Monday, November 20, 2017

Growing Pacifica Iris for Foliage

By Kathleen Sayce 

Among the dozen or so species of Pacifica Iris, foliage is outstanding in only a few. By outstanding, I mean not simply green, but evergreen, and more, a luscious green color--dark, medium or light green, golden to blue-gray in tone. Leaves should also be shiny, substantial in feel, and durable. This creates a lovely dark anchor to other plants in the garden. 


Iris's shiny dark green fans are a good foil for dying fringecup foliage, and give the ground cover at a time when taller plants are flowering. 


Some Pacifica Iris foliage is lustrous and green year round. Use it in the garden to balance other plants even when it is not in flower.


One of the oft-repeated statements made about Pacific Iris is that leaf fibers were used by Native Americans to weave nets to trap, among other animals, elk. Hefty fiber levels in leaves means durability, and durability plus evergreen elevates foliage from one season to four. Take time to search out those sturdy-leaved species' selections and hybrids--they have year round presence in the garden.

I. innominata during flowering:  leaves are dark green, shiny and durable.

Iris innominata
and its close cousin Iris thompsonii have narrow, dark green, evergreen leaves less than fifteen inches long. These species grow in dense tufts to slowly increasing circles, and then rings, if you are slow to divide and replant. They are useful as foliage accents in small scale spots or along border edges, planted with other low growing plants, including primroses and small bulbs. 

For larger plants with a bigger garden presence, look at Iris douglasiana. Many hybrids and selections of this species have light to medium green leaves, which may or may not look good fall through spring. A few have striking dark green foliage, which gives these irises a strong garden presence year round. 

Leaves range from less than twelve inches to more than thirty inches long. I mentioned the lack of tall Iris douglasiana in current hybrid and species offerings a few months ago. Another reason to seek those tall vigorous Iris douglasiana selections is to have foliage for the mid to back borders. 

Iris douglasiana, wild form, has great year round foliage, here it grows with fringecups, Tellima grandiflora (Saxifragaceae) and a rhododendron. 


This wild-collected Iris douglasiana is from Cape Blanco, Oregon; it has medium lavender flowers of basic species appearance, but the foliage is outstanding. With leaves around twenty inches long, foliage on this iris is striking dark green on a medium sized plant. I grow this one for its luscious foliage; the flowers are an added benefit for a few weeks each year. 

I. douglasiana x I. chrysophylla is taller, vigorous, with foliage that looks good year round. 

Another good foliage iris is an Iris douglasiana x I. chrysophylla cross. Flowers are purple and small, but the foliage is outstanding, medium green, shiny and lovely year round. With leaves more than twenty five inches long, this plant makes vigorous fountains of green all year—a good plant for mid border locations. It is especially nice interplanted with lilies: Summer-flowering Lilium ‘Cascablanca’ is short enough to be balanced nicely by the dark green fountains after this iris is done flowering in spring. 

Iris 'Burnt Sugar' is an unregistered Pacifica Iris, probably an I. douglaisana x I. innominata hybrid. Flowers are species-like, and the evergreen foliage is excellent. 
Look for outstanding light green to yellow-green foliage, short to tall, and for good foliage irises taller than thirty inches, also for any sign of white striping on dark green leaves, and other color variations on green, including red to purple. 

Readers:  tell us about Pacifica Iris selections that have great foliage, and please post here if you have plant suggestions to share. 


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