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The Development Of Plicata Irises

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



The plicata pattern is not new (AIS 1947, 1971). European writings and paintings indicate that tall, small-flowered plicatas with blue stitching on white ground were in existence at least 400 years ago. In all but pattern they appear indentical to I. pallida, yet no plicata-patterned iris has been found in native populations. The occurrence of plicatas in the first generation from crosses of plicatas with I. mellita, I. pumila (the clone called 'Cretica'), and 'Ricardi', considered to be a form of I. mesopotamica, adds to the mystery.

Many old diploid plicatas were named. Of these, 'Mme Chéreau', a Lemon variety dating back to 1844, is still grown. Many modern plicatas can be traced back to this iris (figure 19). In the first quarter of this century, A. J. Bliss, in England, and Grace Sturtevant, in Massachusetts, began exchanging information; both had produced plicatas in their seedling patches. They noted which nonplicatas acted as carriers for the pattern. In 1920 Sturtevant introduced the blue and white 'True Charm', and four years later, 'True Delight', the result of a planned breeding program which replaced the blue stitching with stitching of orchid pink.

'Mme Chéreau' (1844) Mme Chéreau 'True Charm' (1920) True Charm 'True Delight’ (1924) True Delight


As with other tall beardeds, the story of plicata development hinges on the conversion from diploidy to tetraploidy. Miss Sturtevant wrote to William Mohr, who was working with the tender I. mesopotamica in California, suggesting that some of his lines might contain the plicata factor and that it would be interesting to try for large plicatas. Mohr's crosses had included the Vilmorin diploid plicata 'Parisiana' and the diploid blue 'Juniata', a plicata carrier. Later generations produced tall, large, white-ground plicatas, and following Mohr's death, Professor Mitchell introduced them to the iris world. 'San Francisco' won immediate fame, being registered, introduced, and awarded the Dykes Medal all in the same year (1927), but its sibling 'Los Angeles' proved to be the better grower. 'San Francisco' was a parent to the cream and reddish purple 'Sacramento', introduced two years later.

'Mesopotamica' (1913) Mesopotamica 'Juniata' (1909) Juniata 'San Francisco’ (1927) San Francisco 'Los Angeles' (1927) Los Angeles

The French firm of Cayeux et LeClerc introduced the tetraploid 'Ensorceleur' in 1926, but because of its stipplings and striations it was not recognized as a plicata at the time. The Cayeux plicatas came in a wide array of colors and patterns (many with striated markings), and became quite popular. The delicately marked lilac plicata 'Séduction' was introduced in 1933; the following year the heavily marked flaring purplish rose plicata 'Madame Louis Aureau' made its debut and won the French Dykes Medal immediately. Both varieties were important ancestors of modern plicatas.


Contending with harsh Nebraska winters, the Sasses made heavy use of the hardy I. variegata and its derivatives. 'Midwest', introduced in 1923, was a purpljsh rose-on-white plicata of conventional appearance, but distinctive plicatas began to appear, also. Stitches were augmented or replaced by speckles and the white ground began to give way to cream or pale yellow grounds, as evidenced by 'Jubilee', 'King·Karl', and others. But it was the 1936 'Siegfried' that stands as a milestone in the line, for it was a tetraploid, with large size, strong yellow ground color, and tall (but weak) stalks. It includes both 'Midwest' and 'Jubilee' in its ancestry. 'Orloff', introduced in 1937, with deep cream ground heavily marked cinnamon, and 'Tiffany', 1936, with rose markings on yellow, figure prominently in later breeding.

Important white-ground plicatas also came from the Sass line. 'Blue Shimmer' with its clear blue markings, and 'Minnie Colquitt', purple and white, were immensely popular with gardeners as well as breeders. 'Port Wine' was so heavily marked with purple that the effect was that of a purple self with a white blotch in the falls. 'Dotted Swiss', a 1956 introduction, was an improved 'Blue Shimmer', and 'Tea Apron' (introduced by El Dorado Gardens in 1961, after the Sass gardens were discontinued and the seedlmgs sold) was the culmmation of a Sass line in which the blue plicata markings were concentrated on the hafts.


