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Development Of Yellow Tall-Bearded Irises

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




Poetically acknowledged as the color of cheerfulness and recognized as an essential in the mixed border, yellow was indeed the "Pot of Gold" most ardently sought by early travelers of the Rainbow Trail.

Prior to the twentieth century, except for low-growing I . variegata and its derivatives, yellow irises were rarities. The few varieties prominent in pedigrees of early hybrids include: 'Flavescens', from De Candolle in 1813, pale sulfur yellow; 'Aurea', produced by Jacques in 1830, a clear empire yellow of Germanica origin showing so few I. variegata characteristics that we may deduce it to be a hybrid developed through many generations; Lemon's 'Honorabile', small flowered with falls veined and tinted russet, its height up to 76 cm (30 inches) and probably the oldest and most widely distributed variegata in the eastern states; and 'Mrs. Neubronner', which received inconsistent comments from "much better than 'Aurea'" to "dulled, almost white with poor form and size"

I. variegata (1753) TBvariegata 'Flavescens' (1813) TBFlavescens 'Aurea' (1830) TBAurea 'Honorabile' (1840) Honorabile 'Mrs. Neubronner' (1898) TBMrs. Neubronner

In 1918, Grace Sturtevant's 'Shekinah' was hailed as a great ahievement and became a prolific parent. In 1924, Sturtevant's, 'Gold Imperial' was a step forward in deeper color and smoother texture. Dykes 'Perdita', ('Ricardi' x ?) x I. reichenbachii, Vilrnorin's 'Chasseur' and C. H. Hall's 'Aliquippa' were good light yellows of this period.

'Shekinah'(1918) TB'Shekinah' 'Gold Imperial'(1924) TB'Gold Imperial' 'Chasseur'(1920) TBChasseur 'Aliquippa'(1924) TBAliquippa

Conversion from diploidy to tetraploidy in the yellows was slower than in other color classes, and the first yellow tetraploid appeared in W. R. Dykes's garden in 1926, the year following his death. This large, clear yellow, named in honor of its originator, was a milestone in iris history. In a report for the British Iris Society's Bulletin, J. Murrell wrote: "We could have eyes for little else but this variety, W. R. Dykes-the most outstanding novelty we have seen is a pure yellow self, equal in size, form and quality to the best irises in cultivation. All other yellows are trivial in comparison ... and no ordinary description can do it justice."

Incredible as it may seem, once more the parentage of an important iris is a matter of speculation. It is generally believed that Dykes's pale yellow 'Moonlight' and his red-toned 'Peerless' are in the ancestry of 'W. R. Dykes', and there is some evidence to support Nicholls's belief that dwarf irises were also involved (Loomis 1936). Both 'Moonlight' and 'W. R. Dykes' developed a tendency for "flecking," but this did not affect the latter's role as a parent.

'Moonlight'(1923) TBMoonlight 'W. R. Dykes'(1926) TB'W. R. Dykes'


During the 1930s, 20 yellow irises received the Award of Merit; 10 were W. R. Dykes derivatives, ranging in tone variation from C. G. White's pale 'Lady Paramount', with 'Aurifero' as its pollen parent, to Chadburn's deep yellow 'Golden Hind', which had 'Gold Imperial' as the pod parent. The Schreiners mated 'W.R. Dykes' with Cayeux's tall, rich yellow diploid, 'Pluie d'Or' ('Shekinah' x 'Chasseur'), a difficult cross that rewarded them with 'Golden Treasure', a well-branched, creamy yellow which soon found a place on the Popularity Poll. Kenneth Smith's sulfur-toned 'Yellow Jewel' came from 'W. R. Dykes' crossed to 'Mareschal Ney'. Salbach's highly rated 'Golden Majesty' resulted when a 'Dauntless'-'W. R. Dykes' seedling was crossed with 'Natoma'. Glutzbeck's smooth 'Ming Yellow' from a 'W. R. Dykes' seedling and 'Depute Nomblot' is another grandchild of this famous progenitor.

