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The Development of the Blue Tall-Bearded Irises

From the "The World of Irises" Chapter 4 by Melba B Hamblen and Keith Keppel. © 1978 AIS



Blue surely must be the most popular of all iris colors, for no less than 12 blue irises, almost 30 percent of the total winners, had won the Dykes Medal in America by 1974. These winners include the milky 'Blue Sapphire' and the nearly navy-blue 'Allegiance', but most fall within the light to midblue range: 'Sierra Blue', 'Missouri', 'Great Lakes', 'Chivalry', 'Helen McGregor', 'Blue Rhythm', 'Eleanor's Pride', 'Pacific Panorama', 'Babbling Brook', 'Shipshape'.

‘Blue Sapphire’ (1953) Dykes Medal--1958Blue Sapphire ‘Allegiance’ (1957) Dykes Medal--1964Allegiance ‘Sierra Blue’ (1930) Dykes Medal--1935Sierra Blue ‘Missouri’ (1933) Dykes Medal 1937Missouri
‘GreatLakes’ (1938) Dykes Medal--1942GreatLakes ‘Chivalry’ (1943) Dykes Medal--1947Chivalry ‘Helen McGregor’ (1943) Dykes Medal--1949Helen McGregor ‘Blue Rhythm’ (1945) Dykes Medal 1950Blue Rhythm
‘Eleanors Pride’ (1952) Dykes Medal--1961Eleanors Pride ‘Pacific Panorama’ (1960) Dykes Medal--1965Pacific Panorama ‘Babbling Brook’ (1965) Dykes Medal--1972Babbling Brook ‘Shipshape’ (1968) Dykes Medal 1974Shipshape

Lavender blues and blue purples are found in the tall bearded species, and the improvement of truer blues has been a slow, steady development over the past century, with no sudden breakthrough. Before World War I, blues of note included the French 'Oriflamme', the American 'Juniata', and the English 'Caterina', 'Crusader' and 'Carthusian'.

‘Oriflamme’ (1904) Oriflamme ‘Juniata’ (1909) Juniata ‘Caterina’ (1909) Caterina ‘Crusader’ (1913) Crusader

The 1920s witnessed the appearance in France of the blue 'Sensation'. It was at this same time that California-bred blues began to draw attention: 'Marian Mohr', 'Conquistador', 'California Blue', and 'Santa Barbara' were followed in the next decade by 'Pale Moonlight', 'Santa Clara', 'Sierra Blue', and 'Shining Waters'.


‘Sensation’ (1925) Sensation ‘Conquistador’ (1923) Conquistador ‘California Blue’ (1926) California Blue  

The 1930s also saw the introduction of 'Missouri', 'Castalia', and 'Gloriole' from the eastern two-thirds of the nation, and from Canada came the famous 'Great Lakes'. The stage was set for a flood of outstanding blue irises.


‘Pale Moonlight’ (1931) Pale Moonlight ‘Sierra Blue’ (1932) Sierra Blue   ‘Shining Waters’ (1933) Shining Waters ‘Missouri’ (1933) Missouri ‘Gloriole’ (1933) Gloriole



The exact pedigree of 'Great Lakes' is not known. Registration records indicate that it came from seedlings of 'Dominion' and of 'Conquistador'. The hybridizer acknowledged that his records were incomplete and that the unrecorded portions of the pedigree could have been either named varieties or seedlings. 'Crusader' and/or the lavender bitone 'Lady Foster' could have been involved. Regardless of its precise lineage, 'Great Lakes' was an important breeder.

'Great Lakes' with 'Missouri' yielded 'Chivalry' for Jesse Wills-a cross of two Dykes Medal winners had produced a third winner.

‘Great Lakes' (1938) TBGreat Lakes X ‘Missouri’ (1933) Missouri = ‘Chivalry’ (1943) Chivalry

Other first generation 'Great Lakes' derivatives include 'Sylvia Murray', 'Distance', 'Keene Valley' and 'Blue Valley', the latter two varieties serving as the basis for the famous Kenneth Smith line of blues. Graves crossed 'Sensation' and 'Gloriole'; the resultant pale lavender-blue 'Cloud Castle', crossed with 'Purissima', produced 'Helen McGregor'. 'Helen McGregor ' crossed with a seedling of 'Great Lakes' and 'Pale Moonlight', gave 'Jane Phillips'. Another famous blue line had begun.
'Great Lakes' offspring

‘Sylvia Murray' (1943) TBSylvia Murray 'Distance' (1946)Distance ‘Keene Valley' (1948) No image ‘Blue Valley’ (1945) Blue Valley
Graves Line

‘Sensation (1925) TBSensation X ‘Gloriole’ (1933) Gloriole = ‘Cloud Castle’ (1944) need image

‘Cloud Castle’ (1944) need image X ‘Purissima’ (1927) Purissima = ‘Helen McGregor’ (1943) Helen McGregor

‘Helen McGregor’ (1943) Helen McGregor X ‘Sibling of 'Great Lakes') No Image = ‘Jane Phillips’ (1946) Jane Phillips



The next chapter in blue breeding began in southern Illinois where Eva Faught relied heavily on California-bred varieties from the Mohr-Mitchell line. From a happy combination of seedlings involving 'Purissima', 'Santa Barbara', and 'Santa Clara' she received the pale blue 'Cahokia' and its rich medium-dark blue sibling, 'Pierre Menard'. Georgia Hinkle carried on the line for 29 years, producing many irises of note including: 'Melissa', 'Symphony', 'Demetria', 'Brave Viking' and 'Regina Maria' which became the pollen parent of Don Waters's popular 'Music Maker'. In the northern half of the same state, Orville Fay used pollen of 'Cahokia' to produce 'Bluebird Blue' and 'Butterfly Blue'; these two varieties, when crossed, resulted in 'Galilee', notable for its purity of color and quality of offspring.

‘Cahokia’ (1948) Cahokia 'Pierre Menard' (1948)Pierre Menard ‘Melissa' (1954) Melissa 'Symphony' (1956) = ‘Galilee’ (1956) Galilee

The influence of 'Cahokia' was felt elsewhere. Kenneth Smith combined his own blue with that of Graves. Adding 'Cahokia' gave 'South Pacific', billed as the purest blue to date and introduced in 1954 at $50. Considering this to be an outrageous price, a number of leading irisarians boycotted the variety. However, those who grew and hybridized with 'South Pacific' were rewarded. Its most famous first and second generation descendants are 'Pacific Panorama' and 'Shipshape', both Dykes Medal winners.

‘South Pacific’ (1954) South Pacific 'Pacific Panorama' (1960)Pacific Panorama ‘Shipshape' (1969) Shipshape

The Schreiners assembled an imposing block of good blues to use in their breeding program, and ‘Cahokia’ was included, as were its sibling ‘Pierre Menard’ and grandchild ‘Galilee’.The extremely blue ‘Sapphire Hills’ involves ‘Galilee’ and ‘Pierre Menard’; ‘Sapphire Hills’ also goes back to ‘Harbor Blue’, an important breeder which is a combination of ‘Distance’, ‘Chivalry’, and ‘Jane Phillips’.

Carrying the ‘Cahokia’ heritage further, ‘Galilee’ and ‘Symphony’ are the parents of ‘Babbling Brook’, a Dykes Medal winner that is a parent of ‘Blue Reflection’, ‘Full Tide’, ‘Sea of Galilee’, ‘Waterscape’, and other modem blues. The very blue ‘Wenatchee Skies’ is from ‘South Pacific’ and the equally blue ‘Windchimes’ is a child of ‘Wenatchee Skies’.

‘Sapphire Hills’ (1971) Sapphire Hills 'Harbor Blue' (1954)Harbor Blue ‘Babbling Brook' (1966) Babbling Brook ‘Blue Reflection' (1974) Blue Reflection
‘Full Tide’ (1972) Full Tide 'Sea Of Galilee' (1974)Sea Of Galilee ‘Waterscape' (1972) no image ‘Wenatchee Skies' (1963) Wenatchee Skies

The Benson blues rely heavily on ‘Gloriole’, ‘Distance’, ‘Spanish Peaks’, and the Graves blue line. Such is the background of ‘Van Cliburn’, which, when crossed with Buttrick's ‘Tidelands’, yielded the very blue ‘Maestro Puccini’. Interesting to note is that ‘Tidelands’ is a ‘Galilee’ child, and that ‘Galilee’ pollen on ‘Winter Olympics’ led to a trio of good blues for Opal Brown: ‘Seaside’, ‘Skyview’ and ‘Sound of Music’. Other distinguished blues include Schortman's ‘Sierra Skies’, its seedling ‘Blue Formal’, Craig's ‘Mary McClellan’ and his ‘Blue Leather’, all of which trace back to Chivalry.

