'Flat Out and Up To Date' article on Novelty Iris
related links; Flat flowers
Flat Out and Up to Date!
by Clive Russell, England
Reprinted from the BIS Yearbook in the AIS Bulletin, January 2003, p66-72
It may come as something of a surprise to some of you to learn that although it has been going on for centuries in Japan, iris hybridizing in the western world only started at the beginning of the last century. Yes, there are iris registered in the latter quarter of the 19th
century, but these were the result of "natural" crosses, as the Victorian morality at that time was of the opinion that God and nature needed no help in their grand design.
There appears to be no record of why there was a change in attitude, but with the big man himself (William
Rickatson Dykes) at the forefront of this new development, there was little hope for a return to former attitudes, and, to mix metaphors, once the floodgates had been opened, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.
It was the UK that was originally at the forefront of hybridizing (as it became known), and remained so until the outbreak of WWII put an end to such activities. This gave US hybridizers the chance to leapfrog the work being done in the UK, which gave them a big lead that they have never relinquished, and, in the main, they are responsible for the majority of developments in the last 60 years.
And developments there have been. Dykes managed to isolate yellow in TBs before his untimely death in 1925, and out of the yellows came the pinks, and out of the pinks came the oranges. Other hybridizers were working on different lines, which produced not only new colors, but also new color combinations and blends, and novelties appeared such as Space Agers (SA), rebloomers (RE) and color breaks (CB). Surprisingly enough, the first introduction by Keith Keppel, who is not known for favoring "novelties", was a CB, ('Humoresque'
(61) but he went on to become better known for his line of variegata, plicatas, and now appears to be concentrating on luminatas and red bearded "blacks", although 'Broken Dreams'
('97) shows that he has not abandoned the CBs altogether.
There is, however, one form of TB known have been around since the 1920's, but which, although surfacing from time to time, has, in the main, been studiously ignored by all and sundry, and that is the 6-fall type, or "flatty". But why? This form appeared in Japanese iris a long time ago, and was quickly recognized as very desirable, and consequently efforts were made to cultivate and develop it. There is even an I laevigata
flatty, (originally sold as MIDNIGHT, but subsequently renamed and registered as WEYMOUTH MIDNIGHT) which is a true flatty, as all 6 falls have a white blaze on midnight blue, and in the April 2002 Bulletin
Marty Schafer makes mention of two 6-fall hybrids of I cristata
So as the form is already in existence, and there is always a demand for "novelties", why has no one thought to take it up and develop it further in TBs? It is not as though there is nothing to work with, as the earliest registered variety I have been able to find is 'May Allison'
(Allison (20), although the 1939 Checklist only describes it as a Double. 'Japanesque'
(Farr) (1) was registered the following year, then there seems to have been a 20-year gap, at the end of which 'Rhythm'
('50) was registered. 'No-Top'
followed in 1957, and then there was another gap until 'Exotica'
(Crossman) appeared in 1969. Maybe its introduction stimulated the hybridizers of the time, as there seems to have been a flush of registrations in the 1970's, including 'Go Go Girl'
('74) and 'Topless Dancer'
('76). However, it is more likely that they were already working with the same varieties that produced EXOTICA, so the surge of flatties at the time might have been inevitable. (2) But where did they come from? Before going any further, I should perhaps define a "flatty"... As you all know the standard form for iris is to have 3 upright petals called standards, and 3 pendant petals called falls. It is unlikely that we will ever know whether they were a result of deliberate crosses, or just Mother Nature being her usual perverse self, but forms of I ensata
appeared where the standards were moving out in varying degrees from the vertical to the horizontal. Crosses were made to encourage this development, especially when the standards were seen to be taking on the characteristics of the falls, and thus was created what has become known as the 6-fall type. However, it is interesting to note that even today, some I ensata
hybrids appear which do not know quite what they are, as the standards may not have the fall blaze, even though they are horizontal, or the blaze may be there when they are semi-vertical. (These are occasionally given names and registered, but strictly speaking, they are not eligible for any awards, as, although they may be stable in their own right, they are not deemed to be either 3-fall or 6-fall types. Not so the TB's, but I shall come to them presently.) So a real
flatty will consistently have 6 falls, all ofwhich have the same characteristics, i.e. a yellow blaze in ensatas,
a white blaze in laevigatas
and a beard in pogons.
The obvious starting point was to find out the names of as many registered varieties as possible, and I am indebted to both Bruce Filardi and Mike Lowe for their continuous flow of e-mails, usually starting with "I have found another one". (The list is to be found at the end of this article, but I am sure it is not definitive, and I would be pleased to hear from anyone who can add to it - and even supply me with pieces.) The next stage was to look up their ancestry, and with international registrations starting in the 1920's, most of today's hybrids can trace their parentage back for many generations. What turned out to be most surprising was that in those parentages, there are only 3 named varieties that recurred (3), none ofwhich were flatties themselves, and that none of the registered flatties have a flatty as an ancestor. This would seem to confirm that not only would the flat form appear to be genetically very recessive, but also that if there has been one, no one has seen fit to register the cross of a flatty with a flatty.
