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■ (SPEC) Iris pontica Zapalowicz

1906, Botanical author Zapalowicz

_Iris pontica_ Zapalowicz (Hugo Zapalowicz, 1906); Section Limniris, Series Spuriae; Height 4" (10 cm) bloom stalk; leaves 8-16" (20-40 cm); Comp. Fl. Galic. 1: 191. 1906; IK S. 4 (1906-10), D 68=humilis; Prodan, Bul. Grad. Muz. Cluj 15, 84. 1935;

See below:

An additional image at Plantarium
pontica eckard berlin by way of Spuria Society.jpg



Mathew in the 1995 Iris Yearbook gave the following description; "Iris pontica was described by Hugo Zapalowicz in his Conspectus Florae Galicae Criticus 1:1901-192 (1906); based on a collection from 'Delakeu ad Tyram (Dniestr), in districtu Bender Bessarabiae': this puts it in southern Moldavia, in the valley of the river Destr which flows into the Black Seaq near Odessa. One normally associates the epithet ponticus with the Turkish Pontus mountain range or the classical region known as Pontus in Northeastern Turkey but the Black Sea itself was known as Pontus Euxinus, so presumably Zapalowicz was thinking of this wider term when choosing the name for the Iris. There is no record of Iris pontica extending into Turkey, but it does occur in the subalpine regions of the Caucasus where it was described as I. humilus by M. Bieberstein in 1808. Although this would appear to be an earlier name for the plant, there is a nomenclatural problem in that humilis had been used for a dwarf yellow bearded iris of section Psammiris, so I. pontica does appear to be correct, with I. humils M. Bieb. as a synonym.

Iris pontica is a clump-forming species, obviously related to I. sintenisii and graminea but very distinct. It is winter-deciduous but the slightly glaucous leaves grow up quickly in spring and are stiffly erect, only 2-5 mm wide and up to 40 cm (16inches) long; there are 4-5 in each 'fan' and they have prominent ribs, particularly towards the base, giving them a very tough wiry texture. Flowering is normally in May in our garden in Surrey but it does vary considerably from year to year. The flowers are held singly just above ground level on stems only 1-4 cm long and are predominantly purple but the lower narrower part of the falls is white, conspicuously veined purple and provided with a yellowish-green central stripe; the bases of the falls, standards, and style branches are shaded bronzy-purple.

The flower has a fairly long tube, which the Flora of the USSR gives as being variable from 2-5 cm long; my plant has a tube about 3 cm long, but this is one of those species where it is dificult to decide where the tube ends and the slender beaked portion of the ovary begins, so this may account for the wide range of tube lengthes recorded in literature.

The blade of the falls is oblog-orbicular, narrowing abruptly to the very narrow claw (or haft) and, similarly, the lanceolate standards have a narrow claw; the claw of the falls is not conspicuously winged, as it is in graminea, although there is a definite widening towards the centre of the claw, so in this respect my description in The Iris (1981) was perhaps a little misleading in referring to the 'winged claw'.

The whole spread of the flower from tip to tip of the falls is about 5-6 cm (2-3inches). Concerning the details of the stamens, the anthers are blue, and the pollen yellow but there is a descrepncy between the Flora of the USSR description and my plant in that in the former the filaments are said to be yellow whereas in mine they are definitely purple; just natural variation, maybe.

Unfortunately I have not recorded whether the flower is scented; I assume that, at the time of flowering, I decided it was just too close to the ground for comfortable sniffing! To date, there have been no capsules; maybe the plant is self-sterile, but I have not tried hand pollination so lack of seeds may just be a result of uninterested insects; so, more observations are required. The Flora of the USSR records that capsules are short and broad with 2-ribbed angles.

With regard to cultivation, I find that this is a very tough little plant: it is growing in a north-facing slightly raised 'peat bed' (mainly leafmold and rotting wood) with ferns, dwarf rhododendrons, trilliums, erythroniums and Iris cristata; the last does very well, except in mild winters when the rhizomes tend to rot. I. sintenisii also does extremely well nearby. Although not nearly as free-flowering as its more robust relatives I. graminea and I. sintenisii, and the flowers tend to be hidden amongst the foliage, this is a fascinating little plant for iris enthusiasts. I wish that I could report on the reputedly similar but distinct I. ludwigii which inhabits gravelly steppes in the Altai mountains of southern Siberia but, as far as I am able to ascertain, the species has never been introduced into cultivation - having said that someone will write in to disagree; if so, please include a specimen as proof!"-
Flor. Taur. Caucas. 1: 33. 1808;
Dykes in the Genus Iris 1913; under the name Iris humilis gave the following;


