Thursday, May 2, 2024

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Spring 2024 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 Spring 2024 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, 'Kimono Silk’ (Bauer & Coble 2008, JI) by John Bauer.

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.

Don't miss an invitation to the National Convention of The American Iris Society organized by the Greater Portland Iris Society. A description of the program and a registration form can be found on pages 10 - 13.

John Noble tells us everything we need to know about elegant and sophisticated Japanese irises in his article, Japanese Irises... Late and Large Beautiful Iris Blooms, on pages 14 - 17. 

Yet more beardless irises are presented to us by Pacific Northwest resident, Kathleen Sayce, in her article titles Trends in Pacific Coast Iris Hybrids, on pages 18 through 23. 

A fascinating story of how The W.A. Payne Medal originated, described in detail by Gary White, on pages 25 - 27. 

If you never participated in the annual symposium of TB irises, read all about it on Riley Probst article, the 2024 AIS Tall Bearded Iris Symposium on page 28.

Attention AIS Judges, don't forget to read the Changelog for the Handbook for Judges, Edition 8.23, on pages 29 - 31.

And... Attention Hybridizers, AIS Registrar, Janis Shakelford gives us instructions on how to use the fairly new iris registration system, on Attention Hybridizers: How to Register An Iris, on pages 32 through 35.

There's so much more on this issue. Don't miss it!


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 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!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Growing Irises Out East: Celebrating New Milestones

 by Heather and Alleah Haley

Heather's husband, Chris, once told her, "You can grow all of the irises you want if you can make money doing it." Four years after launching our backyard nursery operation, Heather is pleased to share, "We pulled it off!" Our multi-generational iris obsession produced a tiny net profit for the Broley Homestead at the end of 2023. Full disclosure: the effort yielded pennies per hour when all our time was fully accounted for. This is common for new farm enterprises, and we are pleased to celebrate profitability as a small business milestone. It gives us hope that maintaining an half-acre iris collection will be financially sustainable. 

In 2023 we took irises to our local farmers market for the first time.

The labels we use for potted irises in the spring are equally useful for bare-root rhizome sales in the fall

We continue to expand the number of community events and public plant sales we take irises to. Earlier this month, Alleah and Heather traveled to Laurel Hill, North Carolina, for an invited presentation to the Cottonland Garden Club. The presentation "Irises in the Garden: A Month-by-Month Calendar" was inspired by a question asked while Heather and Alleah volunteered at our local Cooperative Extension office. Another volunteer asked a deceptively simple question: "How do I care for my irises?" At the time, the best answer the mother-daughter duo could come up with was "It depends."

Alleah labeling bearded irises in July

Chris dividing beardless irises in September.

Irises are a relatively low-maintenance perennial, but they do require care. Our gardens are home to a curated collection of 1,200 named cultivars that span 15 of the 16 horticultural classifications recognized by the American Iris Society. What we do and when varies greatly depending on the quirks and preferences of each plant type. Having a knack for organization and creating educational materials, Heather crafted a region-specific, month-by-month calendar outlining the method to our madness. We have given this presentation several times to local libraries, and patrons say they loved it. Recently, Heather was invited to present the calendar program for our local AIS affiliate and the Cooperative Extension group that initially inspired the program. It will be an honor to finally share our best possible answer on a vast topic.

Volunteer work helps our business live its purpose: to preserve, support, and sustain. We thoroughly enjoy sharing our passion and love of irises with the public. Alleah, Chris, and Heather share personal commentary and stories about the plants, and customers seem to appreciate our insight. The following are some varietal notes about the top ten sellers for the Broley Homestead during 2023. 

'Dusky Challenger' (Schreiner, 1986)

In tenth place is a garden rockstar: 'Dusky Challenger'. The first time Heather entered an iris show, she brought a stem of this with her. The show was held in a mall; and while transporting her blue ribbon entry back to the car, several people wanted to buy the stalk. 

