Monday, August 14, 2017

Space Age Iris of the Early 21st Century

by Jean Richter

The turn of the century has brought new hybridizers experimenting with space age iris, and these iris are enjoying unprecedented popularity. Following are some of the most recent space age iris to grace our gardens.

Riley Probst began his hybridizing career in Missouri, but now calls California his home. Here is his space age introduction from 2013, Power Lines.

Power Lines (Probst 2013)

Nebraska hybridizer Leroy Meininger has created a number of lovely space agers. Here is one from 2005, Beneath My Wings.

Beneath My Wings (Meininger 2005)

California hybridizer Robert Annand also introduced several space age iris. Although he passed away in 2013, some of his seedlings have been selected and introduced posthumously. Here is Bob's Pride from 2015.

 Bob's Pride (Annand by Marshall 2015)

Mississppi hybridizer Truman Scarborough introduced stately Emma's Plume in 2012. One of its parents, Thornbird, lends its unique color.

Emma's Plume (Scarborough 2012)

Another pair of Nebraska hybridizers, Leonard and Kathie Jedlicka, are also introducing space age iris. Here is their pink confection Isadora Belle from 2009.

Isadora Belle (Jedlicka 2009)

The Suttons were a fixture in the southern San Joachin valley in California for many years, but have recently relocated to Idaho. George Sutton introduced many space age iris before his passing in 2013. His son Mike is carrying on the space age tradition, as can be seen in his 2011 introduction Point of No Return.

Point of No Return (M. Sutton 2011)

California hybridizer Rick Tasco of Superstition Iris Gardens has introduced a number of space age iris. Here is his uniquely colored Solar Fire from 2003.

Solar Fire (Tasco 2003)

Rick also works at introducing space age characteristics into median iris. Here is his new 2017 intermediate bearded introduction Visual Pleasure.

Visual Pleasure (Tasco 2017) IB SA

One of the most prolific hybridizers of space age iris since 2000 is Texas hybridizer Tom Burseen. He is as well known for his quirky iris names as he is for the iris themselves. Here are three of his space age introductions, Cry Me a River from 2006, Air Hog from 2009, and Justa Musta from 2016.

Cry Me a River (Burseen 2006)

Air Hog (Burseen 2009)

Justa Musta (Burseen 2016)

As you can see, space age iris are more popular than ever, and have certainly come a long way from Lloyd Austin's first space agers of 60 years ago. What are your favorite 21st century space age iris?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Our debt to Iris aphylla

Tom Waters

I. aphylla
The European bearded iris species Iris aphylla has contributed to the development of modern bearded irises in a number of different ways. It still remains of considerable interest to hybridizers, particularly those working with the median classes.

The species is native to much of eastern Europe, with a range extending farther north than other bearded species. This makes it thoroughly winter hardy. It goes completely dormant in winter, losing all its leaves right to the ground. (The Latin word aphylla means "leafless".) The flowers are violet, although some recessive white and other off-color forms exist. The flowers themselves are not particularly glamorous, being often narrow and of poor substance. One of its most distinctive characteristics is prolific basal branching, with long branches starting low on the stalk, not infrequently at the point the stalk emerges from the rhizome. It varies in height, with forms as small as 30 cm and as tall as 60 cm or more. Both wild-collected forms and garden cultivars of the species have been registered and circulated.

I. aphylla 'Slick' (Lynn Markham, 2003)
Happily, I. aphylla has a similar chromosome complement to that of our modern tetraploid tall bearded (TB) and border bearded (BB) irises. This means it can be crossed with them to produce fertile seedlings that can be continuously worked with and improved for as many generations as one likes.

Early breeders showed little interest in medians, and simply worked I. aphylla into TB lines. It was found to contribute two interesting traits: an intensification of violet flower color, and blue or violet beards! Many early approaches to black in TB irises, such as 'Sable' (Cook, 1938) and probably 'Black Forest' (Schreiner, 1948), derive from I. aphylla. It is also behind many whitish or light blue TBs with blue or violet beards. In these irises, the dominant white found in TBs interacts with the intensification of violet pigment from I. aphylla.

