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Development Of Bicolored Irises (under construction)

From the "The World of Irises" Chapter 4 by Melba B Hamblen and Keith Keppel. © 1978 AIS




When an iris fancier hears the term bicolor, in his mind's eye he sees 'Amigo's Guitar', 'Barcelona', 'Gala Madrid', 'Lord Baltimore' and other well known irises in this exciting color class. But these varieties are of comparatively recent vintage with pedigrees dating back to the famous Cook progenitors of the late 1950s and the 1960s.

'Amigos Guitar'Amigos Guitar 'Barcelona'Barcelona 'Gala Madrid'Gala Madrid 'Lord Baltimore'Lord Baltimore

Historically, bicolors, bitones and amoenas were among the first recorded irises. Lémon, one of the first to grow irises from seeds, listed in his 1840 catalog diploid varieties such as 'National', light wisteria standards, maroon' falls, and 'Victorine', white standards flecked purple, with falls of blackish pμrple. During the 1880s Barr introduced 'Perfection', a bitone in light violet and prune purple; Reuthe produced 'Maori King', an excellent variegata; and Veitch raised 'Thorbecke', white standards overcast with pale violet, purple falls with reddish bronze reticulations on the hafts. 'Black Prince', introduced by Perry in 1900, was the best neglecta of its time; it was also known as 'Black Knight', 'Early Purple' and various other synonyms.

'Victorine'Victorine 'Perfection'Perfection 'Maori King'Maori King 'Black Prince'Black Prince

Although the French were among the first to place irises on the market, after the half century from 1820 to 1870, which included the work of Jacques, Lémon, Victor Verdier and his son Eugene, there was a gap of more than 30 years before further important work was accomplished in France. The firm of Vilmorin, Andrieux et Cie are credited with starting a revival in iris interest when they purchased the seedlings of the younger Verdier after his death in 1902. During the next 20 years they marketed some of the Verdier seedlings and then those well known irises described in chap. 3. Yeld's most important origination, 'Asia', with standards of pale lavender and falls of violet purple, was released in 1918. Miss Sturtevant's bicolors, 'Sarabande', with pale fawn standards over pansy violet falls, and 'Anne Leslie', white standards tinted pale rose with violet falls, were also 1918 releases.



As the scene shifted to tetraploidy, bicolors, bitones and amoenas improved in color, form, size and plant habits. Cayeux's 'Nene', a high quality tetraploid amoena from 'Clementine Croutel' and 'Bruno', was a 1928 introduction. The following year Williamson introduced 'Dorothy Dietz', a major development in amoenas, from a cross of 'Wyoming' and 'Lent A. Williamson'. Williamson's 'Cantabile', with 'Lent A. Williamson' as the pod parent, was another significant amoena of this era.

The 1930s ushered in a number of bicolors that remained popular for many years. Cayeux produced 'Marquita', a lustrous ivory self except for the watermelon pink stripes in the falls. Neel's 'Shah Jehan', with 'Ambassadeur' as its pod parent, had pale buff standards, plum red falls, and it was recognized as one of the best bicolors of its time. Williamson's 'Amigo', with light blue-lavender standards and velvety purple falls, was the yardstick by which neglectas were measured for many years. Two years later, in 1936, Williamson introduced his masterpiece-'Wabash'. 'Wabash', from 'Dorothy Dietz' and 'Cantabile', had shining white standards and margins on blue-purple falls of velvet. It was a landmark in the development of amoenas and in 1940 it received the Dykes Medal.

Washington's 'Jeb Stuart', with creamy coffee-brown standards, falls of blackish maroon, was later recognized as a carrier for the tangerine-beard character. Cayeux's neglecta, 'Madame Maurice Lassailly', from 'Armor' by Carillon, proved to be a valued parent. In 1937 Hans Sass introduced 'City of Lincoln', the variegata that set the standard for this color class; and Mrs. Murrell's wide-petaled variegata, 'Torchlight', from 'Lady Morvyth' and 'King Tut', was released the following year.



