Iris - exposed?

James Waddick
Wed, 10 Mar 2004 12:20:34 PST
>Maybe this will be in the article that Bob eventually sends us, but 
>I am hoping that someone will explain to the bulb novice who, while 
>growing or admiring various irises over the years, but never having 
>joined any of the Iris organizations, doesn't know what the 
>traditional standard divisions or classifications are and which 
>kinds of irises fall under those divisions.

Dear Lee et al;
	I fear that Bob's presentation was needlessly confusing 
without presenting a base line. Let me try to simplify things and 
give you a start on the genus.

I)	There are 6 subgenera, but the ones you 'need' to know are.

	Iris(bearded species)
	Limniris -crested and beardless species
	Juno (or Scorpiris)- Juno/bulbous iris

	Then there's a more complex variety of bulbous groups 
including Dutch, English and Reticulata species. No further comments 

II)	The subgenus Iris (bearded iris) has six further 
subdivisions. The important ones are:
	a) Section Iris- the traditional bearded iris. The American 
Iris Society has divided these into a number of horticultural 
divisions including Miniature dwarf, Standard dwarf, miniature tall, 
tall bearded etc. You can see this and details of the horticultural 
divisions at the AIS web site at:
	I stress these are essentially common names for artificial 
(Various bearded hybrid) groups.

	b) Section Oncocyclus - a mostly desert adapted group found 
in the middle east and slightly beyond. Important because of the 
large number of wild species and that they can be crossed to some 
degree with bearded iris species often with spectacular results. The 
Aril Society International further 
defines a variety of hybrids based on hybrid history. collective 
hybrids of Oncocyclus x Section Iris are called Aril-breds.

III)	Not all these are equally well represented in the garden. Of 
the 250 or so species worlds wide:
	 - about 1/4 are in the subgenus Juno and less than 10 are 
occasionally found in gardens.
	- about 1/4  are in the Section Oncocylcus and even fewer are 
found in gardens. Hybrids more common.
	- a bit over 1/4 are the beardless and crested species found 
in a variety of habits and includes some common garden plants and 
numerous peculiar rarities.
	- the rest of the species are scattered among rhizomatous and 
bulbous species in various taxonomic groups.

	Still with me?

IV)	Let's just start with bearded iris.

	The commonest garden iris are the tall bearded iris (over 27 
inches tall)also known as German Iris, garden iris etc. Few  species 
are grown and the garden varieties are multiple generation complex 
hybrids of essentially unknown species heritage. Some estimates 
suggest that almost all bearded species (around 30-35) can be 
implicated in these bearded hybrids.

	At the other extreme, the miniature dwarf (up to 8 inches in 
height) and standard dwarf (8-15 inches tall) horticultural classes 
are derived from a few wild short species including Iris pumila and a 
few others. Some of these species and their wild selections are grown 
by specialist gardeners.

	The kicker here is that you can cross a tall bearded iris 
with a miniature dwarf and get something in between that might be 
classified as a border or intermediate iris. Or not.

	These horticultural classes have little taxonomic coherence.

V)	The subgenus Limniris includes all the beardless iris species 
and hybrids common to gardens. Without boring you with details, there 
are 16 series
including some that are fairly neat including: Louisiana iris, 
Siberian Iris. Pacific Coast Native iris, Spuria Iris, etc.  Although 
these correspond to horticultural classes of the AIS, others do not 
such as Japanese iris  ( These are all selection of a single species, 
I. ensata, of the series Laevigatae) etc.

VI)	The Species Iris Group of North America (SIGNA) is devoted to all species, their selections and 
some hybrids. This might be the single group of most interest to you 
as they consider a wide range of iris including rhizomatous and 
bulbous species or all sorts.

VII)	The British Iris Society has an interesting web site and 
explains some of the further details if you click on "An A-Z of Irises"

VII) FINALLY, since you asked... The Crested Iris (Subgenus Limniris, 
Section Lophiris) are identified by the lack of a beard on the falls 
and the replaced series of raised ridges or 'crests' sometimes 
accompanied by frills. It is a heterogeneous group and widely 
distributed consisting of the common (in CA) Iris japonica, confusa 
and wattii as well as the hardier Iris tectorum (Japanese Roof iris - 
neither originally from Japan or found on roofs!), Iris tenuis from a 
very small area of the Pacific NW, Iris cristata from the E. US and a 
variety of odds and ends from China, Japan and elsewhere.
	The crested iris include some real beauties, some easy, some 
tricky, some very rare. Although there are few that are obviously 
close, most of these are probably unrelated and just thrown into the 

	If you have a specific group of irises you wonder about, I'd 
be glad to help you understand more.

		best	Jim W.
Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
E-fax  419-781-8594

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