When we say this iris is a rockstar, we mean it! 'Dusky Challenger' won the American Dykes Medal in 1992. In 25 of the past 29 years, 'Dusky Challenger' was voted #1 as the favorite iris in Tall-bearded Iris Symposium voting. Alleah believes we could sell every rhizome of this iris we could grow; it's that good. 'Dusky Challenger', "probable child of the . . . famous 'Titan's Glory' (Schreiner '81), has all the outstanding qualities with more intense, deeper color saturation and even better, more highly refined form." [Perry Dyer, writing in the IRISES Bulletin No. 263 (October 1986)]. When she lived in California, Alleah routinely gave iris rhizomes to her coworkers. She rarely could convince folks to keep the irises name-labeled, but "the near-black one," be it 'Titan's Glory' or 'Dusky Challenger', increased so much with regular horse manure fertilizing that one recipient couple had it blooming all over their three-acre rural property in just a few years. 

'Bermuda Triangle' (Anna and David Cadd, 2000)

In ninth place in sales was 'Bermuda Triangle', a space-age border bearded (SA BB). While the general public tends to be somewhat reluctant to buy "novelty irises," 'Bermuda Triangle', with its horns at the ends of the beards, is a vigorous grower with a striking color pattern. It won an Award of Merit for border bearded irises from AIS judges in 2006. This award honors the top 1% of irises introduced during the previous three to five years. 

Broley Homestead is pleased to distribute this introduction of Alleah's close friends, Anna and David Cadd of Healdsburg, California, even more widely. 'Bermuda Triangle' increases well and thrives in the North Carolina climate. Although our peers on the East Coast often say that irises from the West Coast don't do well, this hasn't been our experience. It certainly isn't the case for this eye-catching median selection or many others purchased from or gifted by our West Coast friends.

Again and Again (Sterling Innerst, 1999)

In eighth place was reliable rebloomer (RE) 'Again and Again', a tall bearded (TB) iris. Our customers are really surprised when we tell them that some irises can bloom twice, both spring and fall; so reblooming is a strong selling feature. However, we like to share with customers that rebloom behavior requires both a genetic trait and favorable cultural conditions. When most irises are resting in the summer, a rebloomer is firing up for another round of bloom. Gardeners who provide nutrients and water to rebloomers in the summer are more likely to enjoy bloom again in the fall. 

'Stairway to Heaven(Lauer, 1993)

'Stairway to Heaven' placed seventh among our 2023 sales. This iris won the American  Dykes Medal in 2000. It tended to rebloom in California, mainly when grown under a nighttime security light, as Alleah did at her workplace. It isn't known to rebloom in North Carolina. One of Heather's friends planted it under the porch light at her back door, but this may not provide enough wattage to prompt rebloom. We can hardly wait to situate some West Coast rebloomers under a security light to see if we can get rebloom here.

'Sicilian Orange' (Michael Sutton, 2016)

Sixth place 'Sicilian Orange', also a TB, grabs public attention, whether in the garden or in a photograph accompanying the plant at an iris sale. The striking combination of deep orange and wine in this bitone is delightful. It won an Honorable Mention in 2018 and an Award of Merit in 2022, and is under consideration as an iris that deserves two (or more) growing spaces in our production field. We don’t have any pots of ‘Sicilian Orange’  available for 2024 because we sold every extra rhizome we had of this variety last fall. 

'Sharp Dressed Man' (Thomas Johnson, 2010)

'Sharp Dressed Man,' in fifth place, is a child of the 2010 American Dykes Medal winner 'Paul Black', and bears a similar but perhaps even more stunning red beard than that of its parent. It absolutely screams, "Look at me!" For those who appreciate irises that share names with song titles, this one is sure to make their list. This tall bearded iris forms impressive clumps with many increases in our production field and consistently produces bloom stalks we enjoy taking to spring iris shows. As you might expect, American Iris Society judges consistently cast votes for this one. 'Sharp Dressed Man' won the highest award specific to tall bearded irises, the John C. Wister medal, in 2016.

'Immortality' (Lloyd Zurbrigg, 1982)

Fourth place 'Immortality' (TB RE) is one of the most reliable rebloomers wherever we've seen it growing. Its hybridizer Lloyd Zurbrigg focused on breeding reblooming irises and 'Immortality' was one of his most successful introductions. Alleah recalls reading an account that 'Immortality' bloomed during five months one year in one garden. Our customers certainly picked a good one here! The pure-white self pattern coordinates well with other iris colors and patterns making it a wonderful addition to any iris collection.