When enthusiasm for median irises blossomed in the 1950s, with the formation of the Median Iris Society and the establishment of the four classes of median irises, creative breeders began to consider the potential of I. aphylla to add variety to these classes.

'Tic Tac Toe' (Johnson, 2010)
tetraploid MTB descended from I. aphylla
The most ambitious of such undertakings was Ben Hager's project to create tetraploid miniature tall bearded (MTB) irises. This class had been created with diploids in mind. Most TB irises from the 1800s and early 1900s were diploid, with a daintiness that was lost when tetraploids came to dominate. Early MTB breeders had taken these daintier TBs and bred them for even smaller size and greater delicacy. The MTBs were promoted as subjects for flower arranging. Tetraploid TBs, however, showed more different colors (such as tangerine pink), wider form, and better substance. Could these traits from the modern TBs be transferred to irises dainty enough to qualify for the strict requirements of the MTB class? Hager set about proving that they could. He crossed I. aphylla with small TBs and BBs, and then kept breeding toward the MTB requirements. After many generations of work, he established a line of tetraploid MTBs. Although these did not look exactly like the diploid MTBs (I. aphylla yields straight, upright stalks with vertical branching, whereas diploid MTBs often have a more zig-zag branching style), they had an appeal all their own. The first pink MTBs were Hager's tetraploids from I. aphylla.

'Saucy' (Craig, 1998)
tetraploid IB descended from I. aphylla
Hager's work was carried on by Jim and Vicki Craig, who combined Hager's irises with their own crosses involving different forms of I. aphylla. They introduced not only tetraploid MTBs, but BBs and IBs from the same breeding lines. This enhanced the variety of all three classes. They even produced a couple that were small enough to qualify as standard dwarf bearded (SDB)!

Others have worked with I. aphylla over the years, and continue to do so. Some hybrids that a relatively close to the species itself have been registered in the SPEC-X category. Paul Black's "small-flowered TBs" owe a debt to I. aphylla.

This species has contributed a great deal to the variety we find in both TBs and medians today. Do you grow any irises with I. aphylla ancestry? I'd wager you do!

'Night Mood' (Lynn Markham, 2003)
SPEC-X from 'Blackbeard' X I. aphylla 'Dark Violet'

Monday, July 31, 2017

US Native Iris: A Look at Vernae, Tripetalae, Longipetalae and Laevigatae

by Robert Gabella

Iris virginica Shrevei on the banks of the Fox River - Batavia, IL

Childhood Indiscretion and Missed Opportunities

As kids, we had the freedom to wander the local woods. Mom was happy to get us out of the house, so long as we came home by dinner. If we were parked in front of the TV, she'd turn it off and say "Get outdoors, you're not going to sit at home and watch cartoons on a nice summer day!"

Dad was a career Army officer, so we had a chance to wander state after state - Texas, Alabama, Maryland, Florida, Alaska, Illinois, Colorado and anywhere we visited in between. With no cell phones, and often beyond the distance of a shout, we found our own adventures and made our own discoveries - occasionally getting into trouble. Somehow, we managed always to come home in one piece.

Iris verna Cleo Chapel Road, in the garden

The exact reason I first saw Iris (subgenus Limniris, series Vernae) verna in a dimly-lit but open wood in Southeast Alabama, several blocks from our on-base home, is up in the air. Meaning - giant woody lianas of undetermined species were literally hanging from the air, from high in the trees – so I, my brother and a friend set out to swing from them like Tarzan! During the acrobatics, I noticed little purple dots not far in the distance, even more startling with bright orange signals.