‘Maestro Puccini’ (1969) Maestro Puccini 'Seaside' (1967)Seaside ‘Mary McClellan' (1952) Mary McClellan ‘Blue Leather' (1963) Blue Leather



Dark blues are few, for as the color deepens, the violet influence increases. Just as the clearest, truest blues are pale and usually involve whites in their breeding, so the darkest blues involve blacks or dark purples. Cook's ‘Allegiance’ is from ‘Dark Boatman’, a black, crossed with blues. Schortman's ‘Indiglow’ is from ‘Chivalry’ and the black ‘Sable’ and purple ‘Destiny’. ‘Bristol Gem’ and ‘Praise The Lord’ are from ‘Allegiance’, and ‘Five Star Admiral’ traces to it. ‘Goodnight Irene’ is from ‘Pacific Panorama’ and ‘Indiglow’.

‘Allegiance’ (1958) Allegiance 'Dark Boatman' (1954)Dark Boatman ‘Indiglow' (1959) Indiglow ‘Sable' (1938) Sable
‘Praise The Lord' (1972) Praise The Lord ‘Five Star Admiral' (1974) Five Star Admiral ‘Goodnight Irene' (1972) Goodnight Irene



One variation in blue breeding is the reverse blue bitone or bicolor (often called "reverse amoena") in which blue standards, the color generally intensified in the midribs, contrast with falls of white or pale blue. Paul Cook crossed I. imbricata with a diploid orchid pink (Warburton 1971). The resultant seedling was crossed with blue tall beardeds, and among its bitoned to bicolored descendants are ‘French Flair’, ‘Night Heron’, ‘Blue Fantasy’, ‘Brook Song’, ‘Viking Admiral’, and ‘Surf Rider’. Other varieties without traceable imbricata inheritance also show the reverse bi tone tendency. Many blue whites show a slight inclination in this direction, and 'Avis', derived mainly from pinks and yellows, is white with very definite blue-violet standard coloration. The blue-toned 'Sea Venture' is a seedling of 'Avis'.

‘I. imbricata’ (1845) I. imbricata Night Heron' (1967)Night Heron ‘Blue Fantasy' (1961) Blue Fantasy ‘Viking Admiral' (1973) Viking Admiral

====================================================================================================== The World of Irises continues with Violets And Purples ====================================================================================================== ----

Galleries of Blue Tall-Bearded Iris images (under construction)

Prior to 1949
  • Images of Irises classed as white in the 1939 color classification system represented by the following color codes:
    • B1 = Blue Iris selfs with blue-toned accents (beards, hafts, etc.) or blue-whites
    • B2 = Blue Iris feathered with blue-tones (plicatas)
    • B3 = Blue Iris (standards), bicolors or bitones with blue-toned falls
    • B6 = Blue Iris (standards), bicolors or bitones with yellow-toned falls
    • B7 = Blue Iris selfs with red-toned accents (beards, hafts, etc.) or red-whites
    • B8 = Bluee Iris feathered with red-tones (plicatas)
    • B9 = Blue Iris (standards), bicolors or bitones with red-toned falls
  • Images of Irises between 1949-1979 based of the 1949 revised color classification system represented by the following color codes:
    • B1 = White selfs
    • B2 = White Plicatas
    • B3 = White Bitones
    • B4 = White Bicolors
    • B5 = White Blends
  • Images of Modern Blue Iises from 1980--present

The World of Irises continues with the development of VIOLETS AND PURPLES and then WORK FOR BLACKS

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

-- BobPries - 2015-10-12
Topic revision: r22 - 14 Jan 2016, BobPries
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