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The Iris Flower
There are certain moments we experience that we forget, but still remember. Though details and pieces of the particular event blur with time, likely due to their seeming unimportance, we still carry the results with us daily. We can understand and access these feelings even if we have lost track of their origin. I find that a good garden can elicit this evolution within everyone and that a good flower can pierce through the fog and connect its viewers back to those pieces of their memory.
To view the Iris as a singular flower of many colors is incredibly limiting. The reality is almost hard to comprehend. Remember Kingdoms and Orders? The scientific classification for what we think of as Iris flowers is the Iris genus. Within the Iris genus, there are 310 documented species that are indigenous or endemic across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Within each of these Iris species and organized within all of these species are (often) what are known as varieties or cultivars, which are where Iris show an incredible range of colors and patterns.
Varieties are naturally occurring and specific genetic expressions of Iris species through cross-breeding of plants within a species consisting of specific colors, patterns and additional attributes which make them unique. Cultivars are simply varieties that are intentionally created by humans through the process of Iris hybridization (confusingly, the term "varieties," is commonly used to refer to both). Additionally, there are many names and forms of organizing these classifications of Iris, but the one most adopted by fans of Iris is that from the American Iris Society (AIS). For example, the Iris species of Iris Germanica, sometimes referred to commonly as "German Iris," are known (mostly) by the AIS as Tall Bearded Iris. Within the species both nature and hybridizers create new varieties and cultivars that are introduced to the culture of Iris across the world and registered by their creators under original names with the AIS. For example, one of my favorite Tall Bearded cultivars is called "Toucan Tango."
Common Iris Species in North America
Miniature Tall Bearded
Standard Dwarf Bearded
Miniature Dwarf Bearded
Pacific Coast Native
Species (Intended to catch the rest of the Iris species)
The gardening circles of backyard hobbyists and professional landscape designers use the term "specimen" to refer to a specific, living plant of a certain variety or cultivar (of any type of plant). Iris have the ability to produce sexually, which is how so many species and cultivars are able to be created and introduced. However, the best part of creating or discovering new varieties and cultivars of Iris is the ability to share (or "introduce") them; this is accomplished through an Iris's asexual reproduction, where each year Iris plants will duplicate themselves. Gardeners can then split up these duplications and share them with other collectors or sell them to individuals around the world.
Within the American Iris Society, there are many local and regional Iris Societies that hold meetings for Irisarians (the colloquial name for Iris collectors). These meetings are often both educational and social; there are even opportunities for members and the local community to purchase (at sales and auctions) or exchange Iris specimens, allowing everyone's collections to grow. Yet, there is also a sport component to these local societies. Often times, Iris Societies will hold Iris Shows, where local gardeners are able to display Iris blossoms that they have grown in their garden, as well as competing thematic designs featuring Iris as the predominant flower in the artwork (and, yes, I'm using the term "artwork"). This combination of microculture and competition makes joining plant and gardening societies, like your local Iris Society, wholly worthwhile.
My Iris Collection
I have been very lucky to have been born into an Iris family. My grandmother started collecting Iris at the age of 25, which is exactly the age I was when I planted my very first Iris in my own garden (of course, I had been helping with many Iris gardens throughout my life until that point). With the gift of a rich family history in the Iris world, I have been able to collect some incredibly interesting Iris species and cultivars in a relatively short amount of time. I view my collection as both a personal and a societal endeavor; as the climate continues to change and as interest in gardening continues to decrease among younger generations, I hope to be able to continue to preserve elements of this horticulture and use my time to reinvigorate the love of the garden amongst individuals of any generation.
The American Iris Society maintains an online wiki that features most, if not all, presently registered Iris cultivars and varieties. Below, you will find the names of Iris in my collection, each hyperlinked to the relevant page on this wiki (should you want to read more). These are organized by species, with my personal thoughts about each species. Then, the cultivars and varieties are organized in garden order, based on their placement in my garden.
As indicated by the name of this classification, Tall Bearded Iris (known as "TBs") are both tall and bearded. If you picture an Iris in your mind, you are likely thinking of a Tall Bearded Iris (should you be from the Western world). The term "bearded" refers to the part of some Iris plants called the "beard." The beard is a fuzzy, often catepillar shaped structure that is on each of the downward facing petals (the "falls") of bearded Iris plants. Beards can be many different colors and shapes, all adding to the wonderful variety and originality of many Iris cultivars. Tall Bearded Iris are often the most highly collected and have the largest amount of diversity among its cultivars.
