(1906) Oncocyclus Irises And Their Allies by Jenkins

Gardeners' Chronicle p.193, March 31, 1906


To the very large number of those who cultivate good hard)' plants comparatively few genera are so full of interest as the Iris, and to those who cultivate the Iris no section of it is more fascinating than that popularly known as " Cushion Iris," the Oncocyclus Irises of the botanist. In more ways than one are these Palestine Oncocyclus Irises fascinating, for in great measure they attract by the unique beauty of their well-nigh indescribable forms, and they further possess a deeper interest for those would-be special cultivators of them who never tire in their endeavours to cultivate them better than formerly, and to solve, if possible, the problem of how best to treat them, so as to make them a permanent success in British gardens. If this very desirable stage in the cultivation of these plants should ever be reached, the gardeners of that time will be more indebted, than possibly they will then be aware of, to such indefatigable workers in this particular field of study as Sir Michael Foster, the late Rev. H. Ewbank, Mr. Lynch, of the Cambridge Botanic Gardens, and Mr. John Hoog, of Haarlem, among others. Each and all of these have worked earnestly in the endeavour to elucidate the difliculties attending the permanent cultivation of these plants.

If we compare experiences to-day with those of a score of years ago, we feel bound to admit that progress has not been great, so far as this relates to the making of these Oncocyclus Irises ' more permanent plants in the garden. Whether this is unattainable is a question that can only be answered after further years of experience and expel iment. How far on the road to this desired haven the raising of seedlings at home may bring us is an item worthy of greater thought than the subject now receives. At the present time this phase of the work is partially neglected. I am not now referring to the raising of cross-bred seedlings, but rather suggesting that those interested in these plants should try to obtain seeds direct from the native habitats of these Palestine Irises, and in this way, and by raising seedlings at home, endeavour to perpetuate the beauty of these plants for the benefit of the rising generation of gardeners. How increasingly difficult the task becomes each year is well known to those who endeavour to grow the plants from the too frequently insignificant rhizomes now received. Nor is the difficulty diminished by a knowledge of some of the facts. The plants are lifted too early from their native haunts, have a prolonged and enforced rest, and are subsequently hurried into growth in England so soon as planted, and always in the most uncongenial of our four seasons.

For let not the fact be overlooked that these imported plants in their first year in this country have obviously to make all their growth between November and April; hence it is small wonder, with weaklings only at the start, that so large a percentage flower and perish almost as a result of the same.

It is in these circumstances and with these facts in mind that I suggest that these Cushion Irises may yet be grown in British gardens provided seeds be obtainable from the native habitats of the plants, and the seedlings raised in this country. Such a step, I submit, would have a sort of acclimatizing effect, and by growing the young plants on quickly there would be some hope of securing--developed rhizome, with the expectation of it flowering in the near future. Given the well-I am one of those who would emphatically declare for the annual lifting and drying as the only really effective means in this country of insuring or enforcing that absolute rest which I believe to be essential to increased longevity in these plants. I know that there exists some diversity of opinion on this point, and that some growers cover their plants with lights to throw off the wet and to give them the rest which they believe to be necessary.

spike a few months later. But whether such evidences would afford sufficient proof of the utility or advantages of absolute rest to those who believe this condition is met by covering over the plants is another matter. The chief gain in my experience is in a deferred growth, thus keeping the growing point below the surface until severe frost is past, and, by assisting the plant by these means to a more deliberate, unchecked growth under more congenial con
ditions, assist it also to a somewhat extended viz., that a fairly well-developed rhizome of any Iris will endure a great amount of drying off with impunity. In so far as the annual lifting and drying olf are concerned, it is interesting to record that Mr. C. G. Van Tubergen, jun., of Haarlem, has practised it from the beginning with all the hybrid and cross-bred forms now known as Regelio-Cyclus Irises. In some degree, however, M. Tubergen's method is justified by the average severity of the Dutch winter, and by the moisture-laden character of the soil. Apart from these circumstances, however, no grower of these Irises could desire better rhizomes than those I received from M. Tubergen in September, 1904, and the clean, sturdy roots, with plump growth, and buds well in check, afforded ample proof that the method of lifting each year in no sense diminished or minimised the vigour of the plant. It should here be stated that at the time of which we speak M. Tubergen had behind him the experiences of several years with these hybrid forms.

Regelio-Cyclus hybrids possess a vigour all their own there is no gainsaying. Here, in West Middlesex, planted in the company of some of the newer as well as the older of the Palestine Irises, the hybrids of the new race were a great success, not merely in their first growth and flowering, but equally so in the fine root development that has resulted therefrom. Indeed, the development of the rhizomes gave the impression rather of a small flag Iris, than which I think I could hardly pay a greater tribute to their vigour.

Some of the tufts I have lifted and replanted, others I have permitted to grow unchecked, unprotected, r.nd without any attempt to enforce a resting period upon them. My motive in doing this is to estimate their probable value to British cultivators when permanently planted in our gardens, and while many will admire them as seen in flower and be lempted to grow them, others, should the lifting and drying even for a short period prove a necessity, will assuredly be debarred from making the attempt. At the present time I greatly incline to the belief that these Regelio-Cyclus hybrids are likely to prove both valuable and permanent subjects for British gardens, preferably in a sunny position. M. Tubergen has not yet given us in the new race all the unique or peculiar beauty of the choicest of the older Cushion Irises, and we have, for example, no substitute for I. Lorteti or L. alba, or even I. Gatesii; yet the group does contain some exceedingly beautiful varieties, and one at least, " Charon," I believe to be quite unique, and there are others near akin, and, again, other kinds in which the influence of I. paradoxa is clearly traceable, are very fascinating. In so far as size of blossom is concerned, the new race possesses an advantage, and still another meritorious point is that each scape is two-flowered.

In all probability, however, the time of their flowering will in the near future be cited as the greatest gain to the garden, seeing that their coming and going practically link together in one unbroken chain the Irises of the pumila group, on the one hand, with the earliest of flag Irises on the other, the new Regelio-Cyclus forms worthily filling the long-existing void, and the more worthily if, in the near future, they are found to be as good from the standpoint of permanent perennials as they are to-day good from the standpoint of intrinsic merit and beauty.

E. II. Jenkins, Hampton Hill.

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

-- BobPries - 2014-07-18
Topic revision: r3 - 20 Jul 2014, BobPries
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