Considering the large number of bicolors registered each year, surprisingly few were amoenas. This was attributed to lack of parental material and to the difficulty in germinating the seeds. However, a number of hybridizers enjoy the challenge of a difficult goal. Jesse Wills was such a hybridizer. In an article (1946) he explained that he did not realize what a perplexing assignment he had given himself when he made the decision to work for amoenas. Wills's article is based on his own experience, but is confirmed by his knowledge of the experience of Douglas, Cook and Schreiner. In summarizing the basic problems of amoena breeding, he wrote:

"Amoena crosses are not easy to make either with each other or in backcrossing; seeds from amoenas have a poorer than average rate of germination; and the seedlings grow slowly, particularly during the first year so that one often has to wait until the second or third year for bloom."

Early in his amoena breeding Wills determined that white standards are recessive and that yellow amoenas are easier to raise than blue amoenas. He realized that large numbers of seedlings are necessary if amoenas are to be obtained but found this an impossibility, "If the odds are 35 to 1 against getting an amoena, what little chance there is when only five or six seedlings from a cross can be grown and bloomed" (Wills 1946).

After Wills's article was published the AIS Scientific Committee, chaired by Randolph, decided to include a study of amoenas in a program designed to obtain information in genetic studies of flower color. A large number of hybridizers responded to the questionnaires they received and numerous small lots of seeds were sent to Randolph to be grown by the committee. The majority were from special crosses, accompanied by requests for the seeds to be germinated by the embryo culture technique; approximately 2000 seeds from 1946 crosses were embryo cultured. Geddes Douglas was one of the hybridizers who took advantage of Randolph's help. Douglas sent 805 seeds obtained from 19 sets of parents; 59 crosses had been attempted, 31 were successful. The seedlings bloomed in time for the 1948 AIS convention in Nashville. From this batch of seedlings came at least three valuable amoenas and two variegatas. The best amoena was named Bright Hour and came from a cross of Cook's 12942 x (Extravaganza x Wabash). By the excised embryo method it was possible to explore the full extent of his amoena crosses (Douglas 1951).

The 1940s were climactic years for the bicolor class. B. R. Long's 'Blithe Spirit' from (('Valkyrie' x ('Mme Cécile Bouscant' x 'Moonlight')) x 'Ivory Gate') was the first yellow amoena to be registered. Kenneth Smith crossed 'Madame Maurice Lassailly' with 'Wabash' and produced 'Louise Blake', a larger Amigo-type neglecta that bloomed on rather short stems; Schreiners mated 'Mme Maurice Lassailly' with 'Winneshiek' and were rewarded with the neglecta 'Lothario', taller and larger than 'Amigo', with the same velvety falls edged in lighter blue; and Smith combined 'The Red Admiral' with 'City of Lincoln' to obtain 'Staten Island', noted for the sharp contrast between the yellow standards and maroon falls.

Agnes Whiting used 'Shannopin' with 'Pathfinder' to get 'Maytime'. With pink standards and lavender falls, large flowers and tall stalks, this was one of the outstanding color breaks of the 1940s. Douglas obtained 'Extravaganza', a close approach to a red and white amoena, with near white standards shading to pale cream at their base and falls of coppery red with a slight infusion of violet, from 'Adios' by Cortez. 'Extravaganza' had no pollen but it was a willing pod parent. When Douglas crossed it with 'Wabash' he was rewarded with 'Gaylord' and 'Criterion'; with 'Olympian', another rosy toned Douglas bicolor, 'Criterion' gave 'Queen's Taste', a colorful bitone in lavender pink and rose red. Other hybridizers used 'Extravaganza' with splendid results: with 'Louise Blake' it produced the fine neglecta, 'Helen Collingwood'; Brummitt made the same cross and obtained 'Headlines', which became known as the "black and white" iris.