So why have flatties not had more work done on them? The probable answer is that whereas conversion to tetraploidy and the appearance of CBs, and even the advent of SAs maintained the traditional form of the TB, flatties are a complete break with the norm, and therefore anathema to traditionalists. But if the 6-fall form became
acceptable in I ensata
for the Japanese, who are sticklers for "good taste", then there is no reason why, with some patience, it could not work for us in the western world with TBs. But it must be borne in mind that in these days of instant gratification, we are up against time, as we have no idea how long it took the Japanese. Not all the varieties offlatties that I grow have bloomed for me as yet, but those that have are without exception all late bloomers, a virtue that would normally be extolled as being instrumental in extending the season. But, unfortunately, there are a number offaults with the current flatty form, which means that they are not yet really ready to make a formal debut.
The first problem is that unless the bloom can open very quickly, the edge of the blade seems to dry out, so that by the time the flower is fully open, the outer edges are papery and brown (see photograph of IMPERSONATOR). This in itself is unusual in iris, as under normal conditions the substance tends to go thin and watery as they are going
over, and therefore it is one of the first problems that need to be solved. The alternative of giving them plenty of water does not seem to work, as here in the UK, we get plenty
of natural water, and the problem persists.
Accompanying the report I wrote covering the 1996 AIS convention for that year's British Iris Society Year Book, there is a photograph of a dark maroon-red flatty, photographed in Joe Ghio's seedling patch. It
was one of two, (the better one), but sadly, both have since been composted, as Joe described them as "unstable". And this is the second problem with flatties. With current varieties, it is highly unlikely that every flower on a stem will open flat, as the earlier blooms tend to open as expected, but the later ones can be indecisive, opening with any combination of standards and falls, with and without beards. However, they do seem to do better when grown in full sun, as I have
found that those not given the maximum exposure possible not only do not open quickly, but also rarely develop fully flat blooms, and those in the least sunny part of the garden open as normal iris. (Playing musical iris around the garden has proved to me that relocation does make them bloom correctly.) In some cases, I have observed bicolored flatties opening with some of the non-standards as chimeras, in other words having beards, but one side of the petal the color of the standards, and the other side the color of the falls, and this could also be a result of less
than ideal positioning in the garden.
A further problem is the succession of bloom, and the position of the booms on the stem. For the second part of the last century, while hybridizers in the US were increasing bloom size and developing the different characteristics we have today, those in the UK were concentrating on increasing the bud count and bloom succession on the stem. Now, at the start of the 21st century, the two requirements have merged, and for TBs the norm is a minimum
of 7 buds spaced evenly along the stem, with 3 out at anyone time, although in the US you only approve of 2 out at a time.
Another problem is that the fullness of 6fall blooms at varying points on the stem not only detracts from the
plant's appearance, but also prevents them opening out properly, and it would therefore appear that to look their best while in flower, flatties need to be produced that either hold their blooms at the top of the stem (much as I ensata
hybrids do), or hold them away from the stem in candelabra formation. To breed for the former, of course, would go
against the grain of all the work that was done in the last century. And the final, and probably least significant problem I have noticed is that in most varieties, the stems are bent as they come out of the leaves, (see photograph), although they do straighten up as the flowers develop and open.
So is there any future for flatties? Well, until someone actually starts working with them, we will never know, but I can offer a few pointers from personal observations. Firstly, we need to find out whether flatties are fertile, then see what happens when one is used as either one or both parents, and it may be necessary to go unto the 9th or 10th generation, or even further, before any kind ofconclusion can be drawn. At the same time, there is no reason why work cannot be done crossing £latties with regular TBs which have either candelabra or top branching. Ideally, to get it right first time, the person to do this has to be a latter day Monty Byers and have the Midas touch, but are there any volunteers?
If this article has stimulated your imagination, and you have no qualms about ruffling aged feathers, then you might like to try your hand at growing and hybridizing £latties. As with any kind of hybridizing, it makes more sense to utilize the work that has gone before, rather than starting from scratch, but with so few registered varieties, it might be better to first assess what is available before starting to daub the pollen. From what I have been able to deduce, in most cases, where a flatty has appeared, it has been the end of the line, with it either being registered if stable, or composted if unstable. The latest ones in my collection are WHAT A MIXTURE (Grosvenor '99) and BEG TO DIFFER (Kerr '99), but there are even newer hybrids in the pipeline. I saw two in maiden bloom in the Suttons' seedling patch in 1996, one a creamy yellow (parentage unknown), and the other a cross of (STARMASTER x SKY HOOKS) X sib (photographs of both), and I have heard on the irisvine that Terry Aitken has a spectacular white £latty in his seedling patch, which I look forward to seeing before too long. (This one has IMMORTALITY as one of its parents, which means that reblooming genes have now been introduced into the line. We only need to add SA and CB blood to have a full house, but I leave that up to Mike Sutton, as even my fertile imagination cannot cope with the result of that combination!)
