Saturday, December 6, 2014


[For the specimens from which our plate was prepared 
we are indebted to Messrs. Barr & Sugden, who possess
 one of the most complete collections of Irises known.] 

December 20, 1879.


Everyone knows and, knowing, admires the bearded Irises ; but it is not everyone who is aware of the beauty and the delight which may be found in the beardless Irises, a group of which is represented in the plate issued with the present number. In this, as in so many other instances, the popular judgment is founded on reason. Taking them all through, no beardless Iris, not even the Kæmpferi (the one beardless Iris which has been honoured with the title of a " florist's flower," and which was described and illustrated in No. 406, p. 198) possesses that union of grace of outline with delicacy of colouring, which is the charm of such a bearded Iris, for instance, as I. pallida. Yet many of the beardless Irises are handsome and indeed lovely, and they are all worthy the attention of those who love flowers as flowers, and who do not regard plants merely as material for constructing the gaudy or the grotesque patchworks sometimes spoken of as gardens. To the gardener who is also a botanist they have an especial interest, because they are not only much more widely spread than the bearded forms, but in all probability older, that is, earlier in origin.[Ref i] 
Not only are the recognised species belonging to the beardless division more numerous than those of the bearded, but the differences between the several kinds are much more marked and distinct. The bearded Irises are very much alike, and, in giving them separate names, stress has often to be laid on such variable characters as colour and size. The beardless Irises, on the other hand, present a large number of tangible unlikenesses, enabling the very beginner to recognise the differences between the several species. Numerous, however, as are the various kinds, a very little study shows that they may be arranged with more or less completeness into a number of groups, each consisting of central or typical and outlying members.
One group, of which the beautiful unguicularis (or stylosa) may be taken as the type, is not represented in the plate, for the very good reason that the members of this group flower in winter or quite early spring, whereas most of the beardless Irises and all those pictured in the plate flower in mid or late summer. I regret this unavoidable omission, because unguicularis is, perhaps, the most lovely of all the beardless forms. Possibly its beauty appears all the more striking, at all events we appreciate it the more, just because it comes to us in the winter. It is an excellent, easily-managed pot plant, flowering readily under glass (in the open it is apt to be cut by the frost), and I would strongly advise those who are the happy possessors of a little greenhouse to obtain from Messrs. Barr & Sugden, or from Mr. Ware, or from some other of the nurserymen who make a speciality of Irises, good, strong, sturdy specimens of this delightful plant, taking care to choose those with the pots crammed full of roots. I think they will not be disappointed. The flowers are not very numerous at a time, but they come in succession ; I had last winter a plant which went on flowering from the beginning of December to the end of February, right through that memorable dreary season. Its large and elegant lavender coloured flowers, which, whenever they felt the influence of a little warmth and sunlight, sent forth a delicate and delightful fragrance, brought me consolation on many a dark and dismal day. I well remember that before the Iris flowered my little greenhouse was nearly filled with Chrysanthemums, of whose bloom I, and especially my gardener, were not a little proud ; but as soon as my first unguicularis bloom had opened I was impatient until my Chrysanthemums had been cast out : its delicate and sweet beauty made me intolerant of the showy, but, compared with it, garish florists' flowers. A very distinct group is formed by I. spuria and its allies. These are, for the most part, tall plants, blooming somewhat late in summer, with erect, rather narrow leaves and close set flowers, and their ripe capsules are strongly ribbed. One of the handsomest of these is I. ochroleuca. No. 6 in the plate. The opaque waxen whiteness of its large petaloid stigmas, [Ref ii] closely bent down, as in all the members of this group, over the falls, gives a peculiar charm to the flowers, contrasting as it does with the rich yellow of the falls themselves. The