The significant iris of the 1940s was Jean Stevens's 'Pinnacle', the most original color development of this period. 'Pinnacle' is a basically white iris with yellow added to the fall petals, not a yellow spot over a white ground as in pumilas of this color combination. Its pedigree, ((('Rangatira' x 'Lady Morvyth') x 'Gudrun') X 'Lagos') X 'Magnolia', fails to reveal the long years of study and work responsible for this major accomplishment.

With Pinnacle described as a yellow amoena came the question concerning the definition of "amoena," a term applied previously only to irises with white standards and blue or violet falls. Mrs. Stevens summed it up neatly (1952) by suggesting that if a new color term was necessary to define the Pinnacle pattern, in the future new terms would be required for every similar development in bicolors with white standards and colored falls. Her logic was recognized; even the term amoena-plicata is now accepted.

During the 1950s Mrs. Stevens released 'Mystic Melody', a beautifully refined yellow bitone, and 'Summit', with snow white standards and deep golden yellow falls; and Wills released the first varieties from his long, intensive amoena program, 'Soft Answer' and 'Silver Flame', sister seedlings involving 'Lily Pons', 'Happy Days', 'Golden Eagle', 'At Dawning' and 'Shannopin'. 'Soft Answer', a smoothly finished amoena, has white standards, flaring creamy yellow falls and orange beards; 'Silver Flame' is a bitone with cream ”standards and deep yellow falls.

Cook's Pretender, a 1951 introduction with amber yellow standards and prune purple falls, was the result of lines planned to produce what he called variegatas with blue rather than red falls; but he gave up this approach when he found the 'Progenitor' bicolor lines so much better. The variegatas of the 1950s were represented by Wills's 'Nashborough', indian yellow standards, ruby red falls; and Galyon's 'Frechief', from 'Gypsy' and 'Louise Blake', with bright yellow standards over brown-red falls without the usual yellow margins.



Improvement in pink amoenas has been slow. Kirkland's 'At Dawning', a pleasing approach with a yellow infusion in the throat, was a 1935 introduction, and in 1938 T. Pillow produced 'Shannopin' by crossing Sass's 'Redwing' with a seedling. However, the first outstanding iris in this class was 0. T. Baker's 'Baby's Bonnet', a 1954 introduction and an unexpected result from crossing 'Gay Orchid' to a Loomis 'Seashell' seedling. 'Baby's Bonnet', with white standards and falls salmon pink with tangerine beards, was given a thorough workout but failed to produce improved pink amoenas. Plough used it to the best advantage, combining it with a seedling from 'China Gate', 'Pinnacle' and 'Party Dress' to get 'Java Dove', an improvement in form and substance, but less colorful. Luella Noyd's 'Pin Up Girl' of 1956 was another unplanned-for result from conventional pink breeding (('Midwest Gem' x 'Heritage') x 'Dolly Varden') with good contrast between the white standards and peach-pink falls; but it did not act as a stepping stone to improvement in this class.

Jean Stevens worked for pink amoenas as faithfully as she had worked for 'Pinnacle', and was approaching her goal at the time of her death. 'Youthful Charm', 1964, with white standards and falls rich apricot pink with tangerine beards, was derived from pinks crossed to yellow amoenas, then inbred for several generations. 'Youthful Charm' became the pod parent of 'Sunset Snows', which has white standards and cocoa-pink falls, and it was with 'Sunset Snows' that progress became assured.

Schreiner's 'Snowline', 1968, with clear white standards and creamy pink falls, came from a long line of seedlings and named irises including 'Pinnacle', 'Pink Cameo', 'Cherry Flip', 'Mallow Marvel' and 'Radiation'. In 1971 George Shoop introduced 'Snow Peach', which has white standards with a touch of color at their base and ruffled flaring falls of clear peach pink with tangerine beards, good form and stalks. Peach Spot, a 1973 release from 'Snow Peach' and a sister seedling, has white standards and falls with large medium peach-pink spots covering two thirds of the fall petals.