I have been collecting flatties since first seeing them in 1996, adding a few each year as I became aware of them, but although I had AMARYLLIS early on, it has only ever bloomed once for me, rotting on every other occasion. Good bloomers are SIX PACK, FLAT RATE, IMPERSONATOR and INCOGNITO TOO, but these are all blue, which, being the dominant color in iris, means their "blood" is not too diluted and therefore they are stronger plants. Other blues, which have not performed as well, are TOPLESS DANCER and UNFURLED
FLAG. The more recently registered varieties, WHAT A MIXTURE, and BEG TO DIFFER, (both bicolors) have given satisfactory first bloom, but JUDY MOGIL (another blue self), is taking a little longer to settle down. Two real surprises were RHYTHM and LADY PHYLLIS MOORE. The former was registered as a TB, but at 24" is now considered too short for that category. From the form it has shown so far, it is more of an MTB than a BB type, as it is smaller and daintier than other flatties. The latter is an unregistered hybrid of L pallida
which consistently has 6 falls, but once established, blooms with 3 additional long, but very narrow (2 mm wide) standards, as well as the 6 falls (see photo). Could it be the starting point for bearded doubles?
the show "Oklahoma!", one of the musical numbers starts with the line: "Everything's up to date in Kansas City", and goes on to say, "They've gone about as far as they can go."We all know that the breeding of iris will carry on as long as there is anyone left sufficiently interested to do some pollen daubing, but one would think that by now all iris forms had been explored. However, in the April 2002 issue of the Bulletin there was a photograph of a newly introduced TB called TEACUP (Christopherson (01), which has 3 short open standards, and 3 very large falls. In
other words, looking to all intents and purposes like a 3 fall JI. Yet another rTB
form! They've gone about as far as they can go? NO WAY!
List 0# registered FIatties:
AMARYLLIS (R Goebel (89)
BEG TO DIFFER (F Kerr (99)
CLEMATIFLORA (W Vallette (60)
EXOTICA (G Crossman (69)
FLAT RATE (J
FLOPSY (Loomis (90)
"FRAN'S FLATTY" (not registered)
GAZOO (M Knopf(66)
GO GO GIRL (L Noyd '70)
IMPERSONATOR (S Babson '74)
INCOGNITO TOO (K Mohr by B. Williamson '95)
JUDY MOGIL (J
McWhirter by A Feuerstein '99)
LITTLE FREAK (J
Steel by R Nelson (99)
MAY ALLISON (Allison '20)
NO-TOP (LB Lawson '57)
RHYTHM (WR Ballard '50)
(G Slade '83)
(L Bellagamba '76)
(B Hager '82)
'What A Mixture'
(G Grosvenor (99)
List of not exactly flatties
'Blue Tulip' (F. J. Knocke '62)
'Dauber's Delight' ( M. Osborne by G. Sutton '91)
'Hello Hobo' (P. Blyth '88)
'Peace And Harmony' (J. Ghio '91)
'Pink Magnolia' (0. Brown '68)
'Hello Hobo' and 'Peace And Harmony' have been listed above as they consistently bloom for me with very open standards, and they might prove to have some Flatty genetics in their background. 'Blue Tulip' and 'Dauber's Delight' are more magnolia form with upcurving falls which are trying to become standards, so there is obviously something in their genetic makeup that is not of the TB norm. 'Pink Magnolia's registration details specifically state "no standards, 6 falls", but I am told that it is also magnolia in form, although it has yet to bloom for me.
(1) There seems to be some discussion at the present as to whether FRAN'S FLATTY and 'Japanesque' are not one and the same. FRAN'S FLATTY does not appear to have been registered, so a comparison of parentage with 'Japanesque' is not possible. I cannot yet comment from the visual point of view, as whereas my piece of FRAN'S FLATTY has bloomed (see photograph), I am still waiting for 'Japanesque' .
(2) Subsequent research has shown that although S Babson introduced 'Shipshape' in 1968, and it became the pollen parent of 'Impersonator', none of the other registrations listed in this section have a common ancestor.
(3) 'Pierre Menard' (Faught '42) 'Rococo' (Schreiner's '59) and 'Shipshape' (Babson '68)
This article appeared in slightly different form in the Yearbook of the
British Iris Society.