Though only 9 years old, I'd become familiar with Bearded & Beardless Iris at a prior residence in Maryland. Later, Bearded Iris grew, and rebloomed, around our school courtyard in Tallahassee, Florida. A voracious garden reader even then, I'd read about but never seen Iris (Subgenus Lophiris) cristata. But these were different, a puzzle! They varied slightly in color and form. And the need to possess overcame me. Choosing the flower I liked best, I unceremoniously (and unwisely) ripped a plant out of the ground. Surprised at the rope-like rhizome, distance between the small fans, and scarcity of actual roots - I got what I could. Transplanted into a little garden space I had, it grew for the remaining three years we lived there, but bloomed again only once.

Iris verna Cleo Chapel Road, in the garden

It took years, but I finally made a proper purchase of this gem - Darrell Probst's 2012 intro, 'Cleo Chapel Road'. Planted in my Zone 5 Chicagoland garden, it bloomed beautifully, and reconnected me to that childhood discovery! 


Unless you have a state-issued collection permit, private property owner's permission, or are lucky enough to have them wild on your own land, buy nursery grown plants of Iris species, or raise them from SIGNA (Species Iris Group of North America) seed:
This way, you harness the beauty of native Iris without putting pressure on wild populations.

And Much Further North…

Fast forward to a move from Alabama to Alaska, and close encounters with lots of Iris (subgenus Limniris, series Tripetalae) setosa.

I. setosa, Alaska; Photo courtesy of Mabin

My first sighting was a thick clump blooming in a neighbor's garden, a gorgeous dark purple with 3 falls and no standards – could it be a Japanese, I wondered. But I learned quickly, as Mom had picked up The Alaska-Yukon Wildflower Guide. At about the same time. the Alaska Department of Transportation then put out a notice that they were giving away Iris for the digging, near Eklutna Flats, north of Anchorage, in the path of major construction. Though we took a look at them as we drove past, on the way to elsewhere, my parents (sadly for me) chose not to go through the muddy routine.

I. setosa, Alaska; Photo courtesy of Raymona Pooler/

I. setosa, Alaska; photo courtesy of Karen Danenauer/ 

But I got my revenge almost 20 years later, with a dig permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for I. setosa interior, the taller subspecies in East Central Alaska. In advance, I'd written Larry Duffy who'd collected them in a wide range of colors, from white to pink and burgundy plus the usuals. We later met in a coffee shop in Fairbanks, after my digging, and he showed me his slides. At that point I encouraged him to register them, which he did. Though I collected several forms, there was doom in their future. With my good friend, the late Florence Stout from Northern Illinois Iris Society, we planted them in her garden. Though they grew in muck. we mixed in sand, and now I forget why. I was there constantly, doting over them and watering, probably unwisely, and they all eventually died. That was a love's lesson lost. Sooner or later, the old VHS tapes of me doing the selecting will be digitized. And I hope to collect again someday, but maybe just seed.

Making up for Past Mistakes

After Alaska, two more family moves landed me in Southern Colorado. But distracted by non-gardening pursuits, only in my senior year of High School did I first notice Iris (subgenus Limniris, series Longipetalae) missouriensis. Between Cañon City and Cripple Creek, growing on a scraped-off roadside embankment, the plants were short, widely spaced, and flowers were mainly bright lavender purple with yellow signals. Only in return visits, did I become aware that these high desert and foothill populations naturally hug runoff and melt areas. So those I first saw, pitched high and dry, by a hot roadside, were likely remnants from construction and grading. But growing as they were, it showed their adaptability and strength.

Iris missouriensis, upland form, NW of Crested Butte, Colorado, 10,000'

Iris missouriensis, upland form, NW of Crested Butte, Colorado, 10,000'

Iris missouriensis, upland form, NW of Crested Butte, Colorado, 10,000'

This past summer, in late June, I made a point to chase this species from the rugged Colorado lowlands (still high, over 5,000 feet), where it was nearly finished blooming, to the interior mountains, where it was just peaking. In all areas, plant habit and flower color were variable. The wetland forms were generally much taller, about 3 feet. The thickest patches in the high mountains were half that height, mostly pale blue. But in the distance, obstructed by a rushing creek, were some in white and darker purple colonies. At over 10,000 feet, it was breathtaking to see these plants, watch their pollinating bumblebees at work, and bask in the miracle of how they even got there.