origin of ochroleuca is unknown ; it exists, as far as is known at present, in gardens only. A variety with the name gigantea is highly spoken of. One disadvantage in this group is that the flowers are so close set on the stalk that they have not room to expand, and, as shown in the figure, are tilted up on one side. A gathered cluster makes, however, a very handsome centre in a nosegay ; and, as is the case with almost all Irises, the buds expand readily in water. Next to ochroleuca, perhaps even surpassing it, comes the allied I. Monnieri, a very tall plant coming from Crete, with abundant large flowers of a rich yellow colour. It is one of the latest flowerers, showing a full bloom even when Kæmpferi has passed away, and has the further merit of being fragrant. The odour is not very powerful but very pleasing. Very closely allied to these is the Himalayan form, I. aurea, No. 8 in the plate. This is a very handsome plant, with which I hope soon to become better acquainted than I am at present. I. spuria itself, with its many varieties, does not recommend itself to me very greatly. In some of the forms, as in the so-called spuria major, and also in the Algerian variety known as Reichenbachii, the colouring is bright, and some people might think them handsome, especially when seen in masses ; but the mixture which they offer of blue or purple and yellow is to my mind too coarse to be pleasing ; besides, there is a certain stiffness and want of elegance in their outlines. I prefer the smaller flowers of such varieties as that known as desertorum, with its paler flowers, narrow falls, and, in some cases, marked fragrance, or even the white Gûldenstadtii, which, however, is very inferior to ochroleuca. Some of the spuria group are absolutely worthless from a gardening point of view. When you have devoted the best nook in your garden, and unwearied attention to a plant which, in the end, bears, amidst a dense mass of tall, strong leaves, a number of insignificant dirty-coloured flowers, you begin to understand the meaning of the phrase "of botanical interest only." As an outlying member of the spuria group, I may refer to the little I. graminea, though this is by some authors associated with quite different kinds. [Ref iii]  
This is of no great value as a border plant, the flowers are too much hidden by the over-topping leaves, and the flowers themselves are singly of no great beauty. Nevertheless their mixed blue and purple tints will be found to render them of value as cut blooms ; they can then be made to harmonise most effectually with other flowers.
Next to I. Kæmpferi, with which the present paper does not propose to deal at all, the mo5t popular, and, on the whole, the most beautiful of the beardless division, are the members of the sibirica group. In the typical form, I. sibirica, the flowers are, it is true, small, but they are produced in unstinted profusion, and their colouring and marking fully atone for the want of size. Many seedling varieties of sibirica of divers colours and tints are to be met with in the nurserymen's lists, all of them beautiful, some of them exceedingly so. The great feature in all of them is the delicate veining and marbling of the falls, as indicated in the white variety represented as No. 5 in the plate ; but it is impossible in any lithograph to reproduce the tints and gradations which make up the charm of the living flowers. 
All these kinds are worthy of cultivation; the only one to be avoided is I. sibirica fl. -pi.[Ref iv] 
Besides the garden varieties, there are many kinds of natural occurrence, such as the form known as acuta, with comparatively short flower-stems, and flexuosa with white flowers : and stretching away from the type are forms which may be recognised as distinct species, Messrs. Barr & Sugden are distributing a charming plant of this group, with pale and with also deeper purple flowers, under the provisional name of trigonocarpa ; and Haage & Schmidt have a kind which they call tenuifolia,[Ref v]    possessing the desirable feature that the flowers emit a perfume like that of cloves. But the one kind which "no garden should be without" is the form known as orientalis, No. 4 in the plate, the flowers of which are larger.the falls broader and bigger, and the colouring more intense and deeper than in I. sibirica. The red sheath or spathe, moreover, gives the plant a beauty while it is still in bud ; few sights are, indeed, more charming than a well-grown plant of orientalis, with its flowers partly expanded and partly ensheathed as buds.[Ref vi] 

