1881, The Clouded Iris by Foster

The Garden p.42, July 9, 1881


The handsome bulbous Iris, of which, during the last few weeks, mention has been frequently made under the name of Thunderbolt, and of which a most excellent woodcut appears with this note, is a very old inhabitant of our gardens. I first made its acquaintance many years ago when I found it growing in huge clumps in an old-fashioned border. The owner of the garden spoke of it as the Clouded Iris, a name which as an English name still seems to me far better than the irrational one of Thunderbolt. It appears to have also received the title of I. sordida, or Xiphion sordidum, but there can I think be no doubt that this is a mistake. Salisbury (Trans. Hort. Soc, vol. i., p. 303), as far as I know, first used the name I. sordida, but he applied it to a variety of I. Xiphion (Xiphion vulgare) var. lusitanica, figured in Botanical Magazine, pl. 679. The typical colour of the Lusitanian variety is a pure yellow, but the particular plant figured in the plate in question is yellow, flecked with purple or violet, and not only does Salisbury, in speaking of his sordida, refer to this plate, but Gawler, in the description of the plate, distinctly says, " This is the sordida of Salisbury." This being the case, it is very clear that the Clouded Iris, or Thunderbolt, ought not to be called sordida, for it does not possess any of the features wdiich Gawler gives as differentiating the variety lusitanica from the type. In fact, it differs very little from the typical Spanish Iris (Iris Xiphion, Xiphion vulgare), except in size and colouring. On the other hand, it answers very largely; in fact, with the exception of what appear to me minor features, almost completely to the description which Spacli gives of a variety of Iris Xiphion, called by him I. spectabilis.

Spachi gives no figure, nor do I know of any authentic specimens of his spectabilis. There is much danger in identifying a plant by a mere description, though Spach's descriptions are admirable; still, 1 am very mucli inclined to think that the so-called Thunderbolt is Spach's spectabilis, which he says is a garden variety of unknown origin. The one fact wliich makes one hesitate is that Spach himself suggests that it may be a hybrid between tlie typical I. Xiphion and the variety lusitanica. Now, I cannot see any blood other than that of the type in the plant under consideration. It seems to me not a hybrid, but a mere sport; but Spach only suggests its hybrid nature, gives no reasons for doing so; and, moreover, I feel much uncertainty as to the justice of distinguishing a separate variety as lusitanica. Hence, till 1 see reasons to the contrary, I feel decidedly inclined to regard Thunderbolt as Spach's spectabilis.

One thing tliere can be no doubt about; the plant is a handsome, showy thing, of far stronger nature and stouter habit than the type. It will grow apparently anywhere, in the dry as well as in damp, and will thrive luxuriantly where the type dwindles. It increases by offsets very rapidly, comes, I am told, true from seed, and should be grown by all lovers of Irises. It does not take long to get a clump 3 ft. wide, and such a clump, with an appropriate setting, is worth looking on. I may add that Mr. Baker, who has done so much for the study of Irises, is also of the opinion that Thunderbolt is not sordida, but he is not prepared to identify it with Spach's spectabilis. F.

For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at

-- BobPries - 2014-10-01
Topic revision: r1 - 01 Oct 2014, BobPries
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