Saturday, September 27, 2008

Standard Dwarf Iris "pumila THE GEM"

'Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
Aldous Huxley, "Proper Studies", 1927

PUMILA THE GEM photo taken in the Morning Sun a couple of hours ago. This Iris was first introduced 1933. Often miss-labelled or confused with I.kochii.  The neighbour came over at 6.30am to help shift the cattle and found me lying on some sacks taking photos of dwarf irises including the above, sure had his head scratching for a while! 

A H Burgess and Son, Iris Specialists, 1933, WAIKANAE, WELLINGTON, NZ. 
VARIOUS SPECIES (Rhizomatous) page 29
PUMILA THE GEM -A Dainty little hybrid which is just the thing for the rock garden . Glowing rich Purple. 6 inches.

Stevens Bros, Nurserymen, Bulls. Lilies Irises and Rare Bulbs, Autumn, 1938 Catalogue.
Miscellaneous Irises
pumila The Gem
A Dainty little gem which is just the thing for the rock garden. Glowing rich purple flowers borne profusely in the late winter and also off and on throughout the rest of the year. 8in to 1ft. 1/-

Stevens Bros Catalogue 1949-1950, Wanganui, New Zealand.
This is a little rich red purple of our own raising which we offered in our bulb catalogue some years ago.
It resulted from crossing the old blue germanica of Europe with a red purple dwarf chamaeiris. It has the additional merit of blooming almost all year round, giving several major displays, the first being in very early spring. Ten Inches 1/6

Waterson's Iris Garden, Wanganui 1960-61 Wanganui, New Zealand.
An old favourite which not only flowers in very early spring but has bursts of blossom off and on throughout the whole year. In early spring it contents itself with the height of a true dwarf being then only about 6 inches high, with flowers in proportion but later in the year the stems often attain a height of 12 inches. The colour is a light pure purple. Extremely vigorous. 2/6

As a registration by Jean Stevens was not apparent the following registration occurred ;

AIS Checklist 1999
WANGANUI GEM (registered for Jean Stevens, deceased, by Bay of Plenty Group, 1999). MDB. Stem 6-8", (15-20cm), M & RE. S. dark mauve; F. purple; beards white, tipped yellow; slight fragrance. Summer bloom taller, branched. Purple chamaeiris X Madonna. In commerce in NZ since circa 1930 as “The Gem"

I have spent time checking Jeans Stevens Stud Book from 1924 to 1954 and can find no reference to Madonna or for that matter any crosses that involved I.albicains Blue or White form. If Madonna was used in any cross Jean would of noted it as she kept very accurate records.The cross closely associated with this Iris is a 1925 cross B63 Purpurea grandiflora X primila (Plum). I can find no reason why the Iris could not have been registered with notations from the Stevens Bros Catalogue 1949-1950, that are backed up with the A.H. Burgess 1933, and Stevens Bros. 1938 Catalogues. 

Thanks to a senior member of the Auckland Iris group for sending me a 1953 photo of 'The Gem' taken by Mrs Iris Bradford-Smith growing in her Remuera garden which was used as part of the ID process. I have always considered the older the photo the better the provenance. I will continue to list and label this iris as "pumila THE GEM"

Still commercially grown in New Zealand and occasionally sold on Trade Me
As usual, clicking the above image will take you to the larger, higher resolution version.

Reproduction in whole or in part of the photo without the expressed written permission of Terry Johnson is strictly prohibited.
Photo credit and copyright Terry Johnson © .
Reproduction in whole or in part of this article without the expressed written permission of Heritage Irises  is strictly prohibited. 


  1. I have just returned froma trip to Taranaki, where there were few irises in flower but in some parts of Stratford this iris seemed to be in every garden! Lots of flowers and lots of increase.

  2. Hello Terry,

    Wanganui Gem was on my "wanted " list for a while, i don't remember how I came across it but the 'rebloom pumila' in the registration looked so promising, even though i thought it odd that it could rebloom with Madonna as a pollen parent (to my knowledge Albicans don't rebloom and my white Albicans here never gave me fertile pollen...), and with 'chamaeiris' as a pod parent (if you type it in the search list, none of their babies is declared reblooming except Wanganui Gem, which is odd.

    So i am very interested by your comments about the Pumila Gem!
    And what you found in Jeans Stevens' notes.

    But i don't know of "primila (Plum)", do you know what Jeans meant by that, and "Purpurea grandiflora" I've found in the 1939 check list as TB Artin 1911, there is also Eng-B7D deG. 1921, do you know anything about it?

    I would like to trace the rebloom link, that i thought was impossible with the registration 'Purple chamaeiris X Madonna'.
    This iris seems to bloom all the time, it is a dream for my breeding program!

    (Duncan Weir is sending me a piece, how lucky I am!!!)

    Hope you can help!

    zone 7 - The Nederland

  3. Hi Loïc

    In this instance the Checklist becomes somewhat irrelevant and the description of 'Purpurea Grandifolia' from A H Burgess and Son Iris Specialists Waikanae New Zealand (Jean Steven's Family) 1927 Catalogue trumps all. We know from Jeans hybridising notes the variety and it is not a big stretch to assume that this is the same iris that was sold by their nursery

    Purpurea Grandifolia This is the large flowered winter blooming Bearded Iris. Self coloured flowers of a bight rose-purple 2 ft (24 inches)

    Purple King a synonym for I.kochii is also listed in the catalogue which would eliminate any confusion with this variety as both irises have similar descriptions and flowering seasons.

    There are without doubt two different winter flowering irises that grow in New Zealand today both generally are labelled or mis-labelled depending on how you look at it as I.kochii and I have often thought that one of these varieties is Purpurea Grandifolia and this label quite possibly is a synonym for Peter Barr's 1893 Iris "Crimson King' which has been noted for its re-blooming.
    As for Jean Stevens "primila (Plum)", she commented that this was a 'red purple dwarf chamaeiris'. 'Plum' is a reference to the colour and is not a variety name

    Your observations regarding the fertility of 'Madonna' are correct and you are in good company as these were the same conclusions that W.R Dykes published about this variety

    So very pleased that you have considered another Jean Stevens Iris in your breeding programme.

    Do hope this helps
    Regards Terry


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