I have not yet had an opportunity of studying as closely as I could wish I. tenax, a North American form (No. 2 in the plate), but it is obviously a close neighbour of sibirica, and is a very desirable plant ; it is now being carefully cultivated and may be obtained from the leading firms.
Allied to tenax, on the one hand, and, in many of its features, to orientalis on the other, and yet forming the centre of a group of its own, is the Californian form I. longipetala.
This, the various cultivated specimens of which appear to vary not a little, is a showy plant ; but its rather long and straggling falls, in spite of their charming light violet or lavender colour, and their graceful markings, give it a more or less unfinished look.[Ref vii]  Closely resembling longipetala in its foliage and habits, is the form which Regel has introduced under the name of I.spectabilis. It was gathered by his son, Albert Regel, in Central Asia, and, to judge by its name, ought to be handsome. My plants of it have not yet flowered, and I can say nothing more about it, but Regel promises an early description of it.

As the centre of another group we may take the common American I. virginica. This is a vigorous floriferous plant, spreading very rapidly when grown in a somewhat moist rich soil. The flowers vary very considerably in tint, and some of the more deeply-coloured forms are not unhandsome. There is, however, a certain stiffness and formality about the blooms which, to my mind, prevents it being considered as a really attractive kind. More highly coloured, frequently very striking from the juxtaposition of a pure white and a deep rose tint, is the very closely allied I. versicolor ; but this, too, lacks a certain elegance, so that one is, in looking at it, led to wonder why a flower so beautifully coloured gives one so little pleasure. Many seedlings, both of virginica and versicolor, are in cultivation ; and, though what may be perhaps considered as the typical forms of each are very distinct, almost every intermediate stage between the two may be seen.

One feature of the virginica group is the small development of the standards, and we thus pass to the very handsome I. tridentata (No. 1 in the plate). This, which is also a North American form, can hardly be said to possess any standards at all ; they are reduced to insignificant little peaks, which have to be looked for to be seen. In return the falls are largely developed, highly coloured, and manifest real beauty in their form and markings. It is an abundant bloomer, a strong grower, spreading very rapidly, and in every way a desirable plant. I. tridentata is an American form, occurring in the Northern States ;[Ref viii]  The form of the flowers, especially the stigna firmly reflexed over the fiddle-shaped fall, the ribbed capsule, the characters of the roots, and other features are most distinctly those of the spuria group, in spite of its leaves being, especially in the narrow-leaved form, narrower than the other members of the group.
Asia a closely allied, or at least a strictly analogous form, I. setosa. No. 3 in the plate, which, however, is a far less beautiful plant than its American ally. No one who compares tridentata with virginica can doubt that the two are closely allied, and yet tridentata has quite other affinities. In spite of its comparatively broad leaves, many of its features point to the narrow-leaved sibirica group, especially to orientalis. On the other hand, it is, I think, impossible to overlook its affinities with the Kæmpferi group ; and its beauty seems to be due to the fact that some of the characters of these two groups are added to those of the plainer virginica.
Resembling tridentata and setosa in one feature, viz., in the smallness of its standards, but in reality quite widely separated from them, is the common yellow Flag, I. Pseudacorus, a variety of which is seen in No. 7 of the plate. Common as is Pseudacorus, everyone who has grown it fairly, will, I think, be ready to admit its beauty. Whoever has in his garden a pond or a ditch, or even a thoroughly damp spot, ought to plant this Iris largely. Few things, indeed, are more beautiful than a great clump of this yellow Flag, with the tall leaves starting up from the side of a pool, and the golden clusters of flowers gleaming bright in a midsummer sun.
Three things it loves — a rich soil, plenty of water, and abundance of sunlight. It is cruel to place it, as I have seen it placed, in some dank dark hole, where the sun's beams never reach it ; it is disappointing to plant it, as I have seen it planted, in a dry and stony spot, where summer is to it one long continued thirst. But put it where its roots can run at will in rich black mud, and yet its head raise itself to the full light of a summer sky, and it will be a golden glory throughout the long days of June. Such are some of the more conspicuous and common beardless Irises, but I have far from exhausted the list. I have said nothing of the wide-spread Iris fœtidissinia, worth growing, not for its flowers, which are almost absolutely ugly, but for the bright orange berries of its gaping winter fruit, and still more for its glossy dark green leaves. I have said nothing of the bulbous Irises, which are all beardless forms, and which, save for fear of tlie anger of the botanists, I would say seem to me even more closely allied to various non-bulbous forms than they are to each other. But I should
weary the reader if I said more. Interesting, too, as is the story of their geographical distribution, I must pass that over, and end by saying a few words about their culture.
 In nearly all the forms, the one golden rule is that inculcating "wholesome neglect." Let them alone as long as they are doing well, and, above all, do not dig and scratch about their roots. Almost without exception all of them hate to be disturbed, and resent interference by refusing to flower. All of them like the sun. If you care for Irises do not plant them, as they are often planted, right in shade of trees or big shrubs, though some of them, more especially fœtidissima, will do fairly well there. If you feel that that you are bound to obey the injunctions of the vade mecum of gardening by which you swear, and which tells you that Irises are the things for "woodland walks " and "shrubbery borders," choose some open glade into which the sun can pour, and not the dark recesses of some leafy cavern. To put the best and handsomest forms, however, in any other position than in the warmest and sunniest spots of the open border is, to my mind, downright wickedness.
They all of them like rich soil, full of decomposed vegetable matter. The coarser and stronger forms will feed on even rank manure, but to the more delicate ones this is almost poison ; and all of them, indeed, thrive all the better if their food is given to them in a well-digested form. If it is thus well digested they can hardly have too much of it.
As regards moisture, they vary a good deal. I have already insisted on the necessity of water for Pseudacorus, and many of the spuria group thrive best in the damp. Others again, as Monnieri, hate the damp, at least, in winter, and will stand very considerable drought in summer. The conditions which would suit the majority would, I think, be comparative dryness in winter and an abundant supply of water in summer.
Unfortunately, this is the very reverse of what they generally meet with.

