See Image Galleries


The Development of Tall-bearded Form and Shape

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


Superficially the most obvious advancement in tall bearded breeding has been color: addition of new colors and clarification of existing colors. Equally spectacular, however, has been advancement in form. Catalogs of the 1930s or 1940s show the best irises of the day to be strappy-falled, with little or no flare or ruffling. The iris world was taken aback in 1939 when Clara Rees's 'Snow Flurry' was introduced, for it had pronounced ruffling and it passed this trait to its offspring. A prolific parent, 'Snow Flurry' gave outstanding seedlings in a wide range of colors (AIS 1968a). The importance of this iris can hardly be overestimated, and in 1974 the American Iris Society Board of Directors Award, the first of its kind, was voted to 'Snow Flurry'.
Petal width received considerable attention. By selective breeding the narrow falls of early irises have been replaced by broad, well formed falls whose hafts are sometimes so wide they verge on over lapping. 'Shipshape' is a classic example of this trend. Down hanging falls have given way to gracefully arched and semiflaring fall petals. Standards are now full and rounded. With the heavier substance and strong midribs that are characteristic of newer irises, open standards are no longer subject to total disfavor; and in varieties such as 'Pink Sleigh' are especially attractive since they call attention to the delightfully colored and fringed style arms.
However, the requisites which are considered essential in good irises are entirely due to the development of the genus. We liked certain characteristics as they were developed and set our standards accordingly. By the same token, qualities we prize in this era may be overshadowed by characteristics that may evolve in the future. The development of lace is a prime example.
One of the most important requisites of good form is balance between the standards and falls. To a certain degree balance depends on the flare of:the. fall petals, but generally an iris whose standards measure slightly less than the length of the falls presents the greatest esthetic appeal. To many iris fanciers, 'Whole Cloth' exemplifies perfect balance.
The development of substance has kept pace with improvement in form. Good substance is an integral part of good form and should be heavy enough to enable an iris to retain its form for three and four days, but with a resilience that helps the flower to withstand weather vagaries.
Emphasis has been placed on branching and the top-heavy stalks of yesteryear are no longer acceptable. By today's standards the branches should be evenly distributed over the upper two-thirds of the stalk. A graceful S curve will show off the blossoms to their best advantage.


By the early 1930s seedlings with strange "bumps" or "warts" along the edges of the petals and style arms began to appear in the Sass seedling fields. Referred to in later years as "lace precursors," these bumps indicated that the flowers carried genetic factors for the production of "lace," a condition in which the bumps became more elongate, pointed, and intricate. The strange seedlings were looked upon by the Sasses as freaks, a weakness in the line brought about by too much inbreeding. However, visitors to the Sass farm bought these laced irises as novelties; in 1937 the Sasses acquiesced to public demand and introduced 'Midwest Gem', and two years later its sibling 'Matula', also a buff blend. Each was to play a profound part in the development of laced irises.
Agnes Whiting used 'Matula' heavily, and the lace factor was perpetuated through her 'Lavender and Gold Lace', 'Veishea', 'Mirabelle', 'Etude', and 'Pathfinder', as well as through Muhlestein's 'Gold Ruffles', a 'Midwest Gem' seedling. Loomis's rosy orchid 'Morocco Rose', introduced in 1937, carried the characteristic bumps of lace precursor. 'Rameses', 'Far West', and 'Jean Cayeux' recur in the pedigrees of laced irises, and undoubtedly other early varieties also carried the factor. David Hall relied heavily on 'Morocco Rose' and 'Rameses' as building blocks in his pink line. Along the way he got 'Chantilly', a droopy-falled blended lavender with a touch of yellow in the heart and a generous edging of lace. Despite its poor form, it became the most popular laced iris of the 1940s, and the term "lace" became universal, replacing previous catalog terms such as "crimped," "crinkled;' "fringed;' and "laciniated."


Other laced irises came from the Hall line, the most famous being 'Limelight', 'June Bride', and 'Golden Garland', but far more important were the pinks, such as 'May Hall', which though not themselves laced, carried the factor into the lines of breeders such as Fay, Rudolph, and Muhlestein. 'Truly Yours', 'Rippling Waters', 'Pink Fringe', 'Pink Sleigh', 'Party Dress', and 'Queen's Lace' are but a few examples of the result.
Norton's 'Arlene Wood' (a grandchild of 'Gold Ruffles') and 'Twenty Grand' (from 'Chantilly' and the Sass blend 'Rainbow Room') were incorporated into the Plough lines; 'Arlene Wood' was also used by Opal Brown. Among the many descendants of these Norton irises are 'Butterscotch Kiss', 'Caribou Trail', 'Rainbow Gold', 'Bubbling Springs', 'Buffy', and 'Queen of Hearts'.


The Schreiners crossed one of their seedlings, a descendant of 'Matula', with the Cook orchid pink sibs 'Harriet Thoreau' and 'Dreamcastle'. The immediate result was the introduction of 'Lavanesque' in 1953 and of 'Crispette' and 'Orchid Ruffles' the following year. They had also made a cross of 'Midwest Gem' x 'Chantilly', and the laced tan 'Carmela', a grandchild of this cross, was introduced in 1955. For more than twenty years this line has produced quality laced irises, including 'Crinkled Ivory', 'Lime Fizz', and the orchid 'Grand Waltz', probably the most popular laced iris of its vintage.


With their gene pools drawn from a great diversity of species, the tetraploids brought unbelievable changes to iris gardens: larger blossoms, heavier substance, new textures and improved branching. They made possible the first clear yellows and, later, the flamingo pinks. Almost before the excitement and enthusiasm generated by the pinks was fully realized, the dominant amoena pattern opened new vistas to the imaginative iris breeder. The Drama of Development in Irises is never ending. Even as the hybridizer realizes the fulfillment of a dream in a promising new seedling and enjoys the feeling of accomplishment that permeates his consciousness, he cannot resist the urge that prompts him to seek a mate for this new seedling that may intensify its color or bring forth another color pattern. Meanwhile, attracted. by the development of the tall bearded irises, and encouraged by the world's accelerating iris interest, hybridizers have gone on to improve and diversify other garden groups of the glorious genus Iris, that most malleable of garden plants, even in the hands of amateurs, with undreamed-of potentials for transformations. The next several chapters will be devoted to the evolutionary development of these important garden groups, which in some instances rival the popularity of their tall bearded contemporaries.
====================================================================================================== "The World of Irises" continues with chapter 5 The Median Irises ======================================================================================================

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

-- BobPries - 2015-12-15
Topic revision: r2 - 14 Jan 2016, BobPries
This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding Iris Wiki? Send feedback