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The Development of the White Tall-bearded Irises

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



Early-Day Whites

(Extracted from "The World Of Irises" p.59--64, by Melba Hamblen & Keith Keppel)

The first tall bearded whites in cultivation were recessive white (RRA) diploids, from I. pallida or possibly from I. variegata. Only after the introduction of the Asiatic tetraploids into Europe did dominant whites appear. Being tetraploids they were larger, and they soon displaced the less spectacular diploids.

Foster introduced two whites of importance, the cool white 'Miss Willmott' in 1910, and the warmer 'Kashmir White' in 1912. Unfortunately their parentage is unknown (Nichols 1933). 'Miss Willmott figures in the background of many blues, such as 'Marian Mohr' and 'Shining Waters', and through them, in white lines. It is thought to be an ancestor of the short, large flowered warm white 'Gudrun'.

'Kashmir White' shaped the future of the whites. Three of its seedlings figure to some extent in later breeding: 'Venus de Milo', 'Lucero', and 'Iceberg'. A fourth, 'Argentina', became the key parent from 'Kashmir White' (figure 1).

Strangely, this pattern of one all-important breeder in each generation was to hold true twice more. In the second generation 'Purissima', from 'Argentina' and the blue 'Conquistador', overshadowed all of its contemporaries. Although tender of constitution it was potent in breeding (figure 2).

From a sister to 'Purissima', when crossed by Essig to 'California Blue' came 'New Albion' and 'Easter Morn'. 'New Albion and 'Miss Wilmott' are ancestors of 'Mount Washington', and 'Easter Morn' is the parent of 'Winter Carnival', 'Stella Polaris', and 'Mount Cloud', good whites of their day.

‘Purissima' (1927) TBPurissima ‘Mount Washington' (1937) TBMount Washington ‘Winter Carnival' (1941) TBWinter Carnival ‘Mount Cloud' (1941) TBMount Cloud

A third offshoot from 'Argentina' is the Sass white 'Wambliska', parent to 'Patricia' and 'Crystal Beauty'.

‘Wambliska' (1930) TBWambliska ‘Crystal Beauty' (1934) TBCrystal Beauty ‘Spanish Peaks' (1946) TBSpanish Peaks ‘Swan Ballet' (1953) TBSwan Ballet

Tom Craig combined the 'Purissima line with blues, and began a long series of whites progressing from 'Sleighride' through 'Frieda's Favorite' and 'Patricia Craig'. Continuations from this line include the Ghio varieties 'Wedding Vow' and 'Social Whirl' and 'Knocke's 'Shining Armor'. 'Purissima was a grandparent of Loomis's 'Spanish Peaks', which figures behind the Dyke's Medal winner 'Swan Ballet' and many of Clifford Benson's white's.

‘Frieda's Favorite' (1960) TBFrieda's Favorite ‘Patricia Craig' (1962) TBPatricia Craig ‘Wedding Vow' (1970) TBWedding Vow ‘Social Whirl' (1974) TBSocial Whirl

Graves crossed 'Purissima' with the pale blue 'Cloud Castle' to get 'Lady Boscawen' and with 'Gudrun' to get 'Alba Monte'. 'Alba Monte' was the beginning of an outstanding line of whites which emerged from the Graves, Watkins and Buttrick gardens in New England, culminating in 'Cup Race', a runner-up for the Dykes Medal.

‘Cup Race' (1962) TBCup Race

The Appearance Of 'Snow Flurry'

The key 'Purissima' seedling is of course, 'Snow Flurry'. Often repeated in iris folklore is the story of Clara Rees's pollination of 'Purissima' with the diploid orchid-pink 'Thais' and producing a pod with but two seeds. From the single good seed came the ruffled 'Snow Flurry'. When its blooms were taken to show Carl Salbach in Berkeley, he was so impressed that he drove to San Jose the following day and purchased the entire stock for introduction.

‘Purissima' (1927) TBPurissima Snow Flurry ‘Thais' (1926) TBThais = ‘Snow Flurry' (1939) TBSnow Flurry

Although 'Snow Flurry' rarely produces pollen, it is a willing pod parent. Its seedlings are astonishing, for it passes on it ruffled form to many colors. certainly its descendents would require an entire chapter, but among its most famous white seedlings as 'Cascadian', 'Fluted Haven', 'Celestial Snow', 'New Snow', 'Tranquility', 'Snow Goddess', 'Lady Blue Beard', and 'Rehobeth'.