'Lady Paramount' (1934) TBLady Paramount 'Aurifero' (1927) TBAurifero 'Golden Hind' (1934) TBGolden Hind
'PluieDOr' (1928) TBPluieDOr 'Golden Treasure' (1928) TBGolden Treasure 'Golden Majesty' (1938) TBGolden Majesty 'Ming Yellow' (1938) TBMing Yellow

In the meantime, Sydney B. Mitchell had come to the conclusion that improvement in yellow irises was not going to evolve through crosses of diploid yellows of I. variegata extraction with large white tetraploids. In 1934 he wrote: "My theory was that if a yellow-red or bronze iris were crossed with a warm white ... a few pure, real yellows might result .... " (Mitchell 1934). Mitchell made reciprocal crosses between a cream seedling from 'Shekinah' x 'Argentina' and a large reddish brown seedling from 'Alcazar' x 'Esplendido'; among the numerous progeny a few were almost self yellows of good size, height and branching. From this cross he named 'Alta California' in 1932. A similar line produced 'California Gold', with color so intense he nicknamed it "Brazen Huzzy" Another tall, yellow seedling, 9-33, with (((I. mesopotamica x 'Oriflamme') x 'Gaviota') x 'Soledad') x ('Sherbert' x 'Esplendido') as the pod parent, and ('Argentina' x 'Mme Cheri') x ('Alcazar' x 'Esplendido') as the pollen parent, was crossed with 'W. R. Dykes' pollen.

While observing European irises two or three years later, he felt that British hybridizers were far ahead in the quest for yellow and that further improvement might be impossible. Oliphant (1960) tells us Mitchell then received a letter from Carl Salbach informing him that a fine, large-flowered, clear yellow seedling had just bloomed in the Mitchell garden. He wrote back, "Happy days are here! ... " and the new seedling from 9-33 x 'W.R. Dykes' was named 'Happy Days'.

With the 1938 introduction of 'Fair Elaine', a striking bitone with pale cream standards and deep yellow falls, Mitchell closed his books on yellow breeding and looked toward new goals.

During these formative years, British and French hybridizers made considerable progress. Chadburn's 'Golden Hind' used extensively by breeders in this country, Perry's 'G. P. Baker', and Pilkington's 'Sahara', were definite advances in the yellow class. All three received the English Dykes Medal; 'Sahara' received an AIS Award of Merit. Cayeux's 'Eclador' and 'Alice Harding' received French Dykes Medals as well as AIS Awards of Merit.


In this country, yellow irises reached new heights of perfection during the 1940s. Never, in any other decade, have so many famous irises from one color class been produced. A wealth of beauty representing the entire spectrum of yellow brought warmth and brilliance to iris gardens. Awards of Merit were received by 22 varieties. Three became Dykes Medalists.

Glutzbeck's 'Spun Gold' a 1940 introduction, received the Dykes Medal in 1944. With an involved pedigree tracing back to 'W. R. Dykes', 'Spun Gold's large, deep toned blossoms had falls of velvety texture, the first yellow iris with this desirable feature.

"Spun Gold' 1944 Dykes Medal winner

'Spun Gold' (1940) TBSpun Gold

In the Sass lemon-ice series, 'Golden Fleece', from 'Siegfried' X 'Dore', had large luminous flowers of light yellow accentuated by white areas in the fall petals. Hans called it " Jake's masterpiece."

'Siegfried' X 'Dore' = 'Golden Fleece'

'Siegfried' (1940) TBSiegfried 'Dore' (1940) TBDore 'Golden Fleece' (1940) TBGolden Fleece

The Sass brothers were famous for their work with variegatas, blends, reds and other colors; and they introduced several excellent yellow intermediates, but success with tall, large yellows eluded them until they started a new line using their superb white 'Wambliska' with 'Rameses'. First generation seedlings included a few good yellows, and one with a distinctive color pattern in yellow and white was named 'Dore'. Selfed, 'Dore' gave deeper yellows.

'Ola Kala', the yellow that achieved instant fame and all possible honors, bloomed for Jacob Sass in 1941. From ('Amitola' seedling x 'Prairie Sunset') X ('Golden Age' x unknown), this medium sized iris with closed standards and ruffled, semiflarihg falls would have been a triumph in any tone of yellow; in deep, rich gold its destiny was foreordained. 'Ola Kala' received the 1948 Dykes Medal; a year earlier it was number one on the Popularity Poll, a position it held until 1955.

"Ola Kala' 1948 Dykes Medal winner

'Ola Kala' (1943) TBOla Kala

Hall's 'Golden Eagle', a sparkling clear yellow, became a key iris in future developments. Its interesting pedigree includes: 'W. R. Dykes', 'Dolly Madison', 'Morocco Rose'-a forerunner of the flamingo pinks, and 'Prairie Sunset'. Muhlestein's 'Gold Ruffles', aptly described by its name, was another yellow of this era that was destined to play an important role in the iris drama.

'Golden Eagle & 'Gold Ruffles'

'Golden Eagle' (1942) TBGolden Eagle 'Gold Ruffles' (1947) TBGold Ruffles

'Rocket', the deepest orange from yellow breeding and a significant achievement in the 1940s, resulted when Agnes Whiting crossed a 'Sandalwood'- 'Naranja' seedling with 'Golden Spike'.

