1874, Iris Kaempferi, 'Edward George Henderson'
The Gardeners' Chronicle p.45, July 11, 1874
ONE of the most superb flowers exhibited of late is undoubtedly the variety of Iris known as Iris Kaempferi var. Edward George Henderson. This was shown at the last meeting of the Floral Committee by Messrs. E. G. Henderson & Son, of St, John's Wood, and to those gentlemen we are indebted for cut flowers. Considered as a garden flower, we have few which can vie with it for gorgeousness of colouring. Mr. Smith's figure (fig. ii) will serve to convey an idea of its form and size, and as to its colouring, we may fitly compare it to Clematis Jackmanni, adding, moreover, that the base of each of the flower segments is occupied by a broad band of golden colour. The combinations of rich violet-purple and gold colour gives, as may readily be imagined, a superb aspect to the flower. We understand that Messrs. Henderson have several other varieties of a similar character and of various shades of colour. Here, it maybe remarked, we have a hardy border flower, of easy culture, and of beauty fit to vie with the choicest Orchid or stove plant; so that the gardener with modest means need not envy those with longer purses or more complete modern appliances.
Iris Kaempferi of gardens is not altogether a new plant. It was, we believe, introduced from Japan by the late Von Siebold, and several varieties of it are in cultivation in the Dutch nurseries, as also in our own. Some of these, too, have been figured in various journals, particularly in OUDEMAN's Neerland's Plantentuin tab, 8
, where, among others, a large white variety of great beauty is represented. These varieties, however, many of which are cultivated by Messrs. Henderson, have, for the most part, smaller blossoms than the one to which we now call attention, while the form and arrangement of the parts of the flower are like those usually met with in Irises, and especially in Iris Iaevigata, to which I. Kaempferi nearly approaches, if, indeed, it be not a variety of that species.
It is surprising to see how many persons are capable of recognizing beauty of form and colour, and yet do not perceive thit higher beauty– beauty of purpose and adaptation. They see a botanist picking a flower to pieces and they think it littleness than sacrilege. They laugh at his " barbarous binomials" and uncouth expressions, but they do not realise all the time that he has, what they have not, a keen sense of delight in reverently tracing, so far as his faculties permit, the purpose and plan of the Creator as manifested in the humblest weed.
To the arrangement of the floral segments in the variety of Iris called by the name of E. G. Henderson we may, therefore, briefly allude, as it is of considerable interest, both from the florist's and from the botanist's point of view.
In Irises in general we have the flower composed of six coloured segments, three outer ones bent downwards, three inner ones somewhat smaller, often different in colour, and ascending to arch over the central organs of the flowers. Within these segments of the perianth are three stamens, concealed by three large petal-like styles, and generally not visible till these are turned aside or removed. The ovary, or young seed-vessel, is below the flower segments, as in Narcissus, Orchids, etc.
In the Iris of which we are now speaking the arrangement is different – the three outer segments are flat and spread horizontally, the three inner ones are of similar form, colour, and direction. The result of this is a flat flower of nearly circular outline, such us rejoices the eye of the lover of the so-called " florist's flowers." More than this, the three stamens concealed between the outer floral segments and the petal-like styles show a tendency to emulate the styles and themselves become petal-like, and the way in which they do this is also noteworthy. An ordinary Iris stamen consist of a filament or stalk, on the upper part of which is, on either side, an anther-cell containing the pollen; the two anther-cells are separated one from the other by what is called the connective, which is in this case nothing but the direct continuation of the filament. In the flowers before us the summit of the anther is surmounted by a trumpet-like tube, coloured purple, and divided into three lobes at the free edge. Tracing these lobes downwards it may be seen that two of the three are directly continuous with the anther-lobes, while the third is similarly a petal-like prolongation of the " connective." In addition to these three stamens, which (apart from their slight tendency to assume a petal-like condition), perfectly represent the ordinary stamens of an Iris, there are, in the variety before us, three additional stamens opposite to the petals, but these supernumerary organ are almost entirely petal-like and correspondingly unlike anthers. The styles and ovary present nothing materially different from the usual structure of Iris flowers.