Here Comes the Night
Terre de Feu
Playing Our Song
Embellished (Very new cultivar, not uploaded to the Iris wiki yet)
Parisian (Very new cultivar, not uploaded to the Iris wiki yet)
Rim of the World
Bright and Shining Star
Sometimes, TBs are too big for your garden and that's why we have Intermediate Bearded. They are the perfect height for many gardens, though not mine. This is why I only grow one cultivar; don't worry, it's still pretty.
Miniature Tall Bearded
Much like Intermediates, I don't have much use for Miniatures in my garden at this time. However, I do grow one simply because I think the horticulture surrounding it is incredible. The cultivar is known as Honorabile and the origins of this specific cultivar can be traced back to 1840, though they likely go back further than that. The story goes that the Iris was hybridized in France then carried and planted across the United States by settlers using the plant in lieu of tombstones for those they lost along their journey.
Standard Dwarf Bearded
This is where Iris collecting gets its cutest. SDBs, as they are known, are incredibly sweet and small Irises. But don't let their size fool you, SDBs boast some of the most intense and strange flower colors in the entire Genus.
Blue Hat Boy
Gate to Paradise
Triple Smiles (Very new cultivar, not uploaded to the Iris wiki yet)
Yes, Tall Bearded Iris are tall, but so are Spuria. These beardless Iris are often taller than my TBs and put on an incredible display. In fact, I won my very first Iris Show with a specimen from Banned in Boston.
Ode to a Toad
Banned in Boston
Big Piney River
If you are a fan of boisterous and ostentatious flowers, then I present to you the Louisiana Iris. This category of Irises love water almost as much as they love rapid proliferation across your garden. Often with bold colors and ruffles, the blooms of Louisiana Iris are some of the prettiest and most stunning out there.
Blue Mountain Mist
"Variegated Louisiana Iris" (This is technically a subspecies within the "Louisiana" category of species which, confusingly, contains several species)
The Siberian Iris evolved in some incredibly tough conditions for a plant with such a delicate presentation. Siberian Iris have thin leaves and dainty blossoms that look as if they were cut from paper. However, these plants are incredibly hardy and rarely know an environment or situation that will prevent them from showing off their incredible blooms.
Who's On First? (Not available on the Iris wiki)
What's On Second? (Not available on the Iris wiki)
Jane M. Sadler
Off She Goes
As a plant collector, it's tough to pick favorites; especially since I have a bad case of what my grandmother refers to as "PAS," which stands for "Plant Acquisition Syndrome." That being said, I truly have a big place in my heart for many of the plants in this category. All of these are beardless Irises that have such variety and history. Their bloom-forms are unmatched, their ability to thrive is unparalleled and their simple "figure it out" attitude is what makes them so incredible. You will see the term "Species X" here, this refers to a "species cross;" two different Iris species crossbred to create a cultivar within a new subspecies. The majority of the Species X that I collect are affectionately known by avid collectors as "Pseudatas" which is a portmanteau of their parent species: "Iris Ensata (Japanese Iris)" and "Iris Pseudacorous." Additionally, there are species in my collection that have no cultivars or varieties, as they are very genetically consistent organisms. For these Iris, I have noted the common name that is used in the location where they are most native and endemic.
Phantom Island (Species X)
"Zigzag Iris" (Iris Brevicaulis) (Common Iris with no substantial articles on the Iris wiki)
"Southern Blue Iris" (Iris Virginica) (Common Iris with no substantial articles on the Iris wiki)
Lavender Bleach (Species X)
White Bleach (Species X) (Sister plant to Lavender Bleach, not uploaded to the Iris wiki)
Chance Beauty (Species X)
French Buttercream (Species X)
Kinkashou (Species X) (Not uploaded to the Iris wiki, possibly unregistered)
Ally Oops (Species X)
Sakai No Ogon (Species X) (Unregistered)
"Lirio de Prados" (Iris Graminea) (Common Iris with no substantial articles on the Iris wiki)
Jin Yu (Iris Maackii)
Wichita Farewell (Iris Lactea)
"Wall Iris" (Iris Tectorum) (Common Iris with no substantial articles on the Iris wiki)
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