Frank Hutchings has worked for pink amoenas for more than 20 years, but few of his seedlings have been released. 'Numero Uno', standards white and falls salmon pink, and the border bearded 'Small Favor', similar in color but with pinker falls, were introduced in 1969. Both came from long lines of seedlings. In 1974 Hutchings introduced 'Festive Skirt' and 'New Vintage'. 'Festive Skirt', from a seedling involving 'La Parisienne', 'Barbara Luddy', 'Just Annie', 'Golden Eagle' and 'Pinnacle', crossed to 'Sunset Snows', has white standards and salmon falls with pink overlay. His border bearded 'New Vintage', from a different line with 'Sunset Snows' as the pollen parent, is a small version of 'Festive Skirt' with wider and smoother falls.

Dorothy Palmer introduced 'New Venture' in 1974; its pedigree is ((('Frost and Flame' x 'Lipstick') x 'C. Benson' seedling) x 'One Desire') x 'Sunset Snows'. This amoena, with white standards touched with pink at the base of the midribs, and falls of flamingo pink flushed with light violet and lightening toward the petal edges, has large well-formed flowers; and it is pod and pollen fertile. 'New Venture' may well be the turning point in the quest for pink amoenas.



Paul Cook's name is synonymous with the Progenitor bicolors and amoenas, but factually they were only one phase of his successful iris career. His horticultural interest dates back to his early childhood; and after reading some of L. H. Bailey's books, in 1910 he began breeding sweet peas, small fruits and a few irises. When he returned from a tour of duty in World War I, he and Bruce Williamson found a mutual interest in irises that developed into a stimulating friendship and business partnership. Mary Williamson continued the Longfield Iris Gardens after her father's death, and it was through this famous garden that Cook's originations were released.

Cook's approach to plant breeding was one of carefully planned practical experimentation. He began by exploring in depth the genetic constitution of his basic plants, of which the chamaeiris 'Socrates' and the aphylla hybrid, 'Blue Boy', are early examples, and of testing the combining ability of any new species he was able to obtain by crossing it with his test plants and raising as many second generation seedlings as possible. His first tall bearded work was with reds and blues; he was one of the first to recognize the importance of tetraploidy and to make conscious efforts to produce new tetraploids to improve and diversify his tall bearded lines. In 1937, after 15 years of selective breeding, he released 'E. B. Williamson' from his red lines. A year later this iris received the Roman Gold Medal from the Concorso Internazionale in Italy. That same year Cook released 'Sable', and a steady stream of award-winning varieties began to flow from his prolific seedling patch. Gradually he branched out into other color classes, introducing 'Pink Reflection', 'Copper Rose', 'Distance' and 'Three Cheers' among others. Cook's pre-'Progenitor' introductions received 14 Awards of Merit and 'Sable Night' received the 1955 Dykes Medal (Mary Williamson 1946).



Cook's amoena program began in 1939 as a plan to create bluer tall bearded irises; a planned program that gave unexpected results when part of an order of seeds of I. mellita from Rex Pearce proved to be seeds of I. reichenbachii. Incidentally, the reverse amoena imbricata hybrid, 'Wide World', also resulted from crosses with seeds obtained from Pearce who had them listed as sulphurea, a synonym for I. imbricata.

In 1944 one of the reichenbachii seedlings was crossed with pollen of the tall bearded blue 'Shining Waters', courtesy of Douglas; from the few resulting seedlings, #1346 was backcrossed to 'Shining Waters. When these seedlings bloomed, Cook realized he had discovered a new dominant amoena pattern of high quality, and gave the reichenbachii seedling, 1346, the appropriate name of 'Progenitor'. Though his search for a bluer blue continued, he recognized the potential of the 'Progenitor' lines and began his epochal work that resulted in a new race of irises (Galyon and Warburton 1975a, 1975b). From one of the 'Progenitor'-'Shining Waters' seedlings combined with an unnumbered blue seedling and then with his rose-orchid 'Dreamcastle' he obtained 'Melodrama', a ruffled bitone with standards of light bluish violet that gradually deepened to deep violet in the falls, with above average size, good branching and bud count.