‘Cascadian' (1952) TBCascadian ‘Fluted Haven' (1957) TBFluted Haven ‘Celestial Snow' (1957) TBCelestial Snow ‘New Snow' (1946) TBNew Snow
‘Tranquility' (1950) TBTranquility ‘Snow Goddess' (1952) TBSnow Goddess ‘Rehobeth' (1957) TBRehobeth

Successive generations showed improvement in form and hardiness. 'Celestial Snow's descendants include 'Ermine Robe', 'Flight Of Angels' and 'Angel Choir'. 'Rehobeth', actually as much a pale blue as a blue white, served as a steppingstone to 'High Above', 'Goodness', 'Poet's Dream', and the Dykes Medal Winner 'Winter Oympics' also a producer of good whites. 'New Snow' stands behind 'Cliffs Of Dover', 'Henry Shaw', and most of the Benson whites; it also figures in the Ghio and Hinkle white lines. This is but a small fraction of the 'Snow Flurry heritage.

‘Ermine Robe' (1969) TBErmine Robe ‘Flight Of Angels' (1967) TBFlight Of Angels ‘Angel Choir' (1970) TBAngel Choir ‘High Above' (1974) TBHigh Above

Whites From Other Colors

Nearly all white tall bearded come from the cross of two whites or the cross of a white with a blue. Several blues seem to have an especially happy association with the whites. One such is 'Cahokia', whose pedigree is ('Purissima' x ('Purissima' x 'Santa Barbara')) X (('Purissima' x 'Santa Barbara') x 'Santa Clara'). Even the blues 'Santa Barbara' and 'Santa Clara' are descendants of 'Kashmir White'.

Also figuring prominently in white breeding is 'Cloud Castle', from 'Sensation' and 'Gloriole'. The three blues 'Cahokia', 'Cloud Castle', and 'Gloriole appear to be almost as important in the story of modern whites as the whites themselves.

‘Sensation' (1925) TBSensation Snow Flurry ‘Gloriole' (1933) TBGloriole = ‘Cloud Castle' (1940) TBCloud Castle

Occasionally good whites have come from tallow or pink lines. DeForests 'Christmas Angel' is a particularly attractive example, a white with rich yellow hafts. Though it comes from pink lines, it traces back to 'Purissima' and 'Argentina' in its ancestry. 'White Lightning', pure white with intense yellow beards, carries 'Snow Flurry' and 'Spanish Peaks' in its pedigree.

‘Christmas Angel' (1960) TBChristmas Angel ‘White Lightning' (1973) TBWhite Lightning


Red-Bearded Whites

Most of the early red-bearded whites were developed through planned breeding programs aimed at transferring the beard color of the pinks onto the whites. By crossing 'Snow Flurry' with the pink 'Cherie' and 'New Snow' with the pink 'New Horizon', Fay began a line from which he introduced 'Lipstick' in 1957 and 'Arctic Flame' in 1960. The pedigree for Hall's 'Frost And Flame' is incomplete, but Fay believed that his early white-pink crosses were behind it.

The Schreiners found a white sport of the pink 'May Hall' in their growing fields and used this sport with 'Arctic Flame' to produce the lacy red-bearded white 'Christmas Time', an excellent breeder.

‘Cherie' (1945) TBCherie ‘Christmas Time' (1964) TBChristmas Time


Recessive Whites

Recessive Whites often occur in plicata breeding, but rarely are of comparable quality to dominant whites. A genetically different recessive white occurs occasionally in crosses of tetraploid blues. The light blues 'Helen McGregor' and 'Sylvia Murray', when crossed, gave the recessive whites 'Senorita Ilsa' and 'Front Gate', and 'Dr. Bob' came from a cross of two blues in Kenneth Smith's line.

‘Helen McGregor' (1943) TBHelen McGregor ‘Dr. Bob' (1933) TBDr. Bob

====================================================================================================== The World of Irises continues with the BREEDING FOR BLUES ====================================================================================================== ----

Galleries of White 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:
    • W1 = White Iris selfs with blue-toned accents (beards, hafts, etc.) or blue-whites
    • W2 = White Iris feathered with blue-tones (plicatas)
    • W3 = White Iris (standards), bicolors or bitones with blue-toned falls
    • W4 = White Iris selfs with yellow-toned accents (beards, hafts, etc.) or yellow-whites
    • W5 = White Iris feathered with yellow tones (plicatas)
    • W6 = White Iris (standards), bicolors or bitones with yellow-toned falls
    • W7 = White Iris selfs with red-toned accents (beards, hafts, etc.) or red-whites
    • W8 = White Iris feathered with red-tones (plicatas)
    • W9 = White 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:
    • W1 = White selfs
    • W2 = White Plicatas
    • W3 = White Bitones
    • W4 = White Bicolors
    • W5 = White Blends
  • Images of Modern White Iises from 1980--present

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

-- BobPries - 2015-10-07


Topic revision: r20 - 03 Jul 2021, BrewItt
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