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Pacific Coast natives

  • Subject: Pacific Coast natives
  • From: Alexander Craghead <abcraghead@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Mon, 27 May 2002 12:16:03 -0700 (PDT)

Hello list:

A fellow lister got in touch with me about the pacific
Natives and this is what I sent him back: I hope it's
entertaining for the rest of you. And check out the
first of the two URLs at the bottom... even I wasn't
aware of the things the breeders can do these days!

The iris I referred to are properly PCN (Pacific Coast
Native) and PCH (Pacific Coast Hybrid) irises. 

PCN are species iris native from Mexico to BC. They
are rooty, not rhizomatic.... similar in this respect
to Siberians. (I have recenlty seen a cross between a
PCH and a Siberian in a local catlog- intriguing!)
There are about 12 or 18 natives I am aware of,
probably more.... 

Most PCN in Oregon are from the SW coastal area, the
Siskiyou Mountains and Rogue River Valley. There is an
amazing abundance of unusual native plants here.

Unlike Siberians, PCN are short... about 12" -18".
They have a fan like nature, much like a Bearded, but
the leaves are usually narrow and strap like,
bordering on grassy. Color ranges from dark glossy
green to grass green. Indeed they are often known as
Grass Iris.

The most common color is blue-violet or yellow. There
is usually veining/penciling on the standards and the
falls. Blooms are usually held on a reed like stem,
with typically 1-3 buds per stem opening in sequence
from the tip down. Plants often produce multiple
stalks. The weight of the flowers, which are loose and
resemble orchids, tend to bend the stalks over but not
break them-- they are very fiberous and one, I. tenax,
the Oregon iris native to the Willamette
(Will-LAMB-it) valley, was used by the natives to make
rope. it is also known as the tough-leaved iris.

There are many species endemic only to small parts of
the landscape... I know of a variety only found near
Gaston, Oregon, and another found only near the
Clackamas River highlands.

This is getting long, hope you like it.......

Many of the species grow in the same areas along the
coast and the result is that they will cross breed and
produce unique iris in various areas... natural
hybrids. These are the PCH, and growers have since
helped this along by crossing their own PCH. Hmm....
will my garden collection interbreed and produce an
iris endemic only to my garden? Fascinating

Some of my hybrids like Ami Royale are natural crosses
discovered in the wild... (Roy Davidson of Seattle
found that one.) 

Generally, if its labelled a PCH then it is actually
i. innominata x douglassiana. Innominata is the
Calfiornia PCN and douglassiana the N. Cal/S. Oregon

I have a handfull of the douglassianas, inlcuding Cape
Sebastian and Cape Ferrelo.... these produce fewer
flower stalks and are less vigourous than the PCH but
still quite nice. They are named after the locations
they were found in. 

In fact, this is one of those rare occaisions that
disturbance by humans is encouraged, as 100 years of
logging has resulted in more clearings, allowing the
PCN to spread and interbreed... we are now seeing new
crops of iris in the wild we've never seen before, and
as the forrests regrow back and reisolate the
populations, it'll be interesting to see the resulting
new endemics that pop up with this new iris blood.

I wish I had some pictures to send but I have no
scanner and no digital camera, (yet.) To see what the
breeders have been doing, check out


or see the Pacific Coast Native iris Society, (which i
just found!):

see what you can learn in a few minutes with a web
browser! (And a stack of catalogs that i read like
small novels)


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