Continued selective breeding and refining produced 'Whole Cloth', white standards, broad and beautifully arched, and wide flaring blue falls with white beards. 'Whole Cloth' was introduced in 1958; four years later it received the Dykes Medal-the first amoena since 'Wabash' to earn this honor. Another new pattern to evolve from the 'Progenitor' lines is 'Emma Cook', in chaste white except for the brushed-on, half-inch margins of blue on the fall petals. Since this queenly beauty was named for his wife, it could have been Cook's favorite of the many superb originations from the 'Progenitor' lines, of which less than a dozen were introduced; five received Awards of Merit.

It is possible· that the inhibitor from the Balkan species would have eventually found its way into the gene pools of tall bearded irises, as it has in the balkana hybrids of Greenlee and Ghio, with a less dramatic impact than that of the 'Whole Cloth' lines. It is also possible that the flavones Cook was seeking are implicated in his Irises (Warburton 1971). But there are no "possibles" to be considered in evaluating the contribution of Cook's irises in the development of the genus. The value of his legacy is immeasurable and timeless, radiating in ever widening waves throughout the world of irises.

Cook's work ended just as he was making plans to merge the 'Progenitor' lines with irises of various colors for new combinations he visualized: clean white standards with falls in all shades of blue and violet and dark violet to black; white standards and plicata falls; yellow standards and plicata falls; yellow/blue bicolors in light to medium shades; and yellow/red bicolors. Cook had started a program to place red beards on amoenas. Resulting seedlings gave him reason to believe that irises with white standards, blue falls and red beards, as well as irises with pink standards, blue falls and red beards were possible.


Cook's lines have been carried on by other hybridizers who shared his dreams, and some of his envisioned color combinations have been accomplished. Opal Brown crossed 'Fashionette' with 'Melodrama' to get the deeply ruffled 'Gypsy Lullaby', a distinctly different bicolor with standards of butterscotch flushed violet and falls of medium red violet. Crossed to Les Peterson's red 'Main Event', 'Gypsy Lullaby' fathered his 'Gala Madrid', a bicolor with golden butterscotch standards, falls purplish red. 'Amigo's Guitar', buff standards with a violet tinge, falls violet, broad and flaring, resulted when Plough mated a 'Kachina Doll' sib with 'Melodrama'. In England John Fothergill used 'Whole Cloth' pollen on 'Aeriel' and was rewarded with 'Arc Above', with white standards and azure blue falls. Schreiners brought 'Whole Cloth' into a line involving 'Snowy Heron', 'Lavish Lady', 'Top Favorite' and seedlings to produce 'Margarita', with pure white standards, and velvety amethyst-purple falls. Nearpass's 'Lord Baltimore', with blue-white standards over medium blue-violet falls, came from a 'Snow Flurry'-'Whole Cloth' seedling crossed with 'Indiglow'; and Keppel's 'Diplomacy', light blue standards, deeper toned violet purple falls, is the result of crossing 'Rococo' with 'Whole Cloth'. 'Lilac Champagne', which has light yellow standards and medium blue-violet falls, appeared when Hamblen used 'Whole Cloth' pollen on the rose-orchid 'Mollie Emms'; 'Touche', with standards smoky pink flushed violet and falls violet with a blue overlay in the center, and burnt orange beards, came in the next generation when 'Lilac Champagne' was brought into a line of pink x blue crosses. Shoop's 'Latin Lover', in a striking pattern of pink standards and wine-violet falls, evolved from a pink amoena seedling crossed to 'Whole Cloth' with the resulting seedling then crossed to 'Wine and Roses'. Babson's 'Apropos', pastel lavender with deeper falls and blue beards, has 'Commentary' and 'Whole Cloth' as parents. This is a sampling of the many bicolors from Cook's lines that were debutants in the 1960s; during this period Awards of Merit were received by 20 bicolors, all but five derived from 'Progenitor' lines.


