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CULT: English Iris

Someone asked about English Iris a few days ago and I don't recall seeing
an answer.  I just thought about it because I have been reviewing my slides
from the UK this summer, where I got several very good shots of English
irises blooming away in late June.

English irises grow from bulbs like Dutch irises, but are not very closely
related to that complex.  They are all derived from the species Iris
latifolia, which is native to damp meadows high in the Pyrenees, on the
border of Spain and France.  The name "English" stuck to them because they
found their way early to England and grew very well there.  Plants in good
culture can be 36" tall with very large flowers, almost in the size range
of modern Spurias or TBs.  Colors range from white through lavender to
violet and purple.  Most show streaks of darker color due to virus
infection; uninfected stocks are almost impossible to get.

They seem to be ideally suited to Britain, particularly in the north, and
our Pacific Northwest.  They are probably hardy enough for southern New
England and Long Island and should be tried there.  Ditto the southern
Appalachians, particularly North Carolina.  Plant in fall in a spot that is
always moist (but not soggy) and that has a richly organic, even peaty,
soil.  Hot summers are not to their liking.  I've tried them here in
Virginia once (15 years ago) without success.  The plants came up but
withered before blooming.  Bloom time seems to be with the Japanese Iris or
a little earlier, so they could be very useful.

I'm going to try them again this year in what might be a better spot, after
seeing really spectacular plantings in southern Scotland, in a garden along
the roadside.  There were big clumps that must have been down for years,
and as the flowers were unstreaked, they were probably seedlings that had
escaped being virused.

Bill Shear
Department of Biology
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney VA 23943
FAX (804)223-6374

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