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The Iris That Lost Its Name

by Clarence Mahan, VA
Louis Van Houtte's nursery introduced SANS SOUCI in Belgium in 1854. Soon after it was imported into the United States SANS SOUCI became confused with another iris, namely HONORABILE, which was introduced in Paris in 1840 by Jean-Niclas Lémon. SANS SOUCI is still grown all over North America and even wins top awards in iris shows, but it is almost always identified as HONORABILE. If the iris you are growing as HONORABILE has yellow standards and "elegantly reticulated crimson-brown falls" you are probably growing SANS SOUCI. The true HONORABILE has solid red-violet falls that appear "rich mahogany-brown." How do I know this? Let me tell you. iris sans souciFirst, the 1916 edition of Rev. C.S. Harrison's Manuel on the Iris has a list of the names and descriptions of iris cultivars prepared by one of America's pioneer iris growers and sellers, Mrs. Jennet Dean of Moneta, California. This list includes both HONORABILE and SANS SOUCI. HONORABILE, identified by its synonym "Honorabilis" on Mrs. Dean's list, was described as an iris with yellow standards and "rich mahogany-brown" falls. Mrs. D [...]

The Iris Legend

by Dora Wall ~ Reprinted from AISB #196, January 1970.
If there existed somewhere in the world a tapestry into which were woven all the stories, legends, beliefs, symbols and facts concerning the Iris - it would be a very long tapestry indeed; and the end of it would not be visible, for the weavers are still at work. Surely, somewhere near the beginning of this tapestry there would be a rainbow; somewhere also a lovely Goddess clad in multi-colored robes, wearing a nimbus and displaying golden wings, would appear; Then there would be depicted Knights, Kings, Pyramids, mountains, streams, meadows, rooftops, and all manner of people. The colors of the tapestry would range from somber to gaudy; and the shapes of the flower embossed throughout would vary greatly - though always one would see three petals reaching up and three arching down. We owe the name of our flower to the Greeks. Among their deities, who dwelt on Mt. Olympus, was one called Iris. She was the special messenger of Hera, the Queen Goddess. When Iris carried special messages from Heaven to Earth, she used the rainbows as her pathway. There are many stories about how the flower came to bear the name of the Goddess. It is certain that the Ancients believed the flower to be especially loved and endowed by the Gods. [...]

Iris from New Zealand

The surprising story of a new chapter in iris breeding from the far-off Antipodes By Robert Schreiner, OR
Fortunate breaks in hybridizing rarely occur. But, at some time during experimentation, if the breeder keeps at it diligently enough, a mutation or break comes up which adds something distinctly new and exciting to the floral pattern. Such an event took place twelve years ago in the tiny iris garden of Mrs. Jean Stevens, far down in the Antipodes below Capricorn in Wanganui, New Zealand. At that time the first white and yellow bicolor flowered. This started an entirely new color pattern in iris which is now ready for circulation. The story of the development of this brilliant group of iris is really the story of Mrs. Stevens. More than 5,000 miles from her nearest contemporary breeder she carried on her 14-year program alone, until she finally won over her shrub-growing husband. For parent material Mrs. Stevens used early iris importations from England, including the varieties put on the market by W. R. Dykes of Cambridge. These were obtained in the early 1920's, about the same time American growers began importing improved strains from England and France to our gardens here. iris pinnacle Pinnacle, Stevens 1945 T [...]

Irises Raised and Named by Arthur John Bliss

Notes by Ethel Anson S. Peckham
It would be no exaggeration to say that, of all iris breeders, Mr. Arthur John Bliss did as much to improve irises in our gardens as any other person who has hybridized and raised irises. Sir Michael Foster and Mr. W. R. Dykes did most for straightening out the tangles in botany and horticulture in this genus but their results in the line of hybridization, if compared with those of Mr. Bliss, were small when viewed from the horticultural side. One has to consider, of course, that Mr. Bliss put his time on the genetics of one section of irises and did not work over the whole genus as did Sir Michael and Mr. Dykes but it always seems to me as if Sir Michael Foster, Mr. Dykes and Mr. Bliss were the three greatest to date among those who have done anything in connection with the genus Iris. The cult had been encouraged by Mr. Barr and others and there was a certain amount of material to work with and, if we look over the older of Mr. Bliss' originations, we will notice his breeding was done with such varieties as CORDELIA, LEONIDAS, MME. CHEREAU, PRINCESS BEATRICE, ASSUERUS, QUEEN OF MAY, TROSUPERBA, PACQUITA, JACQUESIANA, DALMATICA, FLAVESCENS, albicans, THORBECKE, MAORI KING arid others. We see by this, then, that he used a plant of [...]

Irises and their Cultivation

By J.N. Gerard [pub. 1893]
There are so many species, varieties and hybrids of rhizomatous Irises in cultivation that it is impossible to give within reasonable limits of space more than mere suggestions as to those which seem most interesting for some reason, or are of special value in the garden. Considering all points, there is no group of Irises more satisfactory for general culture than the bearded ones, especially the taller forms, such as I. Germanica, I. pallida and the hybrids of various species flowers of the rarest beauty, second to no Orchid in texture, which are known as German Irises. To some is also given an added merit of being reliably hardy. They are sturdy, make clumps quickly, and among them may be found those producing large charm of fragrance. If cut as they are about to unfold they will open and will prove fairly lasting and most useful and desirable flowers for indoor arrangements. Grouped with their own foliage, there are few flowers more decorative than these Irises. i. germanicaThe first of this group to flower is I. Germanica, light and dark purple forms of whi [...]