'Gypsy Lord' (Keith Keppel 2006)

'Gypsy Lord,' was our third most frequently sold iris and is another striking American Dykes Medal winner, this time in 2015. Its red, white, and blue color combination has been a somewhat elusive goal of iris breeders, brought to fruition here by the highly honored hybridizer Keith Keppel. The red-orange beards against the white center and mostly blue falls quickly catch the attention of customers. Keith's creations won the American Iris Society's top award, the Dykes Medal, eight times over the period, 2004 - 2021. Except for 2021 when two Dykes Medals were awarded to make up for no awards at all during Covid year 2020, only one iris has been awarded the American Dykes Medal each year since 1927, and it was not given in several years for various reasons. 

'Carved Pumpkin' (George Sutton, 2012)

'Carved Pumpkin', an intermediate bearded (IB) iris, was our second highest seller. This iris increases well, so we had many pots and rhizomes to sell. Our cousin Wendy loves the color orange and, like the public, she is attracted to any iris featuring orange coloration. The color of iris blossoms is influenced by soil pH. Try increasing this by adding bone meal or decreasing pH by adding acid fertilizer such as azalea/camellia food to see which intensifies flower pigment.

'Titan's Glory' (Schreiner, 1981)

'Titan's Glory', another American Dykes Medal winner, this time in 1988, was our overall best seller in 2023. Like many of the Dykes winners, this tall bearded iris is a vigorous grower and produces many increases in our garden. The original Schreiner’s catalog described it as "a fantastically sumptuous silken Bishop’s purple self," and it is. 

We often wonder if Perry Dyer was correct in his assertion that 'Titan’s Glory' was one of the unknown parents of  'Dusky Challenger'. Genomic testing for irises is possible, and we know scientists in laboratories who could help. However, the price-per-sample is rather high and we would need to sell many more irises than we do now to absorb the cost.

For 2024, we continue trying new things and sharing the joy of irises. Heather spent the winter upgrading the Broley Homestead website, and Chris engineered new protective structures to transport plants to market. Alleah has been hard at work creating metal labels for guest irises at three gardens near us. All hard work, but each new milestone is cause for celebration.

Thank you to all who have helped us learn and grow. 

New website categories make navigation much easier  

Utility trailer upgrades help us get irises to market

Monday, March 11, 2024

Stamp Out Binomial Abuse!

 by Tom Waters

It is said that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. One manifestation of that pervasive truth is slapping botanical names onto plants where they don't belong. Is it perhaps the urge to seem erudite, or the mistaken notion (propagated in school biology classes), that every organism has a species name, or just unthinking propagation of error, dripping down through the years?

'Absolute Treasure'
Please don't call me I. germanica

I present a list of the four types of irises often identified incorrectly with a botanical species name that does not correctly apply to them. Each of these types is a group of hybrids with ancestry from multiple species. There is no need for a botanical species designation for hybrids of complex ancestry. The tall bearded iris 'Absolute Treasure' is best described---as I have just done---with the classification and registered cultivar name. If classification is clear within context, it can be left out. If one feels more botanically inclined (as might be the case if writing for a technical publication), the correct designation is the genus name in italics, followed by the cultivar name: Iris 'Absolute Treasure'.

Identifying a hybrid with a particular species is not just annoying to those of us with a pedantic streak but can lead to real confusion. People who want to acquire actual species out of botanical interest or for hybridizing, for example, can be sent down time-wasting rabbit holes by this practice, and it is even worse when false botanical names end up in published pedigrees and official descriptions.

So, let's look at the major offenders:

1. Referring to all Siberian irises as Iris sibirica or Iris siberica. This error is reinforced, I think, because of the similarity of the classification name to the botanical name. Most Siberian iris cultivars are advanced hybrids involving I. sibirica and I. sanguinea. The 40-chromosome Siberians do not involve I. sibirica at all.

'Katharine Hodgkin'
Please don't call me I. reticulata

2. Referring to all reticulata irises as Iris reticulata. Yes, there is a species, I. reticulata, sold in the bulb trade and grown in gardens. However, the horticultural group known as reticulata irises includes hybrids and cultivars from a range of species, including I. histrio, I. histrioides, and I. bakerana. Many of Alan McMurtrie's colorful recent hybrids involve I. danfordiae and I. sophenensis. Once again, I think the fact that the common name for the whole group ("reticulata irises") is so similar to the species name I. reticulata is largely to blame for the confusion.