Iris missouriensis, wetland form, NW of Cañon City, Colorado, 6,200'

After settling in the Chicagoland area decades ago, I first completed a degree in Horticulture and then went on to complete two more stabs at college. Through much local exploration, I began to see our native Iris (subgenus Limniris, series Laevigatae) virginica Shrevei in our many local wet areas.

Even years ago, I noticed it was often competing with the shade of invasive glossy buckthorn, Frangula alnus, or encroached by the aggressive Eurasian Iris (subgenus Limniris, series Laevigatae) pseudacorus. In these photos, snapped in late May along the Fox River, in Batavia, you can see the pseudacorus are not only photobombing this lovely and highly variable population but edging them out.
Iris virginica Shrevei, hiding near encroaching I. pseudacorus - near the Fox River - Batavia, IL

Iris virginica Shrevei on the banks of the Fox River - Batavia, IL

A pale lilac colored Iris virginica Shrevei on the banks of the Fox River - Batavia, IL
Though much damage to native Iris populations as well as wildlife habitats has already been done, in 2013, Iris pseudacorus was added to the ILLINOIS INJURIOUS SPECIES LIST, and it is now illegal to transport, barter, buy, sell or trade here. Fines for infractions are not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000 per incident. Now to begin cleaning up the mess of the pseudacorus that's already here.
In the detention pond of a local McDonald's, without pseudacorus encroachment, a burgeoning population of I. v. Shrevei has emerged.

Iris virginica Shrevei with encroaching I. pseudacorus, on the banks of the Fox River - Batavia, IL

The site was bulldozed and reconstructed a dozen years ago, and it seemed there was only one Iris remaining - but they have gradually increased, and this past spring was the best bloom so far. This group also included a dark specimen, as well as one plant with exceptionally small flowers. What's really fascinating is that scattered juvenile fans vastly outnumbered the many blooming plants.

McDonald's management assisted with the photo shoot, and the GM said she grew up with Iris but never noticed these, behind the site and out of view. It just proves you never know where or when you'll make an Iris Friend - and they now have a new appreciation for "the ditch" out back!


These plants don't read their own press, and whenever you find wild Iris, individual plants may look quite different from one another mere feet apart!  Appreciation of the best of these differences leads to potential selection, and Horticulture – "the art and science of growing plants (well)” – my parentheses!  To see the lovely gradation of flower color, pattern, form, presence or absence of gold signals, and floral velocity in a Shrevei population to realize how diverse they are - even in a small area. Here are some of the lovely forms from the McDonald's population.

Iris virginica Shrevei growing in a stormwater detention (dry) pond McDonald's, Oak Brook, IL

Iris virginica Shrevei growing in a stormwater detention (dry) pond McDonald's, Oak Brook, IL

However, not all of our Chicagoland populations of I. v. Shrevei are as robust and variable as the Batavia or McDonald's populations. At Volo Bog State Natural Area, the few specimens appear sporadically, and the main encroachment is by cattail, Typha latifolia. The end result of the smaller localized gene pool is a lessening of natural variability.
Iris virginica Shrevei growing at Volo Bog State Natural Area, Volo, IL.

Iris virginica Shrevei growing at Volo Bog State Natural Area, Volo, IL.

Where to find them: Where will you see US native Iris in the wild?  Well, it depends where you live, and where and how hard you look. Check with SIGNA, your local botanic gardens, native plant societies, and Iris folks from your region.  Many US residents are within a 100 mile drive of one species or another – across two subgenera (Limniris, Lophiris) and a number of series.  They are mainly absent over extreme southern Florida and the harshest desert areas, but in some places locally abundant.  Whenever you see them, take note of location, bloom time, population characteristics and density, and natural variability – as well as other floral and faunal associations (including invaders). And please take photos and share them with other Iris Lovers, this is how we learn from one another! And in cases of fascinating variability within a population, it’s also how we assert that the plants don’t read their own descriptions.


