonic Dancer' (Schiller, 2022)

This one of Mel's introductions, 'Zofonic Dancer,' has been blooming since the end of July. We aren't sure if we should characterize this as extremely early Spring bloom or a late rebloom, as this variety has never rebloomed for us in the past. Nevertheless, it has put up more stems since Spring has started and will probably be in bloom for at least another month. 

Bloom season is exciting as we wander our field and garden with child-like awe, excitement, and exhilaration. Checking for new blooms, being reminded of varieties long forgotten about, and (of course) enjoying the new varieties that have been imported. We look for pollen and dream of what could be or should be---dreams that one day will come to fruition. Bearded iris season is the best!

Happy Gardening!