'Sandalwood-Naranja Seedling' X 'Golden Spike' = 'Rocket'

'Sandalwood' (1937) TBSandalwood 'Naranja' (1935) TBNaranja 'Golden Spike' (1940) TBGolden Spike 'Rocket' (1945) TBRocket

In the cream class, so useful as blenders in an iris planting, Fay's 'Desert Song' vied with Douglas's 'Amandine' for top honors, pulling slightly ahead to hold a position on the Popularity Poll for 18 years.

The banner year for yellows was 1949 with the release of two remarkable varieties that received international recognition. Jesse Wills introduced 'Star Shine' a dreamy iris in subtle pastel cream, buff and muted blue. 'Star Shine' came from a 'Hermitage'- 'Hernani' seedling crossed to 'Song of Gold' and it soon gained a worldwide reputation as an iris with perfect form. Fay's 'Truly Yours', with large ruffled flowers, its heart bright yellow blending to almost white at the petal edges, received the Dykes Medal in 1953.

Dykes Medal 1953

'Truly Yours' (1946) TBTruly Yours

Advancement in yellows during the 1940s was so remarkable it overshadowed the advance made during the following decade; and the majority of introductions in the 1950s stemmed from tangerine bearded breeding. Consequently, chronology will yield to genealogy and yellows of tangerine bearded ancestry will be considered later.

In the hot yellow class Kleinsorge' s 'Solid Gold', a seedling x 'Ola Kala', became extremely popular because of its fine form and deep color saturation; Edwin Fox crossed 'Bryce Canyon' with 'Ola Kala' to get 'Foxfire', an intense yellow with well formed flowers on tall, strong stalks. Schreiner's 'Golden Sunshine', from 'Goldbeater' x 'Jasmine', with large blossoms of sun-kissed lemon, was the only lighter toned yellow not involving tangerine ancestry that received an Award of Merit during the 1950s.

Plough's 'Butterscotch Kiss' ('Cascade Splendor' x 'Honeyflow') x 'Twenty Grand', with wide petaled, heavily laced flowers, introduced a new color variation to the yellow class. In 1960 Harry Randall introduced 'Elleray' from 'Truly Yours' crossed to 'Jordans'; and this medium yellow self set a new standard for branching and bud count. Georgia Hinkle's 1965 rich creamy 'Southern Comfort' from 'Magic Morn' sibbed, is a paragon in its class and has been a garden favorite for many years. From involved lines ('Spanish Peaks', 'Chantilly', 'Midwest Gem', 'Salamonie', 'Truly Yours' and 'Crinkled Ivory') Schreiner's 'Lime Fizz' is a noteworthy accomplishment in lime-tinted yellow lace; and Lura Roach's greenish-cream 'Song of Erin' ('Mixed Emotions', 'Exotic Blue', 'Char-Maize', etc.), with its broad petaled beauty matched by vigorous plant habits, became one of the most popular irises of the 1970s.

'Shining Light' resulted when Gatty crossed 'Moon Crest' and 'Royal Gold'; in deep lemon yellow with small white areas below the orange beards, it brings a welcome splash of sunshine to the garden scene. The brighter toned 'Proclamation' from Corlew ('County Fair', 'Grand Teton', 'Moon River', 'Top Flight' and 'Techny Chimes') opens the season with its wide, ruffled blossoms, and as the season ends has flowers to spare.

'Shining Light' (19731) TBShining Light 'Proclamation' (1971) TBProclamation

With deeper color saturation are Keppel's 'Prosperity' and Hager's 'Sun Worshiper'. 'Prosperity' ('Glittering Gold', 'Spellbound', 'El Paso', 'Russet Wings', 'Tom Tom' and 'Moon River'), in deep goldenrod brilliance, approaches perfection in its symmetric form; 'Sun Worshiper', from 'Western Sun' and 'Golden Wings', in fiery deep yellow verging on orange, has ruffled, gracefully formed flowers of nonburning quality.

'Prosperity' (1972) TBProsperity 'Sun Worshiper' (1972) TBSun Worshiper

The yellow irises in our gardens, with endless variations in color, size and form, are a monument to the pioneer hybridizers: Dykes, Cayeux, Grace Sturtevant, Chadburn, Mitchell and others too numerous to mention.

= The World Of Irises continues with DevelopmentOf TangerineBeardedIrises =


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

-- BobPries - 2015-11-02
Topic revision: r27 - 08 Apr 2023, AnKhar
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