Editor's Note: Robert F. Gabella is a Horticulturist, Hybridist, Author, Consultant, and Project Manager based in Villa Park, Illinois - which Hardiness Zones 5a and 5b have managed to split in half - down the middle of his street! More at GardenOpus - and on Facebook & Twitter as GardenOpus.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

IRISES, the Bulletin of the AIS - Summer 2017 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 edition, which you will receive via U.S. Mail very soon. 

The Summer 2017 issue of the AIS Bulletin will also be available soon for online viewing and accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. On the cover this edition, ‘Bluebird Of Happiness’ (Paul Black 2012, TB).

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 area of the AIS website for more details.

Find a wonderful display of the 2017 Convention Award Winner Winners, on pages 2 and 3.

You will see a selection of notes on Section Happenings on page 10 and International Iris News on page 11.

Youth Views by Cheryl Deaton on pages 14 and 15.

Louisiana iris inspiration on pages 16 and 17.

A wonderful report on the Des Moines, IA Convention starts on page 18 and it extends all they way to page 37. You will not miss this section and that's a very good thing. 

Jean Morris reports on the Median Iris Society's Mini-Convention held in Lafayette, Indiana on May 18-20, 2017 on page 40.

Yours truly reporting on the Spuria Iris Society's Mini-Convention held in the Los Angeles area, on May 5-6, on pages 42 and 43.

A very detailed and beautiful tribute to iris hybridizer Charlie Nearpass by Dr. Donald Spoon on pages 45 to 49. 

Young hybridizer David Toth recalls his early beginnings and inspiration in "Thinking Beyond Borders" on pages 50 to 52. 

Gerry Snyder reports on Judging Irises in Paris on page 54. 

More Des Moines, Iowa Convention Award Ceremony images can be found on page 67. 

There's a lot more to see and read in this edition of IRISES, either in digital or print formats. If you are an AIS member know that you will receive the print edition soon (it's in the hands of the U.S. Post Office), or if you are an e-member, then that version will be a available online soon. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Growing Japanese Iris: Transplanting

By Chad Harris

Growing Japanese iris, Iris ensata into magnificent clumps, demands moist acidic soils enriched with compost, and frequent division. Many of the iris family like to be lifted and divided every few years. Iris ensata's growth habit demands to be lifted and divided every three to four years.  I personally recommend doing this every two to three years.  The crown of Iris ensata has a vertical growth habit instead of horizontal, like most other kinds of iris.

With each new years growth forming on top of the last, the plant has a tendency to lift its self up and out of the ground, making it very hard to keep moist, of which it demands.  It is wise for the gardener to keep in mind: It is better to lift and divide your perennials when they are in their prime and not in decline.  As a prime division and transplant will have a better chance surviving the move (transplant shock) and be able to bloom the next year.

Lift the plant out of the soil with a spade or fork in late summer, two months before your first frost.

You can wash the soil off or set the plant in a pail of water overnight to soak.  Dividing the individual plants apart can be done by hand or with a sharp serrated knife.

The old roots and previous year’s growth need to be removed and thrown away, they will not bloom again.

Trim the foliage on the individual starts being kept for planting or given away.

Prep the soil with 20% to 30% compost working it in deeply eight to ten inches.

Place the new starts three inches deep, eight inches apart, water in letting the water carry the soil to the roots to bury.

It is critical to flood irrigate and let the water carry the soil into the roots to eliminate any air pockets.

After the water has drained, water again to add another layer of saturated soil in and around the roots and keep moist until winter. At this point, the plant should have a slight depression around it to catch and hold water.

In two years’ time the bloom on the plant will again be full and colorful as is here with ‘Hekiun.’

