An Unofficial Iris Symposium
Conducted by Kenneth D. Smith, Staten Island, New York
Reprinted from BAIS April, 1940

What are the best iris in commerce today? A list of 50 or 100 varieties should be of interest to all members of the Society, but what judge could make such a list without personal prejudice and bias? Therefore, a symposium is the logical solution, and if it is made up from lists submitted by competent judges that have traveled outside of their own region and thus have had the opportunity to see the new introductions., it should be a truly representative list of the 50 best iris in commerce that year. To be of real value, such a symposium would show many of the newer varieties; otherwise, it would be a list of "old favorites," which would be of value to no one.

With that idea in mind I decided to conduct an "unofficial" symposium, and I therefore wrote 50 accredited judges of the Society who I knew, or had been told, had visited outside of their own regions, and I asked for a list of what they considered to be the 50 best bearded iris in commerce which they had seen, preferably in various locations, and regardless of year of introduction or color classification. This list was divided into three groups: Group 1, the best ten; Group 2, the next 20; and Group 3, the final 20. For tabulation I awarded Group 1 iris three points; Group 2, two points; and Group 3, one point.

A certain number of judges were taken from each region of the Society in order to fairly represent the country as a whole. Thirty-three cooperated and sent in lists, and, believing it of interest, I am listing those judges whose consensus of opinion the symposium represents. They are grouped according to the regions established by the society.

Region 1: Henry Butterworth, Dr. R.I. Graves, W.M. Kellogg, Mrs. Herman E. Lewis, W.J. McKee, Mrs. Thomas Nesmith, and Mrs. W.E. Tobie; Region 2: F.W. Cassebeer, Col. J.C. Nicholls, K.D. Smith, Ilse C. Smith, Robert Wayman; Region 3: S.H. Baker, 3rd, John Dolman; Region 4: J.P. Fishburn, Charles E.F. Gersdorff; Region 5: Mrs. Louise Blake; Region 6: E.G. Lapham, Mrs. Silas B. Waters, Miss Mary Williamson; Region 7: Frances Douglas, Geddes Douglas, Dr. Henry Lee Grant, J.E. Wills; Region 8: Robert Schreiner; Region 9: Dr. J Franklin Cook, David F. Hall, Mrs. Charles G. Whiting; Region 13: R.M. Cooley, Alex Maxwell; Region 14: Prof. S.B. Mitchell, C.S. Millikin, Carl Salbach.

Varieties in order of points scored# of
Grp 1
3 pts
Grp 2
2 pts
Grp 3
1 pt
 1.Wabash, (Williamson, 1936)291711174
 2.City of Lincon, (H. Sass, 1937)251112174
 3.China Maid, (Milliken, 1936)251011259
 4.Golden Treasure, (Schreiner, 1936)2396847
 5.Amigo, (Williamson, 1934)23414545
 6.Prairie Sunset, (H. Sass, 1939)15141..44
 7.Great Lakes, Cousins, 1938)1889143
 8.Junaluska, (Kirkland, 1934)2178643
 9.The Red Douglas, (J. Sass, 1937)2178643
10.Christabel, (Lapham, 1936)1878340
11.Fair Elaine, (Mitchell, 1938)1596..39
12.Radiant, (Salbach, 1936)20410638
13.Angelus, (Egelberg, 1937)1949636
14.Mount Washington, (Essig, 1937)1494136
15.Shining Waters, (Essig, 1933)1948735
16.Yellow Jewel, (K. Smith, 1939)1394..35
17.Cheerio, (Ayres, 1934)19113534
18.Gloriole, (Gage, 1933)1856734
19.Midwest Gem, (H.P. Sass, 1937)16410234
20.Exclusive, (Grant, 1937)2029933
21Sable, (Cook, 1938)1458132
22California Gold, (Mitchell, 1933)1838732
23Lighthouse, (Salbach, 1936)1747632
24Matterhorn, (J. Sass, 1938)1366131
25Naranja, (Mitchell, 1935)20191031
26Copper Lustre, (Kirkland, 1934)1554629
27Los Angeles, (Mohr-Mitchell, 1927)1554629
28E.B. Williamson, (Cook, 1937)1347228
29Ormohr, (Kleinsorge, 1937)1355328
30Rosy Wings, (Gage, 1935)1628628
31Copper Crystal, (Washington, 1938)1255227
32Sierra Blue, (Essig, 1932)1627727
33Golden Majesty, (Salbach, 1938)1146125
34Jasmania, (Ayres)1435625
35Missouri, (Grinter, 1933)1524923
36Morocco Rose, (Loomis, 1937)12..11123
37Stella Polaris, (K. Smith, 1939)871..23
38Easter Morn, (Essig, 1931)1036122
39Moonglo, (Williamson, 1935)1118221
40Snowking, (H. Sass, 1935)1217421
41Monadock, (Salbach, 1937)1026220
42White Goddess, (Nesmith, 1936)1216520
43Garden Magic, (Grinter, 1936)1017219
44Matula, (H. Sass, 1939)1033419
45Maya, (Washington, 1935)1124519
46Frank Adams, (Lapham, 1937)1214728
47Louvois, (Cayeux, 1936)1016318
48Cortez, (Nesmith, 1934)10..7317
49Marquita, (Cayeux, 1931)13121017
50Shah Jeahn, (Neel, 1932)14..31117

It is interesting to note that 30 of the 50 irises are introductions of the past four years and that only one of the older iris (Los Angeles, 1927) made the list. Again I want to stress the point that if those 33 judges had not had extensive collections in their own gardens, besides having traveled and seen the newer introductions, this symposium would have been entirely different; most likely it would have been merely a list of the older, still popular, varieties, but probably superseded by the newer introductions.