They also vary a good deal as to the nature of the soil they like best. Some, such as the spuria group and the longipetala group, like a deep, somewhat stiff, but rich loam, and their long, thong-like roots reach down for an amazing distance. The sibirica group, as also the virginica group and tridentata, have finer, fibrous, matted roots, and are partial to a lighter, looser soil, which, however, must be proportionately richer in vegetable matter. Hence many of these are grateful for the gift of peat.
Let me end by speaking of one great drawback to these beardless Irises. By far the greater part of them die down completely in winter ; and wise are they to do so. Who in the November weather, which has come upon us, does not envy them I Who would not gladly now go into winter quarters, if he could be sure that he would awake strengthened and refreshed as soon as the bitter half of May were over? But their brown withered leaves makes them in the late fall and early winter an eyesore to those who like to have a garden, but who do not love flowers. I mean the people who insist on having a good " blaze of colour," and do not care how the colour is obtained ; who, but for the fashion of the thing, would, if they dare speak the truth, be found to be equally content whether the colours were made up of delicately-wrought flowers and leaves, or machine-made "dummies" of rag and paper. Such people are generally governed by a demon called "tidiness," who arms them with instruments of mischief called "shears" and " rakes," and sends them, when the winter days come on, into the border to "tidy it up." Such people ruthlessly cut down the ripening foliage, just when the loss of the green summer tint shows that the goodness of the leaf is passing into the root ; they tear away the dead leaves, and rob the plant of that wrapping with which Nature strives to shelter next year's shoots and buds from the winter blasts ; they scarify and scratch the soil, lacerating the tender fibres, of which the plant stands so much in need ; they make the surface smooth, carefully removing every scrap of loose nourishment that is lying about, and leave the ground so that the early winter rains may flatten it into an almost polished surface well-nigh proof against all mellowing influences ; and having wrought all this wreck, call it order. Whoever wishes to cultivate Irises, or, indeed, any other flowers for the sake of the flowers themselves, must early recognise that Nature is untidy — that dead leaves and a rough soil are the winter forerunners of the summer's bright foliage and abundant bloom. Whoever is unwilling to leave the foliage of the past summer untouched, so that when it has served its purpose the worms may carry it below to enrich and lighten the soil ; whoever is unwilling to let his border soil remain rough and open, so that the rain may pass through it, and the gases of the atmosphere be absorbed by it, and the crumbling hand of frost loosen it ; whoever is not ready, when occasions demand, to see his border covered all the winter with " untidy " mulching of rich but inelegant " muck," should not take up the culture of Irises. They, like other plants, are meek and unresenting ; they will strive to bloom in spite of all his bad treatment ; but he will never enjoy the profuse beauty which is the reward of proper treatment.  F.

