1911. Iris filifolia note by Dykes

Gardeners' Chronicle p.218, September 23, 1911



For some years past an Iris has been offered by dealers under the name of Iris filifolia. It is a valuable garden plant, for it is about the first member of the Spanish Iris group to flower, and its blooms are large, with blue-purple standards and pale-blue falls, set off with a golden central stripe. It grows about 12 or 18 inches high, and increases rapidly in rich, light soil. Like all Spanish Irises, it is the better for an annual shift of quarters. This operation may be performed as soon as the foliage turns yellow — about the beginning of August. If it is not carried out, a struggle for existence ensues between the central flowering bulb and the four or six bulblets which cluster round its base, with the result that either the flowering bulb is deprived of some of the nutriment that it would otherwise obtain, or else the bulblets are unable to develop for the following years. In the wild state the latter is the usual result, and the empty husks of bulblets that have been unable to develop are commonly to be found among the withered coats of old flowering bulbs, in which collected specimens are almost always enclosed.

Anyone who has the patience to wait four or five years for the flowers should cross this Iris with pollen of I. lusitanica and the ordinary garden forms of I. xiphium. The result will be a series of varieties of the so-called Dutch Irises, that have lately been introduced into commerce. The widely-circulated statement that in obtaining these " Dutch " Irises all the known species of Spanish Irises were combined, seems to be erroneous, for none of them shows any trace of perianth tube, which would almost certainly have appeared sooner or later if either tingitana, Boissieri or juncea had been among the parents. Moreover, the early-flowering habit of the seed parent explains the precocity of the hybrids, which come into flower in the last week in May —usually a full fortnight before the first of the ordinary Spanish varieties.

How the name of Iris filifolia came -to be applied to the Iris in question is not apparent, for a reference to Boissier's description in Voyage But. Esp., p. 602, t. 170 (1839-45), shows clearly that the identification is wrong. Boissier's plant is distinguished at once from xiphium by the presence of a tube equal in length to half the length of the bud, while the filifolia of the trade has no tube, apart from the short funnel that separates the ovary from the base of the segments of the flower.

It is just possible that tlie confusion may have originated from the fact that both the true and the false filifolia are found in the neighbourhood of Gibraltar. The one may have been collected and re-introduced for the other. Thanks to the kindness of a correspondent I have, this year, had the true filifolia in flower here, and the half-dozen blooms that I had were enough to show how desirable an Iris this is. The stem is about 15 inches high, and bears one or two flowers of the richest red-purple, the falls being decorated with a broad, central golden oblong patch, surrounded by a blue halo. Thanks to the warm, dry weather, seed set in abundance, and the bulbs also have increr.sed in number. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the true Iris filifolia may soon be less rare in our gardens than it appears to be at present.

Curiously enough, I also received early this summer some Iris flowers from the neighbourhood of Gibraltar, which, as far as could be seen from their somewhat withered state, were identical with the false filifolia. They are known to local botanists as I. Fontanesii Godr., a name which by the way, appears to be based upon a confusion and to have no validity. The name of I. xiphium var. praecox would seem to be the most appropriate, W. R. Dykes, Chaiterhuuss, Godalming.

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

-- BobPries - 2014-11-13
Topic revision: r1 - 13 Nov 2014, BobPries
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