Several very competent judges were of the opinion I should have asked for a list of 100 varieties, as they believed a list of 50 did not have breadth enough to include many worthwhile varieties. I feel that if all the judges were asked to send in a list of 100, too many old-fashioned varieties would be included. A symposium should not be padded, and my suggestion would be if an official symposium were held, and it was decided to list 100 iris, that each judge would be allowed to vote for 50, but in the final tabulation, the highest 100 iris would count. From the 33 lists submitted for my symposium, some 325 different varieties were mentioned. By including the iris that received 5 or more votes with ten or more points, there are an additional 46. This total added to the original 50 would give a well-balanced, representative collection of 96. These Honorable Mention iris are as follows:

16 points - Blue Spire (7), Charlotte Millet (8), Ozone (11), Persia (11), Royal Coach (9), San Francisco (9), Song of Gold (9), Valor (8).

15 points - Cathedral Dome 98), Elsa Sass (7), Gudrun (9), May Day 97), Miss California (8), Ruth Pollack (6).

14 points - Aubanel (8), Brunhilde (10), Claribel (6), Frieda Mohr (8), Happy Days (8), Jean cayeux (13), Red Gleam (6), Snoqualmie (8).

13 points - Directeur Pinelle (8), Glen Ellen (6), Golden Bear (8), Indian Hills (6), Mme. Maurice Lassailly (7), Red Bonnet (7), The Bishop (8).

12 points - Anitra (7), At Dawning (8), Diana (6), French maid (8), Golden Hind (9), Rameses (12), seduction (8), Tiffany (6).

11 points - Depute Nomblot (7), Grace Mohr (7), Mount Cloud (7), Sandia (8), Winneshiek (7).

10 points - Chosen (5), Gallant Leader (5), Pale Moonlight (7), Treasure Island (6).

Amoenas and Variegatas are two classifications of iris that were never considered popular, yet Wabash places first, almost lapping the field, and City of Lincoln, Second. Midwestern iris dominate the first ten; yet the California iris come back strong in the second group.

One California judge, who did not send a list, wrote, "Ratings on Eastern and Mid-West productions are of no benefit to us because almost none of them grow well in this climate. Your symposium if, kept to sections of the country, might indicate the better iris for each locality at the moment; otherwise it would have no value." Yet the three California judges who sent in lists evidently did not feel the same way, for of the seven midwestern iris listed in the first ten, all three judges voted for two, and two others voted for three or more; so only two were not mentioned.

One judge remarked that the list would likely contain too many of the recent novelties; another judge wrote that his list was incomplete because the best iris he had seen were unintroduced seedlings not distributed. It is well to remember in conducting this symposium that I wanted to seek the 50 best iris in commerce, regardless of year of introduction, and it was my intention neither to list only the popular priced varieties nor those not yet available.

From correspondence I have seen, it is surprising how many members rely on information published in the Bulletin for their purchases. This is particularly true of our foreign members. Such a symposium, to be useful to them, must include the newer outstanding introductions. individual lists or comments may be biased, but a symposium such as I have undertaken reflects collective opinions and should be of special benefit in guiding beginners to know and grow the better iris.

Some favorable comments from the letters received are as follows:

"I trust that the list will help you in starting a feature of the Bulletin which should be very instructive and valuable."

"Hurrah to you for doing this work ... Such discussions of varieties would give some punch to the Bulletin ... even if the list won't be perfect, it would be an interesting thing. The more lively the discussion and hullabaloo, the more attention we can draw to our favorite flower."

"I agree with you that the scoring of iris seems to be of little value, but I do think it is interesting to group a number of them."

"I would really like to see the first article developed into a series: For instance, after the tabulation of the 50 most popular iris, there might be a separate symposium for each main color group. For instance, there might be an article on red iris ... "

"Such a tabulation ought to be of value to everyone, especially to those who are just beginning to know and grow the better iris."

Another judge wrote as follows:
"A symposium would be eminently unfair to an iris unless it gets a thorough distribution. The result would be that the newer varieties which are usually better than the old would be down at the bottom of the list and wouldn't even make the symposium because their scarcity would prevent the majority of judges from seeing them."

In an ordinary symposium that judge would be correct, but if a rule were made that in order for a judge to vote for the symposium, he must travel outside of his own region, that would remove one of the above obstacles. Also, by dividing the symposium into three classes, with a different point score for each, the newer outstanding novelties would be listed by many judges among the first ten, and so in the tabulation should be near the top. Both of these points are proved by the symposium I have just conducted.

This unofficial symposium is an experiment on my part, and I hope the members have found it of sufficient interest to request the Society to hold an official one each year.