[Ref i]  I must not enter into this point here, but there are many reasons for thinking that the curious tuft of hairs on each of the three outer petals or " falls," which we call the "beard," is a comparatively late introduction, the first Irises which came into existence being, in all probability, plain beardless ones.

[Ref ii]  It may, perhaps, be worth while to remind the reader that the flowers of the Iris consists of the following parts : On the outside are the three outer petals or divisions of the perianth, which, since they generally hang or are bent down, are called " falls." Within these, and alternating; with them, come the three inner perianth divisions, which, since they are generally erect, are called "standards." In the centre of the flower the style splits up into three stigmas, each of which, broad, highly-coloured, and petal-like, spreads out and hangs over, or sometimes is closely bent down upon the fall opposite to which it is placed. Each stigma terminates in two triangular, often-toothed, sometimes large, sometimes small, flaps, the so-called crests, well shown in many of the ligures of the plate. The stigma, in overhanging the fall, gives rise to a sort of tunnel, sometimes with a wide, sometimes with a narrow, mouth, and on the outside of the stigma, at the base of the crests, just at the mouth of the tunnel, is a narrow ledge. It is on this ledge that the pollen must fall to fertilise the plant. Inside the tunnel, lying underneath each arching stigma, sometimes readily visible, sometimes almost entirely hidden, is an anther. All Irises have markings on the fall just at the mouth of the tunnel, for the purpose, apparently, of attracting insects ; and the insect, a bee for instance, in entering the tunnel for the purpose of sucking the nectar at the bottom of the stigma and fall, brushes against the ledge of the stigma, and deposits on it the pollen which he has gathered from another plant. The beard of the fall, which leads from the surface of the fall right into the tunnel, seems to be a device for compelling the insect to brush against the ledge.

[Ref iii] The form of the flowers, especially the stigna firmly reflexed over the fiddle-shaped fall, the ribbed capsule, the characters of the roots, and other features are most distinctly those of the spuria group, in spite of its leaves being, especially in the narrow-leaved form, narrower than the other members of the group.

[Ref iv]  If any " double-minded " florist wishes to have brought home to him the evil he is doing by his efforts to " double " flowers which Nature intended to be single, let him look at this vile ami ugly parody on a beautiful original.

[Ref v] The real I. tenuifolia, of Pallas, is something quite different.

[Ref vi] Orientalis is by many regarded as identical with Fischer's hæmatophylla. It is obvious, however, from Sweet's description that the latter is quite a different plant from the former. It is much shorter, smaller, and flowers much earlier. I have not yet come across what has satisfied me as Fischer's hæmotophylla, though I am anxious to do so. The feature which led Fischer to give it" the name he did— the red colour of the young leaves and shoots— cannot be relied on for diagonistic purposes ; very many forms have the young leaves and first shoots more or less red.

[Ref vii] Curiously enough, longipetala has an imperfectly developed rudimentary, but still very distinct, crest on the falls ; it seems to be a link between the beardless and the crested divisions.

[Ref viii] Curiously enough, longipetala has an imperfectly developed rudimentary, but still very distinct, crest on the falls ; it seems to be a link between the beardless and the crested divisions. In the Southern States there grows another form, which in Baker's list is called tripetala, and which, from Sweet's description, seems to be a delightful plant. It is more delicate than tridentata ; its leaves are narrow and linear, not as in tridentata, somewhat broad and ensiform. It is found in Florida, and, as far as I know, is not in cultivation in England at the present time. Its re-introduction is a desideratum.

Once again its a great privilege to feature Michael Foster with some of his earliest published thoughts on Irises. He is still a consummate authority on Irises and his writings open many doors to Irises of the past with his beautiful and unique descriptions.

A major hat tip to Phil Edinger for his succinct observations, and discussions which are always appreciated.

Clicking on the above images will take you to the larger, higher resolution version.

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