3. Referring to all dwarf bearded irises as Iris pumila. Although the species I. pumila is important in the background of modern dwarf bearded irises, most cultivars are advanced-generation hybrids involving I. pumila and tall bearded iris cultivars in various combinations. Modern standard dwarf bearded (SDB) and miniature dwarf bearded (MDB) irises are far removed indeed from the species. I think part of the problem is that pumila is the Latin word for "dwarf," so people who are not botanically knowledgeable believe they can just translate the term "dwarf iris" to Iris pumila.

Please don't call me I. pumila

4. Referring to all tall bearded irises, or sometimes even all bearded irises of any type, as Iris germanica. Tall bearded irises are advanced-generation hybrids involving many species, most prominently I. pallida, I. variegata, and various tetraploid plants from the Eastern Mediterranean, such as I. mesopotamica. Botanists have differing views about how to apply the name I. germanica, which is unfortunate since it is the type species for the genus Iris. The plant given this name by Linnaeus is a natural hybrid of the intermediate bearded (IB) type. The approach taken by Warburton and Hamblen in The World of Irises is to regard this as a cultivar, not a species (thus 'Germanica'), and to avoid using the term I. germanica entirely. On the other hand, Mathew in The Iris broadens the term to encompass an assortment of similar plants, including many identified as distinct species, such as I. cypriana, I. trojana, and I. mesopotamica. Even taken in this broad sense, however, I. germanica does not include the modern tall bearded hybrids. Given the confusion around using this species name, the best practice is to avoid it in favor of more specific designations for particular plants and populations. Sadly, the use of I. germanica for tall bearded hybrids has become entrenched through generations of misuse, and it is continued unthinkingly by nurseries worldwide.

As a final aside, names that look like species binomials are sometimes used for groups of hybrids. For example, hybrids of I. domestica and I. dichotoma are referred to as Iris ´norrisii, and Iris ´hollandica may be used for Dutch Irises. Note that the "´" is a necessary part of these names. Furthermore, the Latin name for the hybrid group should never be identical to the name of some particular species.

Be wary of these widespread but incorrect uses of botanical names. They not only make it difficult to identify plants correctly but also add to a general confusion concerning the hybrid nature of popular groups of garden irises.

Monday, February 26, 2024

The 1922 Conference

by Sylvain Ruaud

Anyone familiar with the history of iridophilia knows that it originated in France in the early 19th century.

The first cultivated variety of iris, by Mr. de Bure, dates back to 1822, and it was this event that gave
Philippe de Vilmorin the idea for a world conference on irises. At the time, Philippe de Vilmorin was a
leader in the iris world. He was a flamboyant figure whose presence and activity, as well as his work as a plant breeder, gave him unquestionable authority. The idea of an international conference dates back to 1914. Philippe de Vilmorin had his project submitted to the SNHF's Floriculture Committee by his loyal partner Séraphin Mottet, the man who actually carried out the cross-breeding his employer had imagined, but of course, although the project seemed attractive to everyone, events prevented it from coming to fruition. It wasn't until 1921 that the same Séraphin Mottet, still devoted to his late boss, revived the project. The year 1922 seemed an appropriate one to convene the proposed conference, as it was the centenary of the appearance of the first cultivated variety of iris.

France had thus been the cradle of garden irises, but since M. de Bure's initiatives, things had changed
dramatically: first Great Britain, then the United States, had followed in France's footsteps, and even in
America, the iris phenomenon had already grown to such an extent that France's position was quite
reduced, the war having interrupted the work of our hybridizers, while those in America had continued
their research and, as a result, taken the lead over their European colleagues. The idea of putting our
country back in the competition, by placing it at the origin of an original and prestigious initiative, was
bound to be a hit with French horticultural and botanical authorities. So Philippe de Vilmorin and
Séraphin Mottet's project took shape. An ad hoc committee was set up within the SNHF (Société
Nationale d'Horticulture de France) to take charge. It decided that the conference:
- should be international;
- should cover all known and cultivated categories of iris;
- would bring together the most eminent specialists, who would contribute with papers and materials;
- a plenary session would be held in Paris in the spring of 1922.

