Sunday, June 8, 2014


Plate 503, Drawn at Kew, April 1885

August 1st, 1885.



The graceful Iris figured in the accompanying plate was first described by Thunberg in 1793, and named by him I. japonica. It must before this have been introduced into England, for Mr. Baker states that the Banksian herbarium contains a specimen from Kew Gardens dried in 1792. Curtis figured it in the Botanical Magazine, in 1797, as I. chinensis, and in Redoute's " Liliaceae " it appears as I. fimbriata. On the ground of priority, which certainly should in most cases decide a question of nomenclature, the plant ought to be called I. japonica; but I. fimbriata is so happy a term, and I. japonica so little distinctive a one, that I venture in this case to break a wise rule and adopt the name I. fimbriata.
In a considerable number of Irises the fall or outer perianth segment bears along the medium line of the claw and the adjacent part of the blade not a beard composed of hairs, as in the ordinary bearded Irises, but a crest — that is to say, a ridge cut up into a number of tooth-like projections. These crested Irises, as distinguished both from bearded Irises and from beardless Irises, in which the whole of the fall is smooth and even, have been classed together in a group under the name Evansia.

I have myself some doubts about the validity of this group, since, on the one hand, a crest more or less developed appears in certain bulbous Irises —, in the Juno group — while traces of a crest appear in some species whose allies are clearly beardless ; and, on the other hand, the group, thus constituted by the possession of a crest, seems to me to contain plants wholly diverse from each other. Be that as it may, however, the Iris which we are considering now is a crested Iris and belongs to this group of Evansia.
It is a native of Japan (middle and southern islands) and of the middle and southern regions of China. The rhizome bears, fanwise, broad ensiform leaves, and sends out numerous runners or stolons, by which it may be rapidly multiplied. The stem, I foot or 2 feet high, is branched, bearing clusters of flowers. The individual flowers are short-lived, lasting only for a couple of days or so, but they are borne in profusion, a well-established plant giving a succession of flowers lasting many weeks.

The plate gives a fair idea of the form of the flower, the crisped and broken margins of the falls and standards, and especially the fringed edges of the crests of the styles, justifying the name of fimbriata, or fringed. But it is very difficult to reproduce the charm of the colouring, the delicate light blue-purple or lavender forming the ground colour of the whole flower harmonising pleasantly with the yellow and orange of the crest by help of patches and veins of darker purple scattered here and there. A well-grown plant with several stems covered with these graceful flowers, which make up in delicacy and refinement what they lack in size and depth of colour, is a very acceptable sight ; and in a warm atmosphere a slight, but agreeable, fragrance makes itself felt.

Although, as I have said, I doubt the solidarity of the Evansia group as a whole, this I. fimbriata has certainly allies. Iris tectorum, also a Japanese and Chinese plant, with its much larger and more gaudy flowers, has many affinities with it ; and intermediate between the two comes an Iris which was introduced by seed from the Himalayas by Mr. Frank Miles, and which Mr. Baker proposes to call I. Milesi. And I am inclined to think that the I. nepalensis of Royle, when we come to know it more fully, will also prove a very close neighbour, as indeed does an unnamed Iris from Lahul, which M. Max Leichtlin has kindly given me, but which proves to be a most difficult plant to grow. The I. nepalensis of Don, which is identical with the I. decora of Wallich and with an Iris from Kumaon called I. kumaonensis (which name accordingly ought to be withdrawn), though a crested Iris, differs in most important features from the others just named.

Confining ourselves to the narrower group to which I. fimbriata belongs, we thus find that, while its centre is in China and Japan, it stretches away westward to the Himalayas, where it disappears. Strange as it may seem, and yet in accordance with what we know of the laws governing the geographical distribution of plants, we can pick up the group again if, moving eastward instead of westward, we cross the Pacific Ocean and North American continent, for the little Iris lacustris of the shores of Lake Huron and I. cristata of the States of Virginia and Carolina are not only crested Irises, but Irises in their essential features closely allied to I. fimbriata. In accommodating themselves to their American homes they have become dwarfed, though they have not lost all their beauty. The effects of conditions of life are still further seen in the little I. verna of the more northerly Eastern States, for this seems to me to be in reality a crested Iris which has lost its crest.
All the specimens which I have hitherto seen of I. fimbriata are exactly alike. I have never met as yet with any distinct variations. I have, however, in my possession two named kinds from Roozen, but as they have not yet flowered with me, I can say nothing about them.

In this rough climate of England, I. fimbriata — save perhaps in some southern paradisaical garden, such as that of Mr. Ewbank — must be grown as a cool green- house pot plant. Even with me it will live out of doors (I did not try it, however, in the winters of 1879 to 1881), but it only lives. To flower adequately it must have the protection of glass and the help of artificial warmth in winter. In its native home it is found in moist and shady situations, and must not, therefore, be dried off  like I. tectorum, which, as its name implies, may be and is grown in its native home on a dry house-top.
I have not found it very particular as to soil ; a rich open one, composed of loam, thoroughly rotten manure, a little peat perhaps, and a good deal of sand, seems to me to suit it best ; with too much peat the rhizome is apt to rot. I usually take a runner in winter, grow it on during the rest of the winter, spring, and early summer, shifting it from a 3-inch to a 4½-inch pot, and then to a 5 -inch pot, giving plenty of water and a genial temperature. By that time the pot has become well filled with roots and most of the foliage has been made. I then place it out of doors, not wholly in the shade, but exposed freely to our feeble English sunshine, taking care that it never gets quite dry, but keeping it, as respects water, rather stinted than otherwise during the late summer and autumn. In the winter it comes back into the house ; as growth begins again water is given more freely, and, according to the temperature to which it is exposed, the bloom may be expected from Christmas, or even earlier, onwards. If the young plant thus treated does not bloom the first winter, I keep it in the same pot, or one slightly larger only — for it seems to do rather better for being somewhat pot-bound, provided that it gets adequate nourishment — and subject it to the same treatment. The chief points of culture to be attended to seem to me to be — ample moisture, air, and light in the winter and early part of the year, and a season of comparative, but not absolute, rest during the latter half of summer and autumn.

M. Foster.

 Published in 1885, I considered Sir Michael Fosters completely unabridged articles need  once again to have some light shine upon the words and allow the readers see how prescient the man was. T.J.


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