In 1940 and 1941 the Sass seedling fields began to yield a strange new pattern, one with style arms white or yellow, hafts immaculate white or yellow, but the remainder of the flower washed with color, with paler veins. The first of these, 'Moonlit Sea' in 1942, blue with startling yellow hafts, became the prototype for the class. The 1949 'Pretty Pansy' and 1953 'Fairy Fancy' were descendants in purple and white. These, and others of the type, were referred to variously as "'Moonlit Sea' plicatas," "fancies," "true fancies," and more recently, "luminatas" (MIS 1972).

Earlier in the Sass line an occasional unmarked flower would appear from crosses involving nothing but plicatas. Being devoid of markings of any type, these whites were referred to as "ice whites." 'Matterhorn' and 'Jake' are of this type. The yellow-ground plicatas also gave unmarked segregates, but in clear yellow of a lemon tone, either complete selfs or with paler fall patches. These were dubbed "lemon ices," and included 'Elsa Sass', 'Golden Fleece' and 'Mattie Gates'. The ice whites and lemon ices are plicata recessives and will yield plicatas when crossed with them.


Mitchell's early success with 'San Francisco' served to whet his interest in plicatas. In 1930 while in Europe, he visited the Cayeux nurseries and saw the best of the French plicatas in bloom. Within the next few years he combined the Cayeux lines with his own, and then added generous doses of the Sass line in the form of 'Midwest', 'Siegfried', 'Orloff' and unnamed seedlings. The result was a wide array of colors and patterns, but he was most interested in those with washed or striated falls and promoted them with the term "fancy," better known in later years as "fancy plicatas." Mitchell plicatas which figure heavily in later breeding include the minimally marked 'Mariposa Mia', the lavender and white 'Advance Guard', and the lavender-pink 'Love Affair' and 'Lovelace'.

Tom Craig, more than anyone else, continued the Mitchell lines. A talented artist, he gave Mitchell pictures and drawings in return for seedlings. His own 'Redboy', from 'China Maid' x 'Tiffany', was crossed to a Mitchell 'Seduction' seedling to yield the yellow, maroon and mulberry fancy plicata 'Joseph's Mantle'. 'Rich Raiment', 'Gene Wild', 'Aunt Amoret', and 'Victorian Veil' were other fancy plicatas to appear, while luminatas were represented by 'Glowing Amber' and the yellow and pinkish 'Can Can', described in one catalog as "like a blonde with unrestrained makeup." 'Vengeance', 'Kazak' and others were more conventional plicatas.


Fred DeForest also profited from Mitchell's ideas and encouragement. Crossing 'Tiffany' onto Mitchell's orange-yellow 'Naranja' gave 'Tiffanja', with yellow ground marked light brown; crossing 'Tiffanja' to his own brown 'Casa Morena' gave the larger yellow-ground 'Rodeo'. 'Blue Shimmer' with seedlings involving 'Sacramento' and 'Tiffany' gave him the blue and white 'New Hope'; the following generation yielded 'Caroline Jane', a large ruffled blue and white 1951 introduction.

Hall registered several plicatas. From 'Orloff' and 'Elsa Sass' came the brightly marked 'Firecracker'. In 1944 he introduced 'Tip Top', a small dark blue plicata with standards almost completely colored. Crossing it with the similarly colored 'Masked Ball', he began to linebreed, adding Fay's black self, 'Black Hills'. The culmination of this black and white plicata line was 'Dot And Dash', introduced in 1960.

'Firecracker'Firecracker 'Masked Ball'Masked Ball 'Dot And Dash'Dot And Dash

Jesse Wills's lightly marked blue and white 'Snow Crystal' came unexpectedly from a cross of two blues; with 'Blue Shimmer' it gave 'Belle Meade'. Chet Tompkins produced a number of noteworthy plicatas. His pale blue and white 'Ribbon Round' was a derivative of 'Caroline Jane', and the rich purple and white 'Full Circle' came from 'Dotted Swiss'.

