Candy Lilies

Kelly D. Norris
Mon, 28 Dec 2009 10:56:49 PST
Hello all,

I'm contributing to this discussion very late, but thought I would share my
experiences with these exciting irids.

I've been growing a large selection of Harlan Hamernick's hybrids for the
past several seasons, selecting forms with less muddy colorations for use in
controlled crosses with seed-grown selections of both parent species and
those hybrids from other breeders like Darrell Probst.  I've also used
'Hello Yellow' extensively, which when inbred with itself exhibits an
interesting degree of variation in spottedness (darker gold on yellow).

Here in southwest Iowa (just about 2 hrs north of Jim W.) I find candy
lilies and blackberry lilies very easy to grow, thriving in anything from
"normal" garden soil (a dark loam here) to moderate and heavy clay.  I.
dichotoma is always short-lived (3-4 years) but I haven't grown it from more
than one or two sources.  From my experience any amount of shade lessens
growth and bloom of all three, as do soils with high organic matter content.
Admittedly I do see quite a bit of variation for vigor in seedlings of candy
lilies from the same pod grown in similar conditions (greenhouse or garden).
Could just be the nature of the beast and suggest the need for a greater
diversity of wild germplasm in gardens and breeding programs.

As has been alluded to already, there seems to be several "poles" to the
hybrid pool we call candy lilies.  Some look more like I. dichotoma, others
like I. domestica.  Some have bud counts around 125-200 (Harlan's hybrids in
my garden) and others have bud counts well over 300 (Probst's hybrids from
accounts of others since I've not grown these that long and can't
corroborate that from my own garden just yet).  Other anecdotal evidence
that I know of suggest that those with higher bud counts are shorter lived
(not surprising consider the number of studies on inflorescence size, flower
count, etc. in the evolution literature that correlate these quantities with
survival and reproductive success).  I think the outlook is bright for both
floral types, but with bud counts that support longevity while still notably
impacting the garden during their "when nothing else blooms" bloom time.
Frankly I don't think the market will care whether they have "iris-type"
flowers or "blackberry lily" flowers.  It's about the solution value these
plants offer. (On a side note there are subtle variations in tepal width,
length within I. domestica.  Some exhibit rounder, more lobe-like tepals
while others are starrier and pointed.  Could be a clue to future ideas, or
just nerdy minutia).

Most recently in the October issue of the Bulletin of the American Iris
Society, Jan Sacks of Joe Pye Weed Gardens wrote a great article on her and
husband Marty Schafer's experiences with these plants and their work with
Darrell Probst.  I'd be happy to share PDF copies of the article with anyone
interested.  For anyone who just wants to look at photos, check out this
link (extra images courtesy of Jan from a talk I gave at the Perennial Plant
Association this past summer):
Slide 5 shows our most exciting seedling to date (with unfortunately low bud
count), a line selection out of Harlan's Dazzler series.

Again, the future is bright (he says with twinkle in eye)...

Best chlorophylled wishes,

Kelly D. Norris
Farm Manager, Rainbow Iris Farm
Editor, Bulletin of the American Iris Society
Bedford & Ames, IA 
Zone 4b/5a
Read my blog at:
Twitter: rainbowirisfarm

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