Untouched Colour/Color Photograph by J. McCombie.
“Indian Chief” is a beautiful, antique, tall bearded iris. Flowers have beautiful lavender standards, with gold beards and striking, velvet burgundy falls, showing a veining of yellow/white on the hafts. It is a clump-forming, rhizomatous perennial with narrow, sword-shaped, grey-green leaves and is 36-48 inches tall. It was hybridized by Ayres and registered or introduced in 1929.
Iris is a genus of 260–300 species of flowering plants with showy flowers. It takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, referring to the wide variety of flower colors found among the many species. As well as being the scientific name, iris is also very widely used as a common name for all Iris species, though some plants called thus belong to other closely related genera. A common name for some species is ‘flags’, while the plants of the subgenus Scorpiris are widely known as ‘junos’, particularly in horticulture. It is a popular garden flower.
The often-segregated, monotypic genera Belamcanda (blackberry lily), Hermodactylus (snake’s head iris), and Pardanthopsis (vesper iris) are currently included in Iris.
Iris first appeared on the historical scene in an Egyptian tomb bas-relief of 1500 B.C. The form was that known today as oncocyclus, an iris native to Palestine. The Biblical reeds and flags of the river Nile, where the infant Moses was said to have been hidden, were the yellow water iris, now called Iris pseudacorus and still used around pools and in other moist situations. In the Middle Ages iris appeared again as the fleur-de-lis of France, a contraction of “Flower of Louis,” much used in French heraldry. An early white form known as Iris albicans was particularly popular with Muslims and was used extensively in ornamenting the graves of their dead. That iris followed Muslims halfway around the world. across northern Africa into Spain, and was subsequently carried by the Spanish into Mexico and the New World.
At that time there were two predominant species – I. pallida and I. variegata., The former was a native of Dalmatia, with tall stems and violet-blue flowers; the latter, a native of the Balkans, shorter-stemmed and with yellow blooms whose falls were striped with brown or purple. Iris pallida has given us the lavender tones; the yellows we owe to variegata. Incidentally, I. pallida dalmatica is known to have been in cultivation prior to 1600, was later cataloged as Princess Beatrice and can still be found in many gardens – prized not only for its lovely clear lavender color, but also for its delightful fragrance. On the other band, Iris variegata seems to have disappeared in the mists of time, leaving only its color influence upon later generations’ of iris.
About the middle of the 19th century a Frenchman named M. Linton began to breed iris, and in 1840 listed some hundred varieties. He was the first to attempt improvement of the iris, and a blue and white plicata of his named Mme. Chereau can still be found in a few catalogs. He was followed by Vilmorin and Millet.
Then around 1900 new and larger-flowered varieties were introduced into England from Mesopotamia and had a tremendous influence in changing the iris into the larger flower we know today. This work was begun in England by Sir Michael Foster and was carried on by A. J. Bliss whose iris Dominion was the first to have velvety falls. These years mark an important milestone in the history of iris hybridizing. From these early beginnings came the great work of W. R. Dykes and others who created the iris we know today. Unfortunately Dykes never lived to see his great yellow namesake bloom, but it was titled in his honor by his widow who carried on his work.
The work then spread to America, where E. B. Williamson and Grace Sturtevant worked contemporaneously with M. Cayettx in France. In the 1920′s William Mohr and Sydney Mitchell of California began crossing a tall bearded plicata named Parisiana with the oncocyclus Gatesi, and from this experiment came the famous hybrid bred by Mr. Mohr and named for him after his death by Professor Mitchell. The introduction of William Mohr marked another milestone in the history of bearded iris and its effects stretch far into the future.
There are unlimited possibilities in combining the exotic beauty of oncocyclus iris with sturdiness of the tall bearded sorts to produce a new race of hybrids more beautiful than anything already achieved. The Mohr hybrids and other oncobreds are legion and ever increasing in number, supplying new and unbelievable colors in the iris rainbow. One of the new ones was Greenmohr, a variety with definitely chartreuse tones. Professor Mitchell’s death was a great loss to the iris world, but his work was carried on by Clarence White, Tom Craig and others who each year created new and more startling hybrids.