Rootstock , a slender rhizome of the spuria type.
Leaves , linear, 6-14 in. long by 1/6-¼ broad, firm, ribbed.
Stem , very short, not more than 1-1½ in. long and bearing two long leaves immediately below the spathes.
Spathe valves , 2-2¼ in. long, most usually 1 -flowered (Janka records the finding of a single 2-flowered specimen), closely set in a pair of leaves 3-4 in. long.
Pedicel, very short, sharply marked.
Ovary , rounded trigonal, with a broad groove on each face.
Tube , 1-1½ in. long, gradually becoming wider above. It may be considered as the elongated neck of the ovary.
Falls . The winged haft is separated by a sharp constriction from the almost orbicular blade. The haft is closely veined and mottled with reddish brown on a greenish yellow ground, which on the upper part of the blade becomes white, veined and dotted with deep purple. The main portion of the blade is deep blue purple with distinct deeper veins. There is a slightly raised central ridge, finely dotted with purple on a yellow or orange ground.
Standards , oblanceolate unguiculate, of a blue purple colour with indistinct deeper veins.
Styles , slightly keeled, narrow at the base and becoming much broader above.
Crests , almost quadrate, sharply revolute.
Stigma , bilobed, with two pointed teeth, which project downwards.
Filaments , fulvous.
Anthers , bluish.
Pollen , red-orange.
Capsule , short and broad, with double ridges at the angles.
Seeds , spherical or pyriform, reddish brown, with an outer wrinkled papery skin like those of I. graminea.


It is difficult to say anything in praise of this Iris as a garden plant. It seldom flowers at all, and even when it does, it produces a flower that can hardly be called beautiful, for the chief effect is produced by dull purple veinings on a yellowish white ground. Moreover, the absence of stem leaves the flowers very close to the ground, out of which the buds seem actually to emerge.

It does not appear that any one has ever taken the trouble to ascertain under what conditions this Iris may be induced to flower freely, or it may be that efforts have met with no success. I have grown plants which have remained flowerless year after year, and it was not until 1911 and 1912 that one clump of the plant in a very hot and sunny patch of rather heavy calcareous soil mixed with old leaf mould consented to produce three or four flowers.

This Iris has been confused with the dwarf forms of I. unguicularis, which are common in the Greek islands, where I. humilis does not apparently occur. It seems to be confined to Hungary and the Caucasus, and the supposed specimens from Crete were recognised by Janka in 1 868 as being different and given specific rank as I. cretensis. This, however, they do not seem to deserve, for in cultivation they do not differ from typical I. unguicularis in any particular other than size. I. humilis has also been much confused with I. ruthenica Ker-Gaw!. The growth is not dissimilar, but the true humilis is obviously allied to I. graminea and the spuria group. The bases of the leaves sheathe the rhizome in the characteristic manner of all the members of this group, and the leaves are of the same somewhat hard firm texture, while the rootstock of I. ruthenica is more like that of a minute water Iris, such as I. Clarkei or even I. versicolor, and is always covered with the loose shaggy fibrous hairs, into which the remnants of old leaves have split up.

Another point of difference is that the spathe of I. humilis rises from a pair of leaves two or three times as long as itself, attached to the stem immediately beneath it. One spathe valve is indeed often altogether suppressed and its place taken by one of these leaves. This phenomenon is also not unusual in I. graminea.

The stigma also provides a convenient differentia. In I. ruthenica it consists of a prominent, conical, central tongue, in I. humilis it forms two points, one beneath each crest, as in the other members of the spuria group.

Moreover, the growth of I. humilis is more upright and less fan-shaped than that of I. ruthenica, and the leaves are slightly glaucous on either surface, while those of I. ruthenica are glossy above and glaucous beneath.

By the kindness of Dr Boris Fedtschenko I have recently been able to see an example of an Iris collected by Ludwig in the Altai district, and obviously very closely allied to, if not identical with, I. humilis (MB). It has the same stemless character, and the two flowers emerging from a membranous spathe, closely clasped between two reduced leaves. The falls also are panduriform, with the blade much broader than the haft. The stigma also is bifid with two teeth, which is a characteristic of the spuria group, and moreover the ovary has apparently double ridges at the angles. The chief difference, if any exists, lies in the character of the rhizomes, which in I. Ludwigii is noticeably slender and wide-creeping. To judge from the fragments that I have seen, it seems to spread by means of slender stolons. This may or may not be due to the character of the soil in which the plants grew, and if it were not that I have had only very scanty material of this plant, I should be inclined to maintain with confidence that it is merely I. humilis. That this Iris should occur in the Altai is hardly surprising in view of the fact that both I. ruthenica and I. Flavissima are common both in the Altai district and in Transylvania, where I. humilis is also found.
Bieb., Cent. Pl. Rar. 1: tab. 31. 1810, illustrated in color;
Van H. 1887; 1908; Grull. 1907;


Iris humilis M. Bieb.; Iris marschalliana. in 1939 checklist as the formerly humilis Lowly Iris; Iris alpina adultior Pallas; Iris humilis Alef.; Ioniris humilis Klatt; Iris pontica Zapal.


Chromosome counts






Distribution and Cultivation

Distribution: Region:
Cultivation: seems to be the same as most bearded irises with perhaps a special emphasis on good drainage


pontica eckard berlin by way of Spuria Society.jpg

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-- Main.RPries - 2010-03-04
Topic revision: r10 - 01 Nov 2016, BobPries
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