Monday, August 14, 2017

Space Age Iris of the Early 21st Century

by Jean Richter

The turn of the century has brought new hybridizers experimenting with space age iris, and these iris are enjoying unprecedented popularity. Following are some of the most recent space age iris to grace our gardens.

Riley Probst began his hybridizing career in Missouri, but now calls California his home. Here is his space age introduction from 2013, Power Lines.

Power Lines (Probst 2013)

Nebraska hybridizer Leroy Meininger has created a number of lovely space agers. Here is one from 2005, Beneath My Wings.

Beneath My Wings (Meininger 2005)

California hybridizer Robert Annand also introduced several space age iris. Although he passed away in 2013, some of his seedlings have been selected and introduced posthumously. Here is Bob's Pride from 2015.

 Bob's Pride (Annand by Marshall 2015)

Mississppi hybridizer Truman Scarborough introduced stately Emma's Plume in 2012. One of its parents, Thornbird, lends its unique color.

Emma's Plume (Scarborough 2012)

Another pair of Nebraska hybridizers, Leonard and Kathie Jedlicka, are also introducing space age iris. Here is their pink confection Isadora Belle from 2009.

Isadora Belle (Jedlicka 2009)

The Suttons were a fixture in the southern San Joachin valley in California for many years, but have recently relocated to Idaho. George Sutton introduced many space age iris before his passing in 2013. His son Mike is carrying on the space age tradition, as can be seen in his 2011 introduction Point of No Return.

Point of No Return (M. Sutton 2011)

California hybridizer Rick Tasco of Superstition Iris Gardens has introduced a number of space age iris. Here is his uniquely colored Solar Fire from 2003.

Solar Fire (Tasco 2003)

Rick also works at introducing space age characteristics into median iris. Here is his new 2017 intermediate bearded introduction Visual Pleasure.

Visual Pleasure (Tasco 2017) IB SA

One of the most prolific hybridizers of space age iris since 2000 is Texas hybridizer Tom Burseen. He is as well known for his quirky iris names as he is for the iris themselves. Here are three of his space age introductions, Cry Me a River from 2006, Air Hog from 2009, and Justa Musta from 2016.

Cry Me a River (Burseen 2006)

Air Hog (Burseen 2009)

Justa Musta (Burseen 2016)

As you can see, space age iris are more popular than ever, and have certainly come a long way from Lloyd Austin's first space agers of 60 years ago. What are your favorite 21st century space age iris?


Monday, August 7, 2017

Our debt to Iris aphylla

Tom Waters

I. aphylla
The European bearded iris species Iris aphylla has contributed to the development of modern bearded irises in a number of different ways. It still remains of considerable interest to hybridizers, particularly those working with the median classes.

The species is native to much of eastern Europe, with a range extending farther north than other bearded species. This makes it thoroughly winter hardy. It goes completely dormant in winter, losing all its leaves right to the ground. (The Latin word aphylla means "leafless".) The flowers are violet, although some recessive white and other off-color forms exist. The flowers themselves are not particularly glamorous, being often narrow and of poor substance. One of its most distinctive characteristics is prolific basal branching, with long branches starting low on the stalk, not infrequently at the point the stalk emerges from the rhizome. It varies in height, with forms as small as 30 cm and as tall as 60 cm or more. Both wild-collected forms and garden cultivars of the species have been registered and circulated.

I. aphylla 'Slick' (Lynn Markham, 2003)
Happily, I. aphylla has a similar chromosome complement to that of our modern tetraploid tall bearded (TB) and border bearded (BB) irises. This means it can be crossed with them to produce fertile seedlings that can be continuously worked with and improved for as many generations as one likes.

Early breeders showed little interest in medians, and simply worked I. aphylla into TB lines. It was found to contribute two interesting traits: an intensification of violet flower color, and blue or violet beards! Many early approaches to black in TB irises, such as 'Sable' (Cook, 1938) and probably 'Black Forest' (Schreiner, 1948), derive from I. aphylla. It is also behind many whitish or light blue TBs with blue or violet beards. In these irises, the dominant white found in TBs interacts with the intensification of violet pigment from I. aphylla.

When enthusiasm for median irises blossomed in the 1950s, with the formation of the Median Iris Society and the establishment of the four classes of median irises, creative breeders began to consider the potential of I. aphylla to add variety to these classes.

'Tic Tac Toe' (Johnson, 2010)
tetraploid MTB descended from I. aphylla
The most ambitious of such undertakings was Ben Hager's project to create tetraploid miniature tall bearded (MTB) irises. This class had been created with diploids in mind. Most TB irises from the 1800s and early 1900s were diploid, with a daintiness that was lost when tetraploids came to dominate. Early MTB breeders had taken these daintier TBs and bred them for even smaller size and greater delicacy. The MTBs were promoted as subjects for flower arranging. Tetraploid TBs, however, showed more different colors (such as tangerine pink), wider form, and better substance. Could these traits from the modern TBs be transferred to irises dainty enough to qualify for the strict requirements of the MTB class? Hager set about proving that they could. He crossed I. aphylla with small TBs and BBs, and then kept breeding toward the MTB requirements. After many generations of work, he established a line of tetraploid MTBs. Although these did not look exactly like the diploid MTBs (I. aphylla yields straight, upright stalks with vertical branching, whereas diploid MTBs often have a more zig-zag branching style), they had an appeal all their own. The first pink MTBs were Hager's tetraploids from I. aphylla.

'Saucy' (Craig, 1998)
tetraploid IB descended from I. aphylla
Hager's work was carried on by Jim and Vicki Craig, who combined Hager's irises with their own crosses involving different forms of I. aphylla. They introduced not only tetraploid MTBs, but BBs and IBs from the same breeding lines. This enhanced the variety of all three classes. They even produced a couple that were small enough to qualify as standard dwarf bearded (SDB)!

Others have worked with I. aphylla over the years, and continue to do so. Some hybrids that a relatively close to the species itself have been registered in the SPEC-X category. Paul Black's "small-flowered TBs" owe a debt to I. aphylla.

This species has contributed a great deal to the variety we find in both TBs and medians today. Do you grow any irises with I. aphylla ancestry? I'd wager you do!


'Night Mood' (Lynn Markham, 2003)
SPEC-X from 'Blackbeard' X I. aphylla 'Dark Violet'

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