The Conference was enthusiastically supported by the world's leading Iridophiles, i.e. the English and
Americans, since at the time the Germans were in disgrace and other countries had not yet been hit by the wave of Iridophilia. Among the foreigners who answered "yes" to the French proposal were Arthur Bliss, William Dykes, Alice Harding, Amos Perry and George Yeld for Great Britain, and Grace Sturtevant and John Wister for the USA. On the French side, the most prominent participants were Messrs D. Bois, F. Cayeux, F. Denis, L. Millet, S. Mottet, A. Nomblot, A. Nonin, J. Pinelle, M. Turbat and the de Vilmorin family.

The Conference Board was appointed in November 1921 and comprised Messrs Bois, Chairman, Dykes
and Wister, Honorary Chairmen, Cayeux and de Vilmorin, Vice-Chairmen, Guillaumin, Mottet and
Pinelle, Secretaries, and Millet, Vice-Secretary. These were the most important people in the iris world at the time.

The plenary session took place on May 27, 1922 at the SNHF headquarters in Paris. The discussions were lively and interesting, with the French not always in agreement with their English-speaking colleagues, but a consensus was reached on all the subjects debated. In particular, it was decided that the Americans would be responsible for registering the names and characteristics of all varieties appearing in the world.

They still exercise this prerogative, and it has become an essential function. Of course, all participants then went to the major nurseries in the Paris region to admire the new varieties of Messrs Cayeux, Millet, Nonin and Vilmorin (1). It's worth noting that the flowering season was a little later then than it is today, when irises bloom a fortnight earlier.

The proceedings of this conference were recorded in a book entitled "Les Iris Cultivés", published by the SNHF in 1923.

It was a great event, but had no immediate follow-up. The Commission des Iris was not active again until 1927. The Conference itself never met again until the International Congress in Orleans, once again organized by French irisarians, in 1978, and even then our American colleagues didn't show much interest in this event, so it didn't have the impact of the 1922 Conference, which remains a unique event in the iris world. It's true that these days it's not necessarily necessary to bring everyone together. Exchanging messages or holding a videoconference can achieve the same result! Nevertheless, a meeting between colleagues from all over the world would be of irreplaceable human interest.
(1) The novelties of 1922 are few and not among the most interesting:

At Ferdinand Cayeux, the only one of any renown was the superb dark garnet 'Peau Rouge'; but 1922 also saw the launch of 'Jean Chevreau', a brown plicata on a cream ground, and 'Le Grand Ferré', an unusual tawny-brown color. At Armand Millet, visitors were able to admire 'Simone Vaissière', a remarkable aniline-blue amoena, while at Auguste Nonin the star of the year was 'Odette Olivet', a bright pink single color tinged with lilac. As for Vilmorin, still reeling from the death of its brilliant owner, 1922 was not the best year for them, and the two registered varieties, 'Thésée' and 'Timothée', left no trace.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Sometimes it takes a village to push you over the goal line!

by Gary Salathe

This story is about a modest Louisiana iris restoration project that my non-profit, the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), took on in 2021, how it grew a little in 2022, and then exploded this winter into the largest project we have ever done. 

This is a cautionary tale for those who think that when an unexpected opportunity presents, you MUST take it. You'll see how, in the end, I was glad we did, but between the idea stage, the commitment stage, and the end stage, there were numerous times when my small core group of volunteers seriously questioned whether to continue. However, at each of these times another group would appear and volunteer to help, thus encouraging us to push forward to the goal line.

Sneak preview:  At the end of the six-week effort, we had rescued and replanted 9,400 Louisiana irises. Yes, that's nine-thousand-four-hundred individual iris plants!


This photo from January 2021 shows the first irises being planted into the iris bog project in Fontainebleau State Park near Mandeville, Louisiana. We had to hand clear some bushes and brush to make space available for the irises to grow. 

The project started when I discovered a swampy area near the picnic pavilions in Fontainebleau State Park just outside Mandeville, Louisiana. It looked like a great place to plant some of the LICI's rescued irises.

I thought it fit well with our program to have native wild irises growing in public areas so that the blooming irises could be viewed by the public. This would further our goal of raising awareness of this beautiful native Louisiana plant. The iris bog would also be a place for the irises to multiply independently without any maintenance. They would then be available to be thinned out in the future for use in other iris restoration projects inside and outside of the park.