'Blue Shimmer'Blue Shimmer 'Ribbon Round'Ribbon Round 'Caroline Jane'Caroline Jane 'Dotted Swiss'Dotted Swiss


Plicatas have been coming from Schreiner's Gardens for more than 30 years. In the beginning, Schreiners worked with the French varieties; their 1942 plicata introductions, 'Gypsy Baron', 'Lady of Shalott', and 'Magic Carpet', were all seedlings of 'Mme Louis Aureau'.

Schreiners' 1942 introductions and parent

'Gypsy Baron'Gypsy Baron 'Lady Of Shalott'Lady Of Shalott 'Magic Carpet'MagicCarpet Madame Louis Aureau'Madame Louis Aureau

Their darkest violet and white, the 1953 'Flying Saucer', was the culmination of a planned program to produce a tetraploid version of the old Millet diploid 'Heliane', an almost black and white plicata.

'Flying Saucer'Flying Saucer 'Heliane'Flying Saucer

A seedling of 'Caroline Jane' and Flying Saucer' crossed with 'Belle Meade' gave 'Rococo' in 1960. Tall, well-branched, plentifully budded, this blue and white plicata gained immediate popularity and was used heavily as a parent. In the home line it produced 'Blue Petticoats' and 'Jolie'. For Gaulter it gave 'Port Royal' and 'Country Squire'; for Tom Brown, 'Hawaiian Holiday'. Its second generation descendants include Knocke's blue-violet-on-white 'Kiss', and Keppel's blue-bearded 'Charmed Circle'.

'Belle Meade'Belle Meade 'Rococo'Rococo

In 1964, the Schreiners introduced the spectacular 'Stepping Out', with sharp dark violet markings on white. This iris became the first plicata to win the American Dykes Medal since 'San Francisco', in 1927. Unfortunately its parentage is unknown. Its offspring include Schreiner's 'Rondo', 'Gigi', and 'Loop The Loop', Babson's 'Odyssey', Mayberry's 'Royal Cape', Gibson's 'Going My Way', and Plough's 'Kalahari' and 'Aegean Star'.

'Stepping Out'

'Stepping Out''Stepping Out


About 1940 Jim Gibson, feeling much need for improvement in the group, decided to concentrate his efforts on the plicatas. During a visit to Mitchell's Berkeley garden, he remarked on a reddish brown seedling and was given pollen. When he returned to his Porterville garden the only plicata left to pollinate was 'Sacramento'. The plicata program had begun.

In addition to 'Sacramento', foundation material for Gibson's early plicata lines included the Sass's 'Tiffany', 'Siegfried', and 'Orloff', Cayeux's 'Madame Louis Auureau', and Mitchell's 'Misty Rose', a bitone out of 'Seduction'. 'Gibson Girl' came from 'Mme Louis Aureau' and 'Tiffany'; through it, many of the later Gibson varieties carry a strong remontant tendency. A 'Gibson Girl' seedling used with 'Firecracker' gave the 1956 introduction 'Taholah', which proved to be a key breeder. 'Taholah' seedlings include the lemon ice 'Alaloa', the softly blended tan plicata 'Chinquapin', and the bitoned plicata, 'My Honeycomb'. 'Siva Siva', a 'My Honeycomb' child, is more strongly bitoned. 'Taholah' crossed back to 'Floradora Flounce', which already contained 'Taholah' in its pedigree twice, gave the ruffled sanded tan, brown and orchid 'Wild Ginger'. 'Wild Ginger', too, was to serve as a key breeder. In the first generation it yielded 'Gay Tracery', 'Wild Apache', 'Radiant Apogee', 'Golden Filigree', and numerous other warm-toned plicatas. 'Golden Filigree' backcrossed to 'Wild Ginger' resulted in the variegata-plicata 'Island Holiday', and crossed to a seedling gave the lacy bitoned plicata 'Kilt Lilt', a Dykes Medalist in 1976.

