1897, April Irises by J. N. Gerard
Garden And Forest, p.167, April 28, 1897
BETWEEN the flowering of the early-blooming Irises and the first of the rhizomatous section, say, usually from late March to late April, there are a few interesting species which are as distinct as they are attractive. These Irises all belong to the Juno group of the botanists. In a general way they are distinguished by having bulbs with a few thick scales, very thick fleshy roots, which are formed before they go to rest and by the exceedingly small standards of their flowers. They have leaves somewhat Leek-like, stem-clasping and distichous. Some of the Juno group flower in the early winter, and are grown under protection in winter, but the main body is in evidence at this season.
Owing to their hardiness and distinct habit, so different from other sections of the family, they may be considered very desirable plants for the hardy border in certain positions. They are bulbous plants, natives of Asia and localities where the seasons are somewhat sharply defined into wet and dry periods. Different plants from the same locality will grow under differing conditions, as some of them have a certain adaptability to unaccustomed environments, but in a general way the proper treatment of deciduous bulbous plants, natives of countries having very dry seasons, is to supply them freely with moisture as soon as they start into growth and as long as they continue to make progress, and to withhold water as soon as indications show that growth has stopped, keeping them as warm and as dry as possible during the resting season. It is difficult to imitate the conditions of a dry steppe in an ordinary garden, and it is sometimes perplexing to choose a position in the open where such plants will thrive. Raised borders, with sashes in summer, or even cold frames, are sometimes used, but these are unsightly, and usually the most available place for such plants is at the foot of a wall with a southern exposure. In such a position, however, there is usually a lack of moisture, even early in the spring, while the plants are growing vigorously, and the cultivator must be prepared to supply water when, as is often the case, the March winds dry the soil. In the garden one should use the hose when water is needed, even if the calendar indicates a wet season. Growing bulbs can scarcely be overwatered.
Of this small group of plants, Iris orchioides is the most attractive in the borders, both in flower and in the habit of the plant. It produces stems a foot and a half to two feet tall, and as the internodes and flower-stems are longer than those of other species it is more graceful in habit, while the abundant golden-yellow flowers, though individually small, are very effective. In somewhat heavy soil, and a southern exposure, near a wall, I. orchioides flowers regularly here, increases by offsets and bears seed. It would probably be well to lift, remove the offsets and replant it at least every second year as there is a tendency of the plants to become too crowded for the best results. The yellow ot the flowers of I. orchioides is accented by a black blotch on each fall.
Flowering at the same time is a blue-flowered Iris from Bokhara and Turkestan, I. orchioides. var. ccerulea. Though this has the long internodes and stems of the type it is scarcely as graceful. The flowers are larger than those of the yellow form and are a light slaty-blue shading to white, with a bright orange ridge, on each side of which appear deep blue linings. My experience with this form is slight, and I do not know how reliable it is as a border plant. Two years ago I had from Rev. Mr. Gates, of Mardin, a few bulbs of what seems to have been known as I. Mesopotamia, but which is more correctly I. Assyriaca, Haussk., under which name it has lately been introduced by Herr Leichtlin. This is now flowering at a height of fifteen inches. The flowers are some three inches across. The flowers were described as a milky white, but the writer must have had in mind the whiteness of city milk, for even at first the flowers have a blue tint which deepens as they age.
It may be said that the flowers of these Irises open in succession from the tip downward, and usually one from each node. The nodes and flower-stems of I. Assyriaca arc shorter than those of I. orchioides, and the leaves are wider and less shiny.
The prettiest blue-flowered Juno Iris, however, is I. Sindjarensis, which is now in bloom. The leaves of this plant are not as smooth as those of the others, and arc slightly glaucous, The flower-stems are short and the flowers rather larger and have wider petals than those of I. Assyriaca. They are frilled on the falls and have a very pleasing slaty blue color.
Iris Caucasica and its variety major are dwarf kinds of the same section, with few narrow leaves with horny margins. The flowers are of that degenerate yellow euphoniously described by the plant dealer as "light lemon-yellow." As it is improbable that any one's color sense can be gratified by such a futile attempt at yellow, I hesitate to commend this species as a garden plant.
Iris fumosa is another yellow-flowered Juno which I have not yet seen in flower, though it is in bud in the border. This Syrian species is said to show a smoky hue of yellow which is not promising, as smoky-hued Irises usually are more curious than brilliant. These plants flower at that unhappy season when the weather is never twice alike. The flowers are indifferent to changes of temperature, like most early flowers, but they do suffer severely from the great enemy of us all the high drying winds so that if a sheltered spot can be given them it will be appreciated.
Elizabeth, N.J. J.N.Gerard.
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