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Iris unguicularis 'Walter Butt'

The following was originally posted to ALPINE-L. John has been kind enough
to allow me to repost it here.

Beth Matney <bmatney@mail.snider.net>

Date:    Sat, 7 Dec 1996 12:18:39 +0000
From:    John Grimshaw <john.grimshaw@ZOOLOGY.OXFORD.AC.UK>
Subject: Plant of the Week: Iris unguicularis 'Walter Butt'

Iris unguicularis is one of the greatest pleasures of winter, and the
sight of those soft lavender-blue flowers amongst the tangled leaves a real
treat, however often you see them. We still await this pleasure from the
common lavender-blue form, but its arrival is anticipated by the
clone called 'Walter Butt', which has been in flower for some weeks.

Walter Butt was a plantsman who lived in Somerset in the first half of
this century. Amongst his collection was a form of Iris unguicularis
which a friend of his had collected near Algiers, distinguished by its
pale flowers and good scent, as well as a notably early flowering season.
Butt's friend, E.B. Anderson, a great Alpine grower, thought highly of
this plant and distributed it widely under the name 'Walter Butt' after
about 1950, when he bought the property from Butt.

        As an Iris, 'Walter Butt' has huge flowers, which must be 4-5"
across when fully expanded, of the most beautiful 'silvery-lavender', as
Brian Mathew puts it in his Iris book: I can't think of any other way to
capture the exquisite colouring. The reverse side of the falls, and this
is best seen when the flowers are still tightly furled, is basically
whitish, but there is a wash of buff towards the tips that gives them an
extremely elegant silky appearance.

        Unlike typical  I. unguicularis, I find that 'Walter Butt' is
almost deciduous, losing most of its leaves in summer, and regrowing them
in Autumn, just before the flowers appear. This makes it a tidier plant,
and the flowers are displayed much better than in other, leafier forms.
Unfortunately my clump has a virus, which sometimes results in slightly
deformed flowers, but otherwise has no visible effect: in deeper coloured
clones the effect is a horrible mottling with deep purple, and I have
thrown out and burnt what was a good collection of named clones because
of this. 'Walter Butt' has been spared, as has the typical robust clone,
because the virus doesn't seem to do them any harm. I know that I ought
to have gone the whole way and destroyed even these reservoirs of
infection, but the likelihood of getting uninfected stocks seems remote,
and I couldn't do without their flowers in winter. I feel that the
flowers are best enjoyed picked for the house; they don't last long, but
one doesn't tend to spend long periods ogling flowers outside in
December, so in fact you get much more pleasure from them when picked.

John Grimshaw

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