As the video above shows, by 2022, the iris bog was doing so well that it moved up to the #8 spot on our ranking of places to see native irises blooming in southeast Louisiana.

The video also shows an area on the right where we had not cleared the brush by hand because the ground level was so high that it was unlikely the irises would do well. Instead, we planted a few hundred more irises in the bog during the winter of 2022 to fill up the last areas that held standing water most of the year.

We expected a very nice bloom in the bog in the spring of 2023, so it moved up in the 2023 ranking to the #4 spot. However, a late freeze knocked back many flower buds, and we had a disappointing bloom.

 This photo was taken within a day of a hard freeze that caused the flower buds to wilt, fall over, and die.

Then something interesting happened. The park manager was promoted, moved on, and was replaced by an intern park manager who was very interested in the whole iris ranking thing. When I told him that his iris bog was ranked #4 in the state as a place to see native irises blooming, he shocked me by replying, "Well, we'll need to do something about that!" He asked me if he cleared out the area of brush on the right side of the bog and lowered the ground level, would we fill up the space with irises? I told him we would try our best, but it all depended on how many irises we rescued later that year.

Then something else happened. We had been putting multiple postings on Facebook about the iris bog and how we now needed to rescue many more irises to fill this new space. We received a message through Facebook messenger from someone who read the postings that directed us to a remote area of the park that she thought held thousands and thousands of these irises. I was skeptical but located the pond in question, and sure enough, there were likely tens of thousands of irises growing along its bank! (The video above shows only one of the areas of irises growing along the pond's shoreline.)

I found a 20-foot high dam holding in the pond's water. It allows the pond to be well above the water level of a nearby bayou, which connects to Lake Pontchartrain.  We figured out that because of the pond being at a higher elevation, the pond and its irises had escaped for years, maybe even decades, from being hit with saltwater storm surges flowing up the bayou from the lake due to the hurricanes or tropical storms regularly hitting or brushing past the area.  The dam and height of the pond protected the irises and created what we now call the Jurassic Park of Irises!

We were all set to start planning how to collect about 2,000 irises, once we had permission to do so, from a drainage way where they were interfering with water getting into the pond. We believed it would only be a matter of time before the park's maintenance crew would come with equipment to clean the out drainage way.

 Since the very beginning of our planting irises in the bog, we only had about 40% of the bog available to us. A more significant portion of the bog, seen in the distance, was covered in brush and trees that were 10 feet tall.

Then something else happened. A new manager was hired. After giving her some time to settle in, I called her to see if we could meet at the iris bog so I could fill her in on its history and what we had been discussing with the intern manager before he left.

During the on-site meeting, she asked why we were only interested in clearing the small area on the right side of the bog of brush when there was so much other available land that was part of the bog that could be cleaned up, too.  I replied that I thought it was the largest area of the bog that the park's crew would be willing to clear.

She called me about two weeks after our meeting and asked if we could meet at the iris bog again. She said the ground was dry and hard because of the drought the area had been experiencing, "so we cleared out a little more of an area than what we had talked about," she told me.

Fontainebleau State Park Manager Jennifer Wallace during the meeting when she showed me that her crew had cleared the entire bog.

It turns out that while she was home sick for three days, her maintenance crew thought they would surprise her by clearing the entire bog that didn't have any irises growing in it. As I stood there with her, looking out over the great expanse of newly cleared land and trying to get my head around it, I muttered, "How much of this can we plant irises in?" Her response was very simple, but it took a while for it to sink in. "You can plant the whole thing!" she replied.

So, seeing an opportunity that might never come again and knowing that I had the irises to do it in the bag, so to speak, but they all needed to be dug up first from the Jurassic Park of Irises, I started rallying the troops to see if it was even possible to pull this whole thing off.

The offers started coming in to help once I had contacted every group that had helped us in the past at the park

Unfortunately, the first winter rains ended the drought before we could plant the first iris. It filled the entire bog with water, making it almost impossible to plant any irises since their rhizomes float. After discussing this with the park manager, she had her maintenance crew install a 4" pipe under the driveway that acted as the bog's dam so that we could drain the bog. 