'Kilt Lilt'

'Kilt Lilt'Kilt Lilt


One of the most interesting projects has been the transfer of tangerine beards to plicatas. Pink, or pinkish, plicatas showed up from time to time in the Hall pink line, but none was considered good enough to introduce. Tell Muhlestein crossed a Loomis plicata that came from the pink 'Seashell' with his own 'Pink Formal' to produce 'New Adventure', a white marked violet with tangerine beards. The second generation from 'Hit Parade' and 'Pink Formal' gave Opal Brown the tangerine-bearded lavender and white, 'Captain's Lady'. Serlena Reynolds's 'Miss B. Haven' came from 'Memphis Belle' and' Pink Formal'. Nearpass's 'Jealous Lover', heavily marked pinkish violet on white with tangerine beards, came from 'New Adventure', 'Memphis Lass', and 'Miss B. Haven'.

The most impressive display of pink-toned plicatas comes from Gibson's line. He started with the pinks 'Ballerina' and 'Happy Birthday' crossed with his typical plicata lines, and then added 'New Adventure'. 'April Melody' was the reward for continuing this breeding for several generations. Introduced in 1967, this plicata has a pale pink ground and lavender-rose markings. From other series involving the coppery amber 'Palomino' with brownish plicatas came 'Apricot Blaze'. Later developments include 'Osage Buff', light apricot with garnet dotting; 'Anon', beautifully ruffled soft salmon apricot with minimal dotting; 'Porta Villa', light salmon washed red purple; and 'Summer Silk', a creamy flesh self, particularly interesting as a plicata recessive, the equivalent of a lemon ice plus the tangerine factor. It is a parent to 'Pink Ember', which has a light pink ground and faint pinkish violet markings.

'April Melody'April Melody 'Apricot Blaze'Apricot Blaze 'Osage Buff'Osage Buff
'Anon'Anon 'Porta Villa'Porta Villa 'Pink Ember'Pink Ember


Another interesting tangent in plicata breeding has been the production of bicolored plicatas with unmarked standards of white (amoena-plicata) or yellow (variegata-plicata). Many yellow-ground plicatas show a definite bicolored or bitoned effect, probably resulting from the strong I. variegata influence behind the Sass line. Among these are 'Magic Carpet', 'My Honeycomb', 'Siva Siva', 'Island Holiday', 'Kilt Lilt', 'Sands Of Gold' and 'Echo One'. Most of these variegata derivatives show faint plicata markings in the standards on close inspection, if only on the claw.

First generation crosses of plicatas with dominant amoena types from the 'Progenitor' lines will give variegatas, amoenas, or neglectas, such as Plough's 'Talent Show' or Keppel's 'Diplomacy'. Backcrossed to plicatas, they will give some plicatas with paler markings in the standards. 'Talent Show' used with 'Stepping Out' gave 'Sinkiang', a white-ground plicata with blue standard markings and deeper violet fall markings. 'Portrait', a blue-violet plicata. with pale standard markings, resulted from Glenn Corlew's cross of 'Diplomacy' and 'Rococo'.

'Diplomacy' used with 'Siva Siva' gave the pastel blended lavender and cream neglecta-plicata 'Foggy Dew'. 'Ballyhoo', a blended variegata sibling to 'Foggy Dew', when crossed with 'Radiant Apogee' produced 'Limerick', which has a yellow ground with markings of tan confined to the falls. Another sib is a parent to 'Caramba', which has strong clear yellow standards with purplish maroon to brown plicata markings on the falls.

Many bicolor combinations are yet to be achieved. Especially interesting results should come from adding the tangerine factor to the bicolor plicata line. Plicatas are fascinating, for the possible combinations of colors and pattern types are almost limitless.

'Foggy Dew'Foggy Dew 'Ballyhoo'Ballyhoo 'Limerick'Limerick 'Caramba'Caramba

"The World of Irises" continues with the The Development of Bicolors

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

-- BobPries - 2015-11-23
Topic revision: r29 - 18 Apr 2021, TLaurin
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