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Unguicularis by Edith S. Cleaves

From SIGNA page 5-6 1968


In Mr. Dillingstone’s book, "DYKES ON IRISES", Mr. Dykes seems to have a difference of opinion about the name but I. unguicularis is used more often throughout his articles in the book. There is one article where Mr. Dykes states "Only one species. It is the iris generally known as stylosa; the name given fifteen years before was I. unguicularis, but it is a sad burden for so beautiful a plant.“ This is dated 1910. And another article, dated April 22nd, 1911: “The worst feature of this iris is its name, and it is indeed unfortunate that Desfontaine's name I. stylosa is 13 years junior to Poiret’s uncouth appellation, and cannot, therefore, properly be used. . Moreover, the name stylosa --is eminently suited to the plant for it is one of the very few irises in which the style rises undivided for sorne distance above the top of the perianth tube before branching into three."

<In today's notes the name I. stylosa is still principally in use, so let’s settle on that.

Over ten years ago, I ordered I. stylosa alba, also the hybrid ‘Imperatrice Elizabetta’. Both grew well, although the white was a truly scrongy plant with very poor formed flowers, poor substance, poor everything. However I put the pollen of the hybrid. (which was a very dark mottled purple, sort of crepe-like substance, narrow foliage) on the white and got about five pods.. It was at this time that the discovery of the pods was purely accidental as I weeded around the plant. Who expected to find seed pods, opened, showing seeds, in a three-cornered cup down in the ground at the base of the stem? Planted most of them and got such a variety out of thirty seeds planted! Lots of lavenders and a few whites, but no dark purple, except two.

Because the house was sold it was necessary to move and only took a few of the new hybrids plus the Imperatrice Elizabetta. The new hybrids turned out to be most interesting. Stemns of both colours were all of 12 to 16 inches tall, large flowers and good substance. Some were dusted on the under fall with "gold", some were the same colour on both sides of the fall, the variations on the lavenders in the ve1n1ng patterns·were fascinating, each so different._ There was-one·that bloomed quite a bit later which was a dark pansy-violet, very narrow· leaves and only had one bloom. After retirement, I moved to San Jose-bringing this dark-one and only five of the lavenders, leaving the whites. Wondering why I left the whites and decided to try and see·if the new owner would consider sharing with me, when, wonder of wonders,: they called me asking if. I couldn°t use some. Remembering their good qualities, I was so delighted because they were at least 10 inches tall, of good substance, and had good sized blooms. They have been growing very well,no shock on the transplanting and most bloomed in December and on. Two decided types, one leaf is only ¼ " wide, the other, not as long·but· ½ “ wide. The ½ " leafed one is 14 ½ " tall-stem.

Surprisingly, there was one dark pansy-coloured one. Stems were no more than nine or ten inches but the flower itself was so different. The falls were "silvered" underneath and most of the blooms were scalloped along the edges of the fall. The standards formed a ruffled dome that stayed closed or rounded, I should say, for two days. On the third day the dome opened. Style arms too were the pretty pansy-colour. Foliage was ¼ " wide and about. 24” in length. This one has not yet been registered, still watching the plant to see if this next year it will continue in this unusual style.

Give them a sunny spot, good drainage, just· regular soil. In May, following the bloom period, the foliage is cut back to. about 8 inches and at the end of August this is repeated. But if you want to have a bright flowered clump showing these lovely bits of gayety on a gray, cut the foliage back in August, leaving at least 6” to 8" above the ground. This also helps to find the seed much easier. Also, at this time I clean out the dead foliage, so all is done at one sitting. By cutting back the foliage, the clump shows a big cluster of flowers and is so much more attractive. Some of the foliage will be a bit longer; but will not hide the bloom.

Having a most temperate climate in this valley, bloom will start in October, (though at times it starts in late September) and continues (through frost and rains) until mid-March at least. This is such a satisfactory little plant, needing so little care -- possibly snail bait at times. There is one other pest that can be more of a nuisance and that is gophers. Last year one gopher chewed up one plant, but I dug it up and made four plants. Three revived but the fourth is still struggling to grow.

'These are hardy rhizomes I have found out. In the first move· the rhizomes were in a wooden box with the foliage still on. Put under the weeping willow tree for protection they stayed in the box through the winter and summer for one year, occasionally watered a bit carelessly. Having so many other irises to get into their permanent locations, working at nights, it was a full year before these plants were to be cared for. There were just small rhizomes left, but I chanced it, planted them, although I thought I had lost them all. But in three years the size of these clumps was at least 20 inches in diameter.

Apparently they survive frosts and snow from reading about them in some of the robins~ The white I. stylosa is more tender than the others. Should you ever plant seed, when they bloom, just take an interest in the patterns on the falls. Some are so pretty-and unusual. And what more satisfying to look out through the window on a ~winter day and see at least thirty or more flowers on one plant bringing colour to an otherwise colourless garden, even if mine have not one iota of fragrance as do those from Algiers?

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

-- BobPries - 2016-02-11
Topic revision: r1 - 11 Feb 2016, BobPries
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