A more detailed look to the different flower forms, colors, and blooming habits will be presented by Chad Harris at the Society for Japanese Iris Section Program in Des Moines, Iowa at the American Iris Society National Convention May 22-27, 2017 titled “Old There, New Here” a look at historic Japanese irises. For more information about the National, click here to go to the website.

Editor's Note: Most of this blog first appeared on Chad Harris's garden site: Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm. While specializing in water land irises of Asia, there is a good listing of other types of irises too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Novelty Iris

By Bonnie Nichols

“What are Novelty irises?” ………. I get this question almost every judges training class I teach. I tell everyone “according to the AIS Handbook for Judges” – Novelties are broken color, space age, flatties, and variegated foliage irises. That statement is somewhat still true; however, the advancement of Novelty irises is moving rapidly. Remember when we all had dial-up modems and we heard whispers of “the Internet” circulating. And look where we are today!

'Big Bang Theory'--image by Blue Jay Garden
An example of new directions in Space Age irises.

'Zebra Blues' (Kasparek)--image by Jeanette Graham
An example of the new variegated foliage varieties.

In the 1950-60s “space age” irises became available to iris gardens primarily thanks to Lloyd Austin. Traditionalists probably shied away for these new-fangled irises. Strange irises, rock-n-roll, and the Beatles – what was the world coming to?

'Cross the Line' (M. Sutton)--image by Jeanette Graham
Space Age irises met some of the new color patterns.

Thanks to Alan Ensminger and Brad Kasparek (two guys that were iris pioneers), they brought us all those strange broken colors. Brad and Kathy Kasparek kept us guessing how to pronounce the GNU series as well as others.

'Spiced Tiger' (Kasparek)--image by Schreiner's Iris Garden

'Big Break'--image by Paul Black
Broken colors are now coming from different breeding lines.

'Leprechaun's Trick' (Black '15)--image by Paul Black
Another  example of variegated foliage

Monty Byers gave the iris world three Dykes Medal Winners (Mesmerizer, Conjuration, and Thornbird). Many times I wonder what Monty would think about the advancements in space age irises since the late ‘80s.

'Tropical Delight' (M. Sutton)--image by Mike Sutton

So, in addition to quoting the AIS Handbook answer of what Novelty irises are…………I always add FLATTIES, DOUBLES, BROKEN COLOR, SPACE AGE, FLOUNCES, POMPOMS, FULL MOONS….and, and, and……….. I don’t know where iris forms and iris colors will go from here AND that is part of the fun too. So to everyone reading this, think about hybridizing more Novelty irises!

FLATTIES are probably my favorite. Did I say that out loud? As judges, we are trained not to show our personal preferences when judging. As a human I find that difficult especially when I’m adding irises to my personal collection. My favorites are CHAOS THEORY, ORBISON, TOP DOWN, and FULL DISCLOSURE. All are faithful flatties.

'Chaos Theory' (Blyth)--image by Barry Blyth

There is a new addition to my favorite flatties – WICHITA FALLS. Yes, you are one of the first to hear. Z.G. Benson’s granddaughter has been kind enough to share one of Z. G.’s seedlings from the early 1970s. It is a huge blue/yellow FLATTIE. It is 100% flat! She is allowing Hooker to distribute the iris for Z. G. and name it WICHITA FALLS.

'Wichita Falls' (ZG Benson)--image by Hooker Nichols

Wichita Falls is the town in northwest Texas where Mr. Benson lived and hybridized the iris. The Novelty Iris Society will introduce the iris. Novelty Iris Society members will be notified when the iris is available for sale. Proceeds of the iris sales will benefit the Novelty Iris Society.

'Full Disclosure'--Image by Andi Rivarola

'Top Down' (Nichols)--image by Hooker Nichols

Editor's Note: We appreciate Bonnie Nichols's guest blog. Bonnie is the president of The Novelty Iris Society and you can find more information about that group on Facebook as Novelty Iris Society.
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