See Show Calender


Sir Michael Foster on Oncocyclus

To view original article in Biodiversity Heritage library from The Garden 1893Sir Michael Foster

Garden Flora. by Sir Michael Foster related links; Section Oncocyclus

PLATE 897.

The editor, in asking me to write a note in explanation of the accompanying plate, suggested that I should say a few words about the whole group, of which the three Irises here depicted are beautiful members.
Everyone knows Iris susiana, " that Flower de luce," says Parkinson, " which for his excellent beautie and raritie deserveth the first place." It seems to have become known in Western Europe about the middle of the sixteenth century, having been introduced from Constantinople. It very early became a favourite, and seems to have been cultivated with considerable success, for there are few collections of specimens, or of drawings of Irises, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which do not include I. susiana. The .specimens preserved or figured vary a good deal in size, and Parkinson distinguishes two kinds, the greater and the less, the latter differing from the former in that ' ' the flower is neither so large or faire, nor of so perspicuous marks and spots, nor the colour of that lively (though darke) lustre." "These," he continues, "have been sent out of Turkie divers times, and it should seem that they have had their origin all from about Susia, a chiefe citie of Persia. They have been sent unto us and unto divers other in other parts from Constantinople under the name of Alaia susiana, and thereupon it has been called, both of them and us, either Iris chalcedonica or susiana, and for distinction, major or minor ; in English, the Turkie Flower de luce, or the Ginnie Hen Flower de luce, the greater or the lesser.'

For more than two centuries I. susiana remained isolated as a species, wholly' distinct from all other kinds of Iris, until the end of the last century and the beginning of this, when Iris iberica, I. acutiloba and I. paradoxa were discovered.

In 1846 Siemssen, having the opportunity of observing at Jena in a living condition plants of I. acutiloba and I. paradoxa which had been brought from the Caucasus by Koch, was so struck by their peculiar features that he proposed to found a new genus Oncocyclus, derived from (oekos, a curve (allied to the Latin uncus), and¬ękukos, a circle. Though he does not explicitly state so, he apparently meant this name to denote the orbicular and curved shape of the standard, the large development of which as compared to that of the fall, so conspicuous in the above two species, served him as one of the distinctive marks of his new genus. Siemssen further recognised that I. iberica also belonged to his new genus ; but, curiously enough, makes no reference to I. susiana. The new genus, however, was not generally accepted, and with reason ; but the name Oncocyclus may be conveniently used to denote the group or section of the genus Iris to which the above-named Irises belong.

Since that time, and especially of late years, several new species have been found (and many of them, thanks chiefly to the energy of Herr Max Leichtlin, have been brought into cultivation) which are obviously in such close affinity to the four Irises just spoken of, that they must be considered as belonging to the same group, even though the features by which their affinity is shown does not include the particular feature on which the name of the group is founded. This is a difficulty which is always apt to arise when the name of a group is founded on some one structural character.

A natural group— that is to say a group the members of which are not merely superficially alike, but possess such resemblances as to justify the view that they are " related by blood," that they have a common ancestry — cannot be defined by a single token. It is the aggregate of resemblances which shows their affinity, and if we attempt to insist on any one character, it will sooner or later fail us.

That a number of Irises do, with the three original Oncocyclus Irises, form a fairly well- defined group there can be no doubt, and the term Oncocyclus has been now in use so long, that much may be said in favour of retaining it, it being understood that it is employed not in its original natural meaning, but in a new and artificial sense.

The characteristics of this group are in the main as follows : —
  • In the rhizome the young bud, instead of being attached to the stock by a broad flattened base, and projecting slightly, stands out in the form of a nipple, the base of which is often much constricted. In many forms the attachment is lengthened into a cord, often a very narrow one, so that the bud is at the end of a " stolon.'' According to the narrowness and length (or the reverse) of the connection of the bud with the stock, the rhizome may be spoken of as more or less spreading or creeping, or more or less compact.
  • The foliage, as compared with that of most other Irises, is scanty ; the leaves are relatively narrow, sometimes very narrow, and in the majority of cases very falcate or sickle - shaped.
  • The stem or scape, rarely exceeding 1 foot and generally a few inches only in height, bears a single flower (accompanied in rare cases by the rudiment of a second one), which is conspicuous by its size, by its colouring, or by its markings, or by all three. The spathe valves are large and long, generally inflated, green, and persistent for some time after flowering. The flower always has a perianth tube above the ovary of some considerable length. The outer perianth segment or fall bears on the claw and hinder part of the blade a number of hairs, which in some species are sparsely scattered and generally large and complex in structure, but which in other species are gathered into a more or less compact " beard,'' in which case the individual hairs are smaller and simpler in structure ; in some species an intermediate condition is met with, in which a more or less compact median beard is flanked by scattered hairs. The inner perianth segment or standard very frequently bears hairs on the claw, but these are usually scanty and very often wholly absent.
  • The fall varies much as to relative size and as to shape in the different species, but the stan dard is relatively large and, being in all cases larger than the fall, and in cases markedly so, is very conspicuous. The crests of the style are also nearly always large and conspicuous.
  • The colour of the whole flower is rendered striking, sometimes extremely so, .sometimes less so, by the contrast between the colour of the veins and that of the ground substance, the coloured lines of the veins running frequently into an irregular network or being broken up into a series of dots or blotches. And the fall in nearly all cases bears on the blade in front of the hairs or beard a conspicuous large patch of deep colour, which serves as a "signal" for insects. The veins are, as a rule, not only extremely bold, but of a somewhat peculiar nature. Each of them shows a thin median streak of a deeper, well-defined colour, flanked on each side by a band of lighter colour, which is not only diffuse, but irregular in outline; it breaks away into the surrounding ground in many different ways. The outline of the whole vein is frequently a regular or irregular zigzag.
  • The three-sided ovary becomes after fertilisation developed into a very large also three-sided capsule, which when ripe splits at the apex and for some little way down from the apex along the sides in a characteristic manner, the axial j unction remaining intact, so that the three chambers do not, as in most other Irises, come apart. It contains a variable, but generally large number of relatively large seeds. In the fresh ripe seed the wrinkled body of the seed, generally brown c.r reddish brown, contrasts strongly with the fleshy-looking creamy white appendage called a strophiole, which is sometimes as bulky as itself.
Of the above features, those on which Siemssen insisted were the long perianth tube, the disproportionate size of the standards, the diffuse beard, or collection of hairs on the fall, the dehiscence of the capsule, and the strophiole of the seed.

Some of these characters, for instance, those pertaining to the root and seed, are shared by certain other Irises, as, for example, I. Korolkowi, but these latter bear two or even three flowers on the stem, have flowers of a different form, and may by other characters as well be distinguished as a separate, though allied group, to which I have given the name Regelia. The characters which I have given above as belonging to the Oncocyclus group are exceedingly consistent. When, for instance, a plant is sent to me from its native home and reaching me withered and dry, possesses a root such as I have described above, the remains of narrow falcate leaves, and a stem, bearing within large conspicuous spathe valves the remnants of a solitary flower, in which one can perhaps only recognise that there is present a three-sided ovary with a fairly long tube, 1 have no hesitation in putting it down as an Oncocyclus Iris, and I feel sure that I may look forward to a flower which will certainly prove interesting and may be very beautiful.

The species, so far known, which belong to the group thus defined are as follows : —

I. SUSIANA (Linn., Sp. PI., 5.")).— This is so well known that I need say little about it. Its distinguishing features may be literally summed up thus :
  • The root is compact, the leaves are relatively large, sometimes a foot or even more in height, and nearly an inch in breadth, distