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(Spec) Iris songarica Schrenk.

1841, Schrenk

Iris songarica Schrenk ( Alexander Gustov von Schrenk. Subgenus Limniris, Series Tenuifoliae; Schrenk in Enum. Pl. Nov. 1: 3 1841; The plants currently in cultivation are not Iris songarica but are forms of Iris lacteal see discussion at the end of the referemces-RP

See below: ----


Schrenk in Enum. Pl. Nov. 1: 3 1841;
Dykes, The Genus Iris, 1913
N.B. The description given below is taken from Foster's unpublished MS., and is that of some plants received by him early in 1885 through Kew from Dr Aitchison, who collected them on the Afghan Boundary Commission between Sir Mandel and Sher Baksh at an elevation of 3000 ft.

Rootstock , a small dark rhizome about as thick as .. a pencil, bearing dense tufts of leaves, the remainsof which split into fibres running diagonally over each other and produce a spiral effect.
Leaves , 6-15 in. long, 1-i in. broad, firm, strongly ribbed.
Stem, round, solid, about 1 5 in. high and t in. diameter, clothed at the base by clasping leaves, bearing 1-4 spicate heads, each containing 2-3 flowers.
Spathe valves , the lower 4 in. and the upper 5 in. long, closely embracing the bud, light-green, but distinctly scarious at the tip and along the upper margin.
Pedicel , -! in.
Ovary , rounded trigonal, with a slight ridge on each face, tapering gradually into the tube.
Tube , 1!-2! in. long, green with purple spots in the line of the standards.
Falls . The elliptical blade is separated by a constriction from the long oval haft, which is dotted with reddish purple on a very faint blue ground. On the blade the median portion is bluish with minute purple spots, and beyond this the ground is paler, almost white, and the dots larger and more distinctly purple. 2! in. long by 1 in. broad.
Standards , oblanceolate cuneate, rather more than 2! in. long by t in. broad, covered by a network of imperfect veins and irregular small blotches of a red purple, the ground being white or very faint purple.
Styles , shorter and narrower than the haft of the falls, whitish dotted with purple.
Crests , narrow, nearly 1 in. in length and crossing one over the other.
Stigma, bilobed with two triangular teeth.
Filaments , purple.
Anthers, reddish.
Pollen , deep reddish orange.
Capsule , oblong, 1} in.
Seeds, cylindrical, dark brown, with a wrinkled skin.


This Iris, which is unfortunately not at present in cultivation in England, seems to form a connecting link between the spurz'a and the tenuifolz'a groups. It resembles the former in general appearance and in the inflorescence, which usually bears one or more spicate heads of flowers besides the main cluster. The slender rootstock, however, with its masses of transverse fibres closely resembles those of the latter group. Foster had this Iris in bloom at least once, and noted that the flower closely resembled that of a xiphium or Spanish Iris in poise and appearance, differing chiefly in the long, tapering and conspicuous style crests.It would probably not be difficult to cultivate if seeds could be obtained and provided that the plants were kept dry and well ripened after flowering in summer.
Gardeners Chronicles 3rd. Ser. 95: 44. 20 January 1933
Brian Mathew The Iris, 1981, & 1989
British Iris Society's A Guide to Species Irises, 1997
Dr. Rodionenko, p. 3550, SIGNA , 2003Iris songarica, the Conqueror of Desertsby Dr. G. Rodionenko - St. Petersburg, Russia. In every botanical group (section or series) uniting the most closely related species, one can always find a species, whose structure and biology reflect most brightly the way of evolutionary transformation traveled by this group. Among the group of desert irises Ventricosae· (subsection Tenuifoliae) such a species is no doubt Iris songarica. To reveal those characteristics and features in its structure and biology, which enabled it to occupy such a vast area - I consider this to be the goal of this paper.

Although this iris is not an ornamental star, information on the peculiarities of this hard-to-domesticate wild grower may be useful to an iridologist of inquisitive mind.

All the efforts of both myself and B. Mathew to observe the life of this eremophyte under cultivation have failed. Its rhizomes, if moved in conditions of wet maritime climate, died every time in several weeks. Unfortunately, seed propagation in such a climate has not proved itself either. When working with this species under stationary conditions, I only succeeded in recognizing its features on the earliest stages of development.

Seeds germinate gradually, with this process taking place over 5-7 years. To note, the long keeping viability of the seeds is a very useful property under severe desert conditions, as springs, favorable for seed germination and seedling development are quite rare there.

In my long-term work with irises, I have paid great attention to their ontogenesis. Unfortunately, stone pages of palaeobotanical memorials are very poor in information on the past of species of the genus Iris. One can read the past of irises successfully enough only if inquisitively studying their individual development, i.e. ontogenesis.

The first stage of development is essential in the life of each plant. Most seedlings of bearded and beardless irises on the earliest stage of their life possess a long slender connective, linking a seed with a germ rhizome (Fig. 1, a). There is usually one vascular bundle in the connective, to conduct nutrients from the seed. Species of Spuria Irises have acquired a very short connective in the process of evolution (Fig. 1, b), that provides faster access of nutrients to the young plant, not yet capable of independent life. Externally, seedlings of I. songarica do not differ from those of Spuria Irises, but this is only a formal resemblance. Analysis of the inner structure of I. songarica seedlings allowed me to read a secret of their adaptation to a far greater pace of development, dictated by severe desert conditions. The l. songarica seedlings have six, rather than one, vascular bundles, and the latter can obviously transport water and nutrients, stored in the seed endosperm, six times faster. Moreover, the bundles, threading all the tissue of the cotyledon sheath, give it higher strength in its fight against the fierce elements of desert (Fig. 1, c). I have not found such a construction thus far in any other species of rhizomatous irises.

