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Our own wild iris ... in your garden.

Our own wild iris . . . in your garden

The native iris of the Pacific Coast--and their hybrid offspring--combine the toughness of native plants with a gracefulness and color range that few exotic perennials can match. This is the month to see and buy them in bloom in nurseries or at native plant sales. It's also the time to take a walk or a drive near the coast and see expanses of wild iris in full bloom (as in the large photograph at left).

Of the many species of Western native iris, I. douglasiana has been most widely used in breeding programs. It grows from central Oregon to Santa Barbara, usually within 10 miles of the coast. Look for its lavender-blue to purple-blue flowers and evergreen foliage fans in open woodland or pastureland; they show to great advantage in pastures because cattle and sheep crop the grass around them. Its contributions to the hybrids are evergreen foliage, branching flower stems, and a strong constitution.

Other species are also notable parents. I. innominata, native to southwest Oregon and northwestern California, contributes a golden yellow color and pronounced brown veining. I. munzii, a rare native of the southern Sierra Nevada foothills, passes on unusually pure blues.

These and other species, variable in themselves, cross freely, yielding a kaleidoscopic range of colors. Fanciers have selected the best of these and bred from them. Advanced hybrids now have nearly the color range of tall bearded iris--including white, cream, yellow, gold, orange, pink, coppery red, bronze, brown, lavender, and blues from sky pale to deepest violet. Most are feathered, veined, eyed, or stitched with contrasting colors, and many are ruffled or pleated.

Where to grow Pacific hybrids

Near the coast, these iris succeed in full sun; inland, they do best in open shade or afternoon shade. They require good drainage, neutral-to-acid soil with humus, and ample water in winter and spring. Mature plants near the coast may need no irrigation during the dry season; inland, give them occasional water.

Use them on hillsides, among shrubs with similar water needs, at woodland edges, in rock gardens, or as the springtime color feature in a garden of native plants. They are especially useful along paths or by stairs or sitting areas where their colors and markings can be observed in detail.

Once clumps are established, they spread, becoming broader and more floriferous year by year. Group them in masses of one color (as in the garden shown in the center photograph, left), or mix them up for a cottage-garden effect. At this stage, plants yield lots of flowers for cutting (and these last well in water).

How to find plants

Growers are now producing Pacific hybrid iris in large quantities, and retail nurseries should be able to supply the demand. You can buy plants in containers now or order bare-root divisions for delivery in autumn. Container plants are available throughout the year, but if you buy them in bloom, you'll get just the colors you want. (Most container plants are unnamed seedlings; some are labeled by color.) Native plant nurseries are a likely source, though not the only one. Check out sales held by native plant societies (see page 258).

If you can't find the varieties you want through nurseries or native plant societies, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Pacific Iris, Sunset Magazine, 80 Willow Rd., Menlo Park, Calif. 94025; ask for a list of mail-order suppliers (best sources for named hybrids).

Try raising your own

Pacific iris are easy to grow from seed, and the plants you get will be attractive, if not necessarily prize-winning. In the fall, sow seed 1/4 inch deep in pots, flats, or carefully protected beds in open ground. Plants will appear in the spring (earlier, if grown indoors) and should bloom in their second spring.

If you want to try breeding new varieties, follow the procedure shown in the photographs at right.

If a friend has old clumps that need dividing, be sure to transplant just as new roots begin to form. (Slender rhizomes do not store enough food to endure long without new roots.) Pull away soil from the base of a foliage fan and look for the white tendrils of newly developed roots. The season is fall in California, spring in the Northwest.

Photo: High above the Pacific, Iris douglasiana flourishes in this sheep pasture in Sonoma County, California

Photo: Turquoise streaks on 'Pacific High' show effect of I. munzii parentage

Photo: White-and-cream blooms crown Pacific hybrids in Berkeley garden

Photo: Spectacular gold-and-copper hybrid bred by Joe Ghio is still unnamed

Photo: Want to try raising your own? Start by pollinating

To simplify pollination, remove broad petals (falls), easing access to stamens, pistil. Don't damage small inside petals (style branches)

Remove stamen (rod-like organ with brown or yellow pollen) with tweezers to transfer to seed the parent flower, or store it until seed parent blooms

On seed parent you've chosen, bend back the style branch to expose stigma (lower surface of shelf-like lip). Rub pollen onto stigma. Label the cross
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1988
Words:841
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