After another volunteer and I dug up a trailer full of irises from the Jurassic Park of Irises, the US Coast Guard's Chief Petty Officer's Guard's association planted them the next day. (Photo above.)  They planted an impressive number of irises, but they had hardly put a dent in the space we needed to fill. It was clear this would require an eating an elephant approach; "one bite at a time." 

The next day, volunteers from the St. Tammany Master Gardeners Association and workers from Gulf Corps/Limitless Vistas dug up additional irises from the rescue site. We collected quite a haul of irises with this increased number of volunteers.

Two days later, with the threat of severe thunderstorms coming, a group that included people from the community, Wild Ones - a native plant group, and once again members of the St. Tammany Master Gardeners Association, got all of the irises planted. The last iris went into the ground 30 minutes before the storms hit!

But there were still wide-open areas of the bog that needed planting. Around this time my core LICI volunteers and I were starting to get worn out, and we began to quietly question if we had bitten off more than we could chew.


Then something happened. The big guns came to the rescue! Our friends at the non-profit Common Ground Relief hosted 22 student volunteers and their leaders from Saint Paul's Catholic Student Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They were in New Orleans for a week of habitat restoration work. Common Ground Relief then included our Fontainebleau State Park iris restoration project for two days the group would be in town.

They dug up an incredible 5,000 irises from the Jurassic Park of Irises on the first day. (Shown above in the video.)  Then, equally unbelievable, they planted every last of them the next day! (Shown below.) 


Now we were making progress and filled up all the available space in the newly enlarged iris bog. 

Well, almost all of it. When we first started, one of the park's maintenance guys asked us to leave a 30-foot-wide strip from side to side through the center of the iris bogs. He explained that they had talked about extending a driveway along one side through the gap in the irises. Since the park manager was out of town and we were not able to discus it with her, we decided to leave the 30' strip without planting any irises in it.

Just as we were finishing up multiple days of patting ourselves on the back for pulling off what seemed impossible, the park manager came back into town and was shocked to see a 30' wide gap in the middle of her iris bog! She called us, saying that no driveway extension was needed, and asked if we could fill the space with irises. We were able to put together one last group to do the job. 


We did an iris rescue two weeks later and a planting event the following day at our Nicholls State University Project using workers from the Louisiana Conservation Corps. We ended up with 2,200 irises left over because the planting was slow due to the soil's clay content. So, on the third day, we took the irises to Fontainebleau State Park, and with the last iris they planted, they filled up the 30' wide gap! (Photo above)


We plugged up the 4" drain pipe a week ago, and most of the bog is now holding water, as we had planned, to keep the weeds and brush from coming back.

This addition of the last 2,200 irises and the 7,200 Louisiana irises the other volunteers had planted over the previous six weeks meant that we had planted an incredible 9,400 irises this season into the bog! It's safe to say it is now completely full of irises. These irises have been added to what were likely 2,500 irises growing in the bog we had planted since the project started in 2020. That means there are now almost 12,000 irises growing in the bog!

The iris bog in Fontainebleau State Park was ranked #4 in our 2023 list of places to see native irises blooming in south Louisiana. We are curious if the irises we planted this year will bloom in a few months because we planted many very late in the season. However, we won't be surprised if enough bloom it will move up to the #3 spot this year and to the #1 or #2 spot in 2025. 

We are so thankful for receiving all the help needed to complete the job! Here is a list of groups where the volunteers came from with links to some of their Facebook pages or websites that we would like to thank:

We'd also like to thank the staff members of Fontainebleau State Park who prepared the site and helped us drain it when it flooded before we could plant the irises. We appreciate the visit, remarks, and thanks given to one of the volunteer groups by Jennifer Viator, state-wide Interpretive Ranger for the Louisiana Department of State Parks, and Fontainebleau State Park Interpretive Ranger Stephanie Huber.   And, of course, a big "Thank You" goes out to Fontainebleau State Park manager Jennifer Wallace.
 Sometimes, it takes a village to push you over the goal line!
Information on the species of Louisiana iris that were planted can be found here:
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Although LICI is a "bare-bones deal", as I like to say, I'm" quick to add t" because we can always use i'mnations for our cause. We have a "Donate" button at the top of our website's homepage.