Let us continue a comparative study of structural changes appearing in the process of evolution. Once seedlings have provided themselves with a special structure, increasing their odds in a struggle for existence, what could the most evolutionally labile organ invented be to increase the plant viability? Leaf blades of adult plants of I. songnrica always break off at the same height, and the sheath part of the leaf, persistent at the rhizome, is provided with abundant fiber-bearing vascular bundles. In several years, the bunch base becomes enclosed with a "fur-coat" of dead leaves. It effectively covers the rhizomes and regeneration buds. Despite the southern latitudes where I. songarica occurs, severe winters happen there, and the air temperature often falls below -20 to -25° C. The "fur-coat" is also useful in the late spring and summer. In Uzbekistan, in places where I. songarica has formed enormous irideta (iris communities), precipitation takes place mainly in February, March and a little in April. After April, a hot and dry season begins, when it hardly rains. The sun glares intolerably to heat the soil surface in the noonday hours up to 50-60° C, and the air temperature is as high as 40-45° C and more in the shade. When traveling over those areas in hot days, I often met local men clothed in heat-insulated cotton-lined robes. In this way, they saved themselves from the flaming sun. The "coat" of fiber allows plants of I. songarica to save the stem base from overheat and sunburns in summer months.

As a rule, a similar "coat" effectively covers the bases of short-stemmed species of the series Tenuifoliae'''". Moreover, ovaries of their flowers are also buried in the radical "coat". Our character- I. songarica - has chosen another way than I. tenuifolia in the course of evolutional adaptation. It retained rather tall peduncles and made upper sternleaves, so called bracts, suitable for covering the ovaries. I. songarica, I. ventricosa and I. polysticta are record-holders in their bract size among rhizomatous irises. After flowering, such bracts effectively protect tender tissues of the ovaries from dry winds. To emphasize, plants of I. ventricosa have the most perfect construction of the bracts. A Chinese botanist Y. T. Zhao found in bract tissues of this species not only a powerful net of longitudinal veins (vessels), but also the presence of a net of transverse veins. So, these bracts possess the most perfect vascular system, supporting their vitality.

In addition, I. songarica also shows high drought-resistance, due to its roots penetrating to deep layers and reaching as deep as 80- 100 min sandy soils.

Let us go back to the "coat" of I. songarica; this fiber, in addition to its strength, has antiseptic properties. These features, unfortunately, attracted man's attention. Mass destruction of irideta took place to procure the fiber for brush-making (Fig. 2). The raw material was abundant. The irideta in many regions of the Central Asia extended for tens of kilometers. The total area of growing I. songarica in the late 1950s in Uzbekistan and partly southern Kazakhstan comprised over 700'000 hectares. The thickets of this iris in time of the maximal blossom looked like pastel-blue lakes. This prodigy of nature made an indelible impression on those who had a chance to see it. On the communication of a local botanists, Erezhepov, the fiber was produced in 1950-1960s on a large scale, and the raw procurement led to the total destruction of I. songarica bunches. This barbarous operation has most probably resulted in an uncorrectable damage to the wonderful natural thickets of this iris.


Certainly, this iris, possessing rare properties, was not created by nature only for the purpose of rope-twining or brush-making. If rationally using its features such: as heat and cold-resistance, capacity for vegetation and flowering under trace amount of precipitation, one will be able by techniques of hybridization and introduction to create in a comparatively short time a new culture of irises capable of successful growing and abundant flowering in southern arid regions of Europe, the United States, areas where every drop of water in summer time is valuable. Such arid regions of our planet as Australia and South Africa, where the cultivation of our favorite irises has been successfully developing in recent years, are also not to be forgotten. To underline, all works, both selection and introduction, with I. songarica should be carried out only in areas with a dry and hot climate, and started only from growing this iris from seed. As to the work on selection, in my opinion, I. polysticha may be of great interest as a partner in this aspect. Its flowers are the only possessors of the yellow color in this group.Ornamental peculiarities of I. songarica can be enriched as well by its hybridization with species and cultivars of Spuria Irises. These irises, although belonging to another subgenus (subgenus Xyridion) are of no doubt genetically close to I. songarica and other species of the subsection Tenuifoliae. The latter is confirmed by both my studies of their ontogenesis and molecular research by T. Hall, N. Tillie and M. W. Chase·.
DISCUSSION, 2016: The plants that are widely grown by a number of Iris collectors for that last several decades are not Iris songarica but an imposter. It is not hard to understand how this error could have occurred because until the British Iris Society's A Guide to Species Irises, there were no pictures published of songarica. That image while true, showed a clump and di not show the detail needed to rule out the imposter. The original description was not easily obtained and although Dykes provided a good description without some visual reference it was hard to distinguish this species. Dykes noted the longer style crests that tend to cross over each other but without seeing the real thing it is often hard to visualize the meaning of the words. While using Google images two images stood out as true among the many of the imposter. We hope to gain permission to show them here. They can be found at the following website. First image, second image




Chromosome counts



No named variations



No known crosses


Distribution and Cultivation

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-- BobPries - 2011-03-07
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
songarica01.jpgjpg songarica01.jpg manage 96 K 17 Jul 2015 - 14:56 TerryLaurin Imposter Photo by Barry Blyth-Australia
songarica02.jpgjpg songarica02.jpg manage 66 K 17 Jul 2015 - 14:58 TerryLaurin Imposter Photo by Barry Blyth-Australia
songarica03.jpgjpg songarica03.jpg manage 55 K 17 Jul 2015 - 14:59 TerryLaurin Imposter Photo by Barry Blyth-Australia
songarica1.jpgjpg songarica1.jpg manage 183 K 29 Jul 2016 - 12:12 BobPries Courtesy of SIGNA & the British Iris Society
Topic revision: r8 - 01 Dec 2016, BobPries
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