Friday, April 24, 2009

Tall Bearded Iris "Mrs ALAN GRAY "

Growing at home is the historic Iris, 'Mrs. Alan Gray'. Hybridized by Sir Michael Foster the man often called 'the father of Iris growing'. He made many valuable experiments in hybridization and collected an enormous amount of information which has been the foundation for most of the work carried out later by others. In the words of Mr. W J. Caparne " he was the classical authority and great exponent of the subject".Author of many short articles on Iris. He raised some fine seedlings using new strains from collected plants.

From the Cornell Extension Bulletin 112 June 1925 Austin W.W. Sand
Mrs. Alan Gray (Foster 1909) Colour effect a light phlox purple self. S.Light phlox purple, reticulated slightly darker. Falls phlox purple reticulated the same on lighter area along beard. Beard dense white, yellow tipped at the base.
The plant is moderately vigorous and has medium foliage. The tall straight stemmed flower stalks, which have very short lateral branches are freely produced.
The dainty smallish flowers are produced early in the season and occasionally again in late fall.. The papery spathe valves and the short-pediceled flowers are characteristic. This sort is good for cut flowers and for mass planting effect. Rating 76

From the 1928 Catalogue A.H. Burgess & Son
Waikanae, Wellington. New Zealand
Mrs. Alan Gray
Flowers of a delightful lilac shade. Usually bears a second crop of flowers in the Autumn. Late 3 ft

And I could go on with many descriptions from many catalogues but there seems to be some contentious issues regarding this Iris. In December 2006 I received an order of Historic Irises from Maritima Nursery, North Otago. As the nursery had now closed the order was for any interesting Historic and Aril Irises that were available for sale and I was somewhat surprised to receive an Iris labelled MABEL MARY. The 2005 Maritima Catalogue had this to say about the Iris listed as; BEARDED IRIS HISTORIC.
Introducing for Mary Brosnahan
MABEL MARY (M.R. Brosnahan 2005)
This is probably a re-introduction as it was first listed by Otepopo Garden Nursery, Spring 2000 as Iris pallida- pink form. Some of us still believe thats how it should of been registered. however we lost the battle and it has been introduced as a TB cultivar. It is a lovely garden Iris looking very like Iris pallida except for its pinkish purple colouring.

You may ask why I mention this, well a year later (2007) this Mabel Mary iris flowered and I found to my dismay that the Iris I had growing for all those years as 'MRS ALAN GRAY' was 'MABEL MARY'!!!!!! The big question is just how did Sir Micheal Foster and for that matter Jean Stevens get it so wrong ??? Perhaps it can be summed up by acknowledging that buying Irises today from some is like dealing with a lost ball in the high weeds!!

I firmly believe that the application to register the iris 'Mabel Mary' should have never been accepted as it is a iris with a lost label and had already been listed as 'Mrs Alan Gray'. There are many references that could of been checked which would have avoided this situation and it is my strongly held view to maintain the integrity of the Iris checklists, that if an Iris has no provenance it should not be accepted for registration.Tagging a registration 'Found growing in a garden' is not research nor does it establish that it is a new hybrid or cultivar. This post is the first in a series of 7 or more articles, that will be featured on this blog over the coming months and will deal with the problems of some new Iris registrations that have occurred in New Zealand in the last few years.
Perhaps I should write to the AIS Registrar/Recorder and suggest there could be a requirement for a new determination in the checklists, that of a Registered Synonym.


  1. "One of the most serious difficulties the American Joint Committee has had to encounter is the duplication of names caused by the re-use of established names for the new introductions, or, in some cases, the renaming of old varieties; in fact, these mischievous practices have caused a large part of the chaos in common names of plants which now exists in American horticulture. The duplications doubtless occur more as a result of ignorance than deliberate intent to deceive. The genus Iris is a conspicuous example of this bad practice."

    From Statement of the American Joint Committee on Horticultural Nomenclature in Check List No. 8 of the American Iris Society:

    Sounds like you guys have some problems down there.

  2. Keewee thanks for the comment and Yes it is a great colour.

    To Anonymous
    October 1923 Bulletin No 8 amazing how comments 86 years ago are still relevant today. Many regards


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