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Iris Sibirica in The Genus Iris by Dykes, 1914

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"Linnaeus defines this plant by referring to Gmelin, Flora Sibir. 1. p. 28 (1747), who speaks of it as a hollow-stemmed Iris, received from Siberia. Linnaeus also quotes from C. Bauhin's Pinax, p. 32, the description of· an I. pratensis, whose narrow leaves have not the slightly fetid smell of those of I. spuria. (The latter was also classed by Bauhin under the name of I. pratenst's.) Bauhin in turn quotes Clusius' History of Pannonian Plants (p. 252). The latter's description is as usual that of an acute observer of the living plant, whose habitat is given as Austria. He notes the short capsules, which turn almost black with age and open slightly at the apex. This exactly describes the capsules of I. sibirica as we now know it.

This Iris must be carefully distinguished from the Eastern I. orzentalis of Thunberg, which seems to deserve specific rank. The two plants are very different in appearance, though the flowers are very similar (see Plate I). In the European species the flowers are raised well above the foliage, sometimes to a height of 3-4 feet, while in the Oriental plant the stem is shorter than the leaves. Moreover in the former a side shoot is common below the terminal head, which contains 3 or even 5 flowers on pedicels of varying lengths up to 3 inches. I. orientalis, on the other hand, rarely has more than the single terminal head of two flowers and the pedicels are shorter. The capsule is long, angular and narrow instead of short, rounded and comparatively broad as in I. sibirica (cf. Fig. 2) . The seeds of the latter are flat and large, somewhat D-shaped, while those of I. orientalz's are smaller, thicker and indeed almost cubical.

Although it is easy to distinguish the typical European plant from that which is here described as I. orientalis and which, moreover, cerfainly breeds true from seed, it is by no means so easy to define the distribution of the two plants. Herbarium specimens alone are extremely unconvincing, for the capsules and seeds are usually wanting and it is in these that the real difference lies. Without them, it is impossible to say whether the Far Eastern forms from Manchuria and Corea should really be classed as I. sibirica or I. orientalis. To add to the difficulty, I have never yet been able to obtain either plants or seeds of any form from Eastern Asia on the authenticity of which I could absolutely rely. It is, however, true that seeds, which I have received as being those of Corean plants, have been of the small cubical type, characteristic of I. orientalis. It is true, too, that all the herbarium specimens from the Far East have stems that are barely, if at all, longer than the leaves, a point in which they resemble I. orientalis. Of the spathes it is impossible to speak with certainty, for it is difficult to say whether a dried spathe of I. sibirica or I. orientalis was scarious or herbaceous when it was alive.

If we accept the theory that I. sibirica is confined to Europe, the question arises as to how the name sibirica came to be applied to a European plant. An answer to this question is that the Far Eastern plant was probably confused with the European specimens. Pallas' specimens (BM) show that it was known in Europe in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Linnaeus, as usual, took the name from another author, Gmelin, and did not base it on first hand knowledge.

Of I. sibirica many garden forms are known, which may or may not be peculiar to definite localities, for differences of soil easily account for differences in the length and breadth of the stem and leaves. Such forms, therefore, as acuta, a dwarf plant with narrow foliage, scarcely deserve to be distinguished by name. Still less right has the name flexuosa to be recognised, for it only represents a white flowered form, differing from blue forms merely in the absence of the colour'. The supposed variety trigonocarpa (see Synonymy) is based on the characters of the capsule of I. prismatica Pursh, with which a small form of I. sibirica was confused, while the I. triflora Balbis, which Ascherson and Graebner make into another variety (see Syn. pp. 506-7), is shown by its ovary to be a variety of I. ensata Thunb, In fact, until plants can be obtained from various localities and grown side by side under similar conditions of soil and climate, we can only leave unsettled the question of the existence of distinct local forms."

' These show more clearly in the drawings of I. orientalis, L Wilsoni, L Forrestii and I. chrysographes, Plates I-IV, than in that of I. sibirica. • At the same time, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is by no means impossible that I. sibirica and L orientalis are not really two distinct species but merely different combinations of certain pairs of Mendelian characters, such for instance as the flat or cubical shape of the seeds. If we were to accept this hypothesis, we should not be able to deny that there might possibly exist in Eastern Asia plants with the spathes and inflorescence of L sibirica and with the capsule, seeds and relative

For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at http://www.historiciris.org/

-- BobPries - 2016-06-27
Topic revision: r1 - 27 Jun 2016, BobPries
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