To sum up, then, we may say in brief that while an ordinary Iris has an irregular flower, this variety has a regular one; 2, an ordinary Iris has three stamens, not petal-like, this variety has six stamens, in two rows, and all are more or less petal-like. Technically speaking, then, this flower affords an example of that form of peloria called regular peloria, and of the increased number and petal-like development of the stamens.
Florists, however, will be more concerned with the fact that they have here a flower of circular outline, regularity of proportion, and marked tendency to become double.
But more than this, our Iris has a great interest for those who like to see things botanically ship-shape, or if they are not so to know the reason why. In these matters botanists are as great sticklers for regularity as the florists. Their interests are, indeed, to a large extent identical, though the reverse is sometimes falsely asserted. An ordinary Iris is not botanically ship-shape, owing to the irregularity of its flowers, to which we have above alluded. The aim and object of this irregularity is without doubt to facilitate the transfer of the pollen from one flower to the stigmas of another by means of insects, and it is only one of a thousand different ways in which the same end is obtained. Take the common Iris germanica, for example, and watch how beautifully contrived and adapted the flower is for the purpose we have indicated. The outer flower segments are bent downwards, and have a tuft of yellowish hairs near the base. The anther, as we have seen, is concealed between the base of the outer flower segment and the pctaloid style; these two parts form, in fact, a box in which the anther is concealed. An insect visiting the flower is attracted by the reflected segment with its bright tuft of hair: it alights upon it as a bee does on on the landing board of a hive. It gets entangled amid the bush of hairs as it endeavours to open the box and rifle the flower of its honey. In so doing it must necessarily remove the pollen from the anthers, which, it should be stated, open downwards and outwards just in the direction to favour the deposit of the pollen on the intruding insect. The pollen-dusted insect ultimately escapes, pays a visit to another flower, and there the stigma (on which the pollen must be deposited ere the seeds can be formed) is placed exactly where it is most favourably situate to receive the pollen from the insect's back. The stigma of Irises, in fact, has the form of a transverse band on the lower surface of the style.
We have so far shown how an ordinary Iris is not botanically ship-shape, and we have endeavoured to give a rational explanation of the deviation from the general rule. We have still another point to allude to. A flower, to be regular in botanical terminology, must not only have its several organs of the same size and colour, according to their several natures, but their arrangement must also be in regular order. That regular order consists in this: that the parts of one row shall alternate, or come between those of another row; for instance, if there be three flower segments on the outer side of three inner ones, then each of those inner ones will be placed between, or "alternate with," two of the outer ones.. In this way the three stamens of an Iris alternate with the inner flower segments, and are opposed, as already explained, to the outer ones. Following this rule out in the case of an ordinary Iris we come to an exception in the position of the styles and stamens. They should alternate; they do not.
We have seen the advantage of this arrangement in detaining insects, but we have still an explanation of it from a purely constructional point of view. That explanation is founded on the assumption that a second row of stamens, which should be placed opposite to the petals, is in this case suppressed or not developed. The botanist assumes this from his knowledge of other flowers, as well as from direct observation in the embryo state of the particular blooms, and from analogy, just as the astronomer is able to assert confidently that a particular star must be in a particular place at a given time, though he cannot see it, and, indeed, need not trouble himself to do so unless he please; for if his method of investigation be correct, the result must be so also. Another, as has often happened, may be the, one actually to discover the existence of what his predecessor, reasoning from analogy and legitimate inference from ascertained facts, predicted must exist. That which is an assumption in an ordinary Iris is a fact in the variety of Iris Kaempferi now before us. The second row of stamens is present, and so the regularity of the flower is thereby vindicated.
Crocuses probably owe the relative position of their stamens and styles (which is the same as in Iris) to a similar cause. At any rate, double-flowered Crocuses are often seen, in which the noimal arrangement of parts is restored by the appearance of a second row of stamens alternating with the first.
For More Information on Historic Irises visit the HIPS website at http://historiciris.org/