The Hybridizer’s Corner

From Schreiner's Iris Lover's Catalog for 1954
Almost everyone who has been growing Iris for some time eventually gets the desire to try growing some from seed. There are many gardeners who would like to try their hand at hybridizing. You can do it with little trouble whether your ambition is to produce a fine new hybrid or just to see exactly what will happen when two varieties are crossed. It takes a little patience. The seed is harvested in August and planted the same fall and the seedling will sprout the following spring. It will take this seedling another full year's growth to reach flowering size. If your interest has been piqued and you feel you would like to try raising some seedlings consider first what desirable qualities you would like to see combined and then search your garden for the two best plants you consider would best qualify. The actual mechanics of applying the pollen is simple. Note the illustration of Campfire Glow on page 23 . The projecting anther is bearing a good supply of yellow pollen. This is applied on the upper side of the blue-like lip just above the anther. You will note a sort of hairy texture to this lip that is slightly sticky. Apply the pollen here. Apply on all three stigmas of a flower that has opened the same morning preferably. Then ma [...]

Historic Remontant Irises

by Clarence Mahan, Virginia 1989
Shall we ever see Autumn Sunset again? This old 'red' blend out of Rosy Wings X Rameses, registered in 1939 by E.G. Lapham, appears in the genealogy of some of our best and most dependable modern reblooming irises, such as Immortality, Earl of Essex, and Queen Dorothy. Is someone still growing it? Will someone be growing it twenty years from now? What a shame if it is lost forever. And how about Morning Splendor? Considered the most splendid dark red purple iris in existence when introduced by J. Marion Shull in 1923, it was one of the first American bred irises out of the species Iris Trojana (the renowned Lent A. Williamson was the pollen parent), won international fame and awards, and soared to the top of the popularity polls conducted by the newly formed American Iris Society. Morning Splendor did not rebloom in cold climate areas, but threw an occasional autumn stalk in warmer areas. Crossed with King Tut it produced Autumn Flame, which is in the background of such modern beauties as Corn Harvest, Harvest of Memories, Spirit of Memphis, Grace Thomas, Jennifer Rebecca, and Earl of Essex. Through another line, t [...]
New Zealanders figure prominently in the history of iris culture, exhibition, education and breeding. Many Kiwis, such as Jean Stevens, are well known; however, few people today recognize the name Sam Rix nor the irises he developed. While his iris interests ranged far and wide, Rix's contribution to the world of Louisiana irises is particularly noteworthy. The term "Louisiana iris" is a popular name for the five species of "water irises" native to the lower Mississippi Valley in the United States. Officially known as the Hexagonae series, this grouping contains these five species: I. fulva, I. giganticaerulea, I. brevicaulis, I. nelsonii, and I. hexagona--the species after which the series is named. It is from these five species that the modern hybrids have been bred. From the earliest years the irises within the Hexagonae series have appealed to iris fanciers around the world. The eminent English iris authority William R. Dykes himself produced at least two hybrids, and even citizens of the southern hemisphere found that Louisianas are quite adaptable. Residents of Australia and New Zealand encountered huge obstacles in building collections capable of sustaining breeding programs, but they did it nonetheless. No one rep [...]

Five Iris of the Year

author uncredited
These are the selections of the Association of Iris Growers of America for the five outstanding iris for 1957. They are chosen by the growers for their excellent growth habits, their known quality, and their popularity with customers. All are fairly new varieties, having been introduced within the last ten years. They have all become plentiful enough to be sold at prices within the range of the average gardener. Agus Pheasant - This rich russet brown beauty ranked sixth last year in the American Iris Society's popularity poll. It was the Dykes Medal winner in 1952. Melody Lane - Glistening golden apricot with tangerine beard; heavy substance; large; good form. It won an Award of Merit in 1952. Pinnacle - White and primrose yellow bicolor - the standards pure white and the falls yellow; good form, heavy substance, good branching. It won an Aard of Merit from the American Iris Society in 1951; was high on the popularity poll last year. Pie [...]

18 Acres of Iris

A Commercial Iris Farm - circa 1920
In 1929 John Ravel, foreman of the 'digging gang' at Bertrand Farr's Iris farm wrote this first hand account of his work at the farm. His recollections were included as an appendage to the AIS checklist, 1929. The following account is taken from this article and takes us back to what it must have been like on Mr. Farr's top class operation. John started with Mr. Farr on May 6, 1913 as a general nursery worker and worked his way up to supervisor of all iris activities. He begins by saying he knows nothing about the varieties of Mr. Farr's iris but he knows about the commercial handling of iris on a quantity scale. He claims to have "pollenized, observed, noted, trued, discarded, transplanted and handled millions of iris" in his 16 years employ. Hybridizing was usually done by Mr. Farr himself, with John and another employee assisting, functioning as a 3 person team. Mr. Farr believed in quantity and haphazard crosses. Sometimes, a whole row of an iris, say WHITE KNIGHT, was crossed with up to 100 different varieties. Seeds were collected, dried, and planted one pod to a flat, then intentionally left ou [...]
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