Additional excellent bicolors of this period include Tompkins's 'Camelot Rose' (('Clarion Call' x reciprocal cross) x 'Balinesian') with orchid-rose standards and velvety deep red-violet falls; and DeForest's 'Bayberry Candle' (from seedlings, 'Dawn Crest', 'Mary Randall' and 'Golden Chance') with chartreuse-lime standards, golden olive-green falls and gold beards. Hager's large ruffled 'Balkan Glacier' from 'Harbinger' x (('Chivalry' x ('Sharkskin' x I. balkana)) x 'Blue Silhouette') has white standards and icy blue falls with deeper toned spots; it is possibly the first tall bearded bitone introduction involving the dominant amoena pattern from a source (I. balkana) other than the 'Progenitor' lines.

Impressive bicolor introductions of the 1970s include Esther Tams's unrivaled neglecta, 'Dream Lover', from 'Miss Indiana' x ('Melodrama' x 'Rippling Waters'), with large ruffled flowers in contrasting pale blue and dark blue purple, and faultless plant habits; Babson's 'Chapeau', involving seedlings, 'Amethyst Flame' and 'Apropos', has standards of pale beige tinted cream with falls smooth orchid; while Keppel's 'Ballyhoo' from 'Siva Siva' and 'Diplomacy' has light yellow standards and falls of veronica violet blended dove gray at the margins, with deeper toned violet flowing from the hafts.

Other representatives of the exhilarating bicolors that add zest to the garden are Brummitt's 'Gracious Living' from 'Melodrama' x 'Mary Randall', with cream standards and falls of lilac purple accented by brown beards and hafts; and Muhlestein's 'Louder Still', a 'Loud Music'-'Gala Madrid' derivative, which has rich buff standards and falls amaranth flushed violet with gold beards. Barry Blyth's lovely lemon-yellow amoena, 'Snowlight', came from a cross of the neglecta, 'Rhythm and Blues', with the pink amoena, 'Sunset Snows'. Ghio's unusual 'Magic Potion', in flesh orchid with a blue wash through the center of the falls, was obtained when the unique blend, 'Clairvoyance', was combined with 'Orchid Brocade'; his ultramodern ruffled bitone, 'Mystique', with light blue standards and deep purple falls with blue beards, was derived from involved lines with his neglecta, 'Veneration', as the pollen parent.

Schreiner's 'Gay Parasol' is a lacy amoena with sparkling white standards and rich rose-purple falls, from a Davis 'Melodrama' seedling X 'Margarita'. Varner combined a 'Carillon Belles' sib with a seedling from 'Sleeping Princess' x ('Whole Cloth' x 'Lavendula') to get 'the bicolor, 'Love Is', whose standards are flesh pink, falls rose lilac deepening at the edges; Blyth's broad-petaled ruffled 'Latin Tempo', with pink standards and pink-violet falls with red beards, is the result of using 'Lightning Ridge' on a seedling from 'Claudia Rene' and 'Pipes of Pan'. 'Sunset Sky' and 'Skywatch' gave 'Bernice Roe' the lovely bicolor 'Soft Contrast', which has soft lemon standards and margins on light lavender blue falls; Bryce Williamson's 'Chamber Music' has rich caramel standards and borders with violet falls. A close approach to a red, white•and blue iris has been attained in Bledsoe's 'Lillian Terrell', with its standards of very pale, near white, orchid, falls of blue-orchid and tangerine red beards. The majority of these were made possible by Paul Cook's breakthrough that provided hybridizers with the "dominant amoena" pattern. There is no limit to color combinations that can be obtained-we will see new breaks in variety for years to come.

====================================================================================================== "The World of Irises" continues with The development of Form and Shape in Tall-bearded Irises ======================================================================================================

For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at

-- BobPries - 2015-11-24
Topic revision: r13 - 23 Jul 2017, AlainFranco
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