(1920) The History Of Iris Growing by John C. Wister
The Flower Grower p.22, February 1920
Note by the Editor-
This article was a part of Mr. Wisters suggested program for the American Iris Society which appeared on page 8 of the January issue of THE FLOWER GROWER. It is a very complete, brief review of the progress In Iris growmg to date.
No coherent review of the history of Iris growing, and of Iris growers and breeders has ever been published. Information as to the introduction of the various species can undoubtedly be found in botanical publications, but of the early beginnings of garden Irises little is known. The following review of the ascertainable history of bearded Irises, will show how very fragmentary our knowledge is, and it is hoped it will suggest what great interest a real knowledge of history might bring to the lovers of the Iris. The history of the Rose is quite complete, and through the labors of Peony enthusiasts we now know fairly clearly the transition from the wild Peony, through the skill of French breeders during the last 100 years, to the magnificent garden Peony of today. The story of the transition from the wild types of pumila, pallida, and variegata to the modern Irises of our gardens, should prove equally fascinating.
It is known that Louis Van Houtte, of Ghent, Belgium, introduced many named varieties of Irises from his nursery for a period of years beginning about 1865, and it is presumed that these were among the first improved Irises. It can be assumed that many of our older and now surpassed varieties originated here, but we do not know which varieties they are, nor do we know which varieties are referable to other early European breeders. It seems likely that some of Van Houttes varieties, upon reaching France were renamed, and it is known that early French varieties were sent to England to be sold in mixtures at auction, and that varieties particularly pleasing to English nurserymen, were by them given English names. These careless methods are undoubtedly responsible for many of our confusions in nomen~ clature.
In England Peter Barr was the pioneer in the introduction of new Irises, and we have record of many of these introductions, most of which were undoubtedly his own seedlings from varieties of France or Belgium, but some of which may have been simply selections from purchases made abroad. As his work was pioneer work many of his varieties have been surpassed, but among them are many varieties which are still popular, such as Albert Victor, Arnols, Celeste, and Dr. Bernice. The dates of introduction are not known, but the more important varieties probably came after 1890, which indicates what a very modern flower the garden Iris is. In England also, between 1885 and 1902, Reuthe and Ware introduced nearly
twenty named varieties, which have now become of minor importance. It must have been about this time that Caparne, on the Island of Guernsey, conceived the idea of crossing the early blooming Alpine and Crimean Irises with the late blooming Germanica, Pallida and other sections, with the result of not only giving us a large number of early forms, but also in giving us an entirely new racethe Intermediate Section. Before 1902 he introduced 37 Intermediates, among them such fine forms as Dauphin, Diamond, Dolphin, Ivonne, King Christian, and Royal, which have reached America only comparatively recently. In the Dwarf Bearded Section he named over 100 of his seedlings, but most of these were discarded by the English nurserymen who tested them before 1910, and probably but few of them have reached America.
Mention of the new Intermediate Section, brings us naturally to the work of Goos & Koeneman of Nierwaller, Germany, whose introductions reached America before those of Caparne. It is known that this firm purchased many Irises from Caparne, and it is believed by some, that Fritzhof, Halfdan, Helge, and Ingeborg, may have been Caparne seedlings, and not seedlings of G. & K. Certain it is that they have all the characteristics of the Caparne set, while the late blooming introductions of G. & K. have characteristics entirely their own. Among these latter are the splendid King of Iris (properly Iris Koenig,) Rhein Nixe, and Gagus; a number of others were equally recommended some years ago, but their coloring is so crude as to displease many people.
In France, since 1900 the progress of the Iris has been great. Verdier is known to have raised many seedlings, but at present we have record only of those varieties introduced by the Vilmorins after his death. Among these are the magnificent jeanne dArc, La Neige, Prosper Laugzer, and Edouard Michel. Inspired probably by Verdier the firm of Vilmorin-Andrieux, of Paris, have given us since 1905 or 1910, increasingly good Irises. Among their earlier introductions were Tamerlan, Australis, and Onflame; about 1912, Alcazar and Archeveque; about 1916, Dejazet, Opera, and Ambigu. In recent years their tendency has been to breed more and more with derivatives of Amas (macrantha) which, probably with a little admixture of Trojana, are giving them Irises with enormous flowers, but unfortunately the plants tend to be a little shy blooming.
Near Paris also the firm of Millet & F ils, have been breeding Irises for some years, and they have sought for extreme freedom of bloom rather than extra large size. Among their varieties are Souvenir De Mme Gaudichau, Romeo, Col. Candelot, and Corrida; they were introduced about 1914 and are as yet little known in this country.
Cayeux & Le Clerc, of Petit Vitry, near Paris, have been introducing Iris seedlings since 1906. Their three best varieties are probably Ma Mie, Mme. Blanche Pion, and Petit Vitry.
On the Mediterranean coast west of Montpelier, lives the greatest French Iris amateur, M. Ferdinand Denis. He has been conducting breeding experiments for many years, and was the first to use the species Ricardi, which has given his seedlings great size and height in his climate, but some of them unfortunately are not so well adapted to northern climates. Among his varieties introduced during the past five years are Mlle. Schwartz, Mme. Claude Monet, Mme. Durande and Mme. Boullet. Troost and Dalila are older, and are now listed in American catalogues.
In England since 1900 even greater progress has been made. There the late Sir Michael Foster, of Cambridge, is considered the father of the modern Iris. By crossing Oncocyclus species with bearded Irises he gave us the famous Dilkash, Parvar, Shirin and others which flourish in England, but which have not proved complete successes in America. Among Apogons he gave us many varieties of Spuria and Monspur. But to Americans his greatest achievement appears to be the fact that he was the pioneer in the use of the species Trojana. From this species Caterina, Crusader, Lady Foster, and Shelford Chieftan inherit their height, size, and their graceful stems. These were introduced before 1913. Older varieties are Mrs. C. Darwin, Mrs. H. Darwin, and Mrs. Allan Gray. The last named variety contains blood of the species Cengialti, which apparently had not been used before this. All the Foster varieties were introduced by R. W. Wallace 8: Co. of Colchester, who are today the leading Iris specialists of the world.
Since 1900 also, Amos Perry, best known as a specialist in Rock Plants, has given us some fine Dwarf Bearded varieties, and also some late blooming varieties among which are HerMajesty
, the famous Black Prince (often wrongly called Black Knight), and more lately some Cengialti seedlings, and also some fine Siberica varieties. Wallace has introduced also a number of seedlings Of Mr. Yeld. Of York, among which are Dawn, Neptune, and Lord of june. All the Yeld varieties are exceptionally vigorous and strong growing. Wallace has introduced this year the first of the seedlings of Sir Arthur Hort, another amateur who has obtained extreme size in some of his Tro jana crosses. Mr. W. R. Dykes, his great book completed, has turned his attention to breeding as a means of discovering the parentage of some of our older varieties rather than the creation of improved new forms. Two of his seedlings, however, have already become popular in England, namely, Goldcrest (not the variegated variety of that name) and Richard II. It was Mr. Dykes who, 20 years ago, induced A. J. Bliss to take up Iris breeding in a scientific way, for scientific purposes and thus unwittingly gave to the Iris world its greatest breeder. For the three score and ten varieties that Mr. Bliss has saved from the more than ten thousand seedlings he has raised, represent a greater advance in the Iris asa garden flower than all the other Iris breeders up to the present time have given us.
I have pointed out in the foregoing pages some of the characteristics which have marked the work of the other breeders. No such single characteristic of the Bliss seedlings can be given, but rather it must be said that his varieties have no single strong point, but that they combine vigor, height, size, freedom of bloom and clear color. Since 1917 Wallace has introduced 31 of the Bliss seedlings among which may be mentioned Azure, Benbow, Camelot, Cretonne, Dominion, Knysna, Phyllis Bliss, Sweet Lavender and Tom Tit. Mr. Bliss has kept records of the parentage of all his seedlings.
In America few Irises were grown before Mr. B. H. Farr, of Wyomissing imported his famous collections from Barr, later adding the G. & K., and Vilmorin novelties. This collection began to attract attention before 1909 when he sent out his first seedlings, and his introductions during the next few years, which included such varieties as Anna Farr, Glory of Reading, Mount Penn, Mary Garden, Quaker Lady and Wyomissing, made him justly famous throughout this country, and also abroad. His work was pioneer work, however, and many of his seedlings have already been surpassed.
Miss Grace Sturtevant, of Wellesley Farms, Massachusetts, was the next American breeder to attract attention, her first seedlings being introduced about 1916. Amon them are Aflerglow, Shekinah, Dream, mpire, Avalon, and Queen Caterina. About this same time Mr. W. E. Fryer, of Mantorville, Minn., introduced a number of seedlings of variegata and squalens type, which had proven very satisfactory in his severe climate. Among them are F ryers Glory, W. ]. Fryer, Minnesota, and Golden Plume. About this time also Bobbink & Atkins introduced a set of six Irises, apparently descendent of some of Goos
Koeneman's varieties. The well known Secretary of the American Peony Society, Prof. A. P. Saunders Of Clinton Vt., has introduced one seedling, the beautiful White Knight.
Mr. E. B.Williamson, of Bluffton, Ind., an amateur, has raised many seedlings of Susiana or Korolkowi crossed with Pogon varieties, and has introduced at least one tall bearded variety, Lent A. Williamson. Another amateur, Mr. J. M. Shull, near Washington, D. C., is making many crosses of Trojana and variegata. Mr. D. M. Andrews, of Boulder, Colorado, has been making crosses for some years, with a Mendelian program in mind. While he has secured several good seedlings, he does not intend to introduce any of them until his experiment is complete. It is known that Mrs. Jenkins and Miss Van Name of New Haven, Conn., Mrs. McKinney
, Of Madison, N. J., and Mr.
Mohr, near San Francisco, and other amateurs, have been growing seedlings for some years, but they have apparently not yet reached the stage of naming or introducing any of them. This is probably true also of various nurserymen throughout the country.
This review of the history of Iris growing shows how very much we do not know, and how many gaps there are to be filled in. Such work should be done by the Iris Society. Mention of Japanese varieties has been purposely omitted, as the situation is too hopeless to be attempted until the society is older.
For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at