Re: HIST: breeding historic type Iris
I'm curious where the person who made this request is located? The "cold
weather" part implies north? in the US?
I have not grown Iris in climates any colder or more damp than western
Nebraska or ne. Colorado, so with the tetraploid TB's, even the old ones, I
don't have much experience with which ones are good for the north. They
all seem to thrive well here (central NM), while the diploids with I.
variegata blood in them are sometimes a bit slow for me to get started
(they don't like the summer heat); however, once established, they seem to
thrive here too. The areas in Colorado and Nebraska were all USDA Zone 5,
but with sunny mostly dry weather year round, and with days nearly always
well above freezing in winter (even if the nights were well below
freezing). This is a lot different than Zone 5 climates where the sun
never shines in winter. Here in central NM I have plants growing in USDA
Zone 7 and 8, so winter cold is not much of an issue for bearded Iris.
There are some contradictions in the request, as germanica types are not
diploid, they are allotetraploid with 44 chromosomes, and while they are
tough as nails in any climate that is not too cold, they are probably not
good for breeding; they are nearly sterile.
The diploid part makes sense. There are lots of diploid cultivars that
will probably do well as breeders and they seem to thrive in northern
climates. Most seem to be derived from crossing I. pallida and I.
variegata. They also tend to flower late, so they are less likely to get
damaged by late freezes. I. variegata and all the MTB's derived from it
seem to like northern climates too, and they are great if you like small
flowers of "old fashioned" form. The falls tend to be held out more
horizontally than in most wild species. These mostly have standards of
clear color and falls striped darker (sometimes the stripes are missing or
fused into nearly solidly dark coloring on the falls). The wild type
usually has yellow standards and yellow or white falls. On the ones with
white falls the striping tends to purple, and on the ones with yellow it is
usually reddish brown. Occasionally plants have white standards and white
falls or they have purplish pigment in the ground color. The purplish
makes them look brownish if mixed into the yellow, or they look bluish or
purplish if mixed into the white. These are the main themes of coloring in
the MTB's, but genes from other species have added plicatas to the mix, and
breeding has tended to accentuate color patterns or create clear even
colors in some cultivars. The diploid MTB's pretty much look like I.
The I. pallida parent is not quite so loving of water and extreme cold, but
it seems to do fine well up into the Midwest, and I see it growing in yards
up to Connecticut. There are a number of I. pallida cultivars, all very
similar. They vary some in height and flower size, but all look similar.
Most reach TB height, but not all. The flowers are smaller than modern
tetraploid TB flowers. They come in "pink" (really purplish, but looks
pink to the eye when out in the sun in the garden), blue (same comment),
white, and white with plicata edging (which may be "pink" or "blue". The
styles on the plicatas usually match the edging in color, and they are
quite pretty little flowers. The pink or blue may be very pale or very
light, so the range of colors is quite wide for a species. A near white
that I like a lot is 'Fairy', which has faintest hints of "blue" edging but
with the styles richly colored. The darkest one I know is 'Floridor', but
this is also one of the duller colored one (hints of gray). It is still
nice in a mass display though, and smells great. I. pallida cultivars
usually smell like grape juice, especially the "blue" ones. I have put a
pretty long list of I. pallida cultivars together, but don't have it handy
at the moment. Most of the time the catalogs don't say that they are I.
pallida. All I. pallida are diploid (as far as I know), and they set seeds
quite well (usually without help, so you have to be careful in your
pollinating to know if you did it or the bees!). There are a few that were
bred to be like I. pallida but yellow. I have only one of these, and it
hasn't flowered yet. They are of I. variegata x I. pallida ancestry. Two
are 'Primrose' and 'Pluie d' Or'.
I don't have any lists of the old hybrids handy here at work either, but a
number of the I' pallida x I. variegata types (not all first generation,
but all of this ancestry - I think) come to mind off hand. There are lots
more, as most of the earliest Iris breeding (mostly in Europe) was of this
type of Iris. Most of these are IB or TB sized, but with smaller flowers
than the modern tetraploid TB's, and unlike the usual 44 chromosome IBs,
they are fertile and produce seeds easily. These have all proven vigorous
for me. Some are not spectacular as individual flowers, but they all put
on a good show with many flowers when a plant is old and well established.
My experience is that they don't like divided so often as TB's, and perform
best if left alone until the clumps are large and old. Of course that may
have to do with growing conditions as well. They tend to go into shock and
take two or three years to really settle in again when I divide them. Some
of them I have grown for decades, others for only a few years, but they all
seem to perform similarly.
Most of these show at least hints of the I. variegata coloration (such as
stripes on the falls), but most are much larger plants.
Geomori (very like a white and purple version of 'Honorabile')
Gold Imperial (may not be fertile, said to be triploid)
G. P. Baker
Honorabile (and any of its sports - ie. Joseph's Coat, Kaleidoscope,
Sherwin Wright, etc.; these are more like I. variegata than most of the
rest listed here)
"Kashmiriana" - the purple diploid clone in commerce in the US, not the
Mrs. Horace Darwin
Queen of May
Sambucina 'Dinar Mountains'
Actually, most of the Iris bred before 1920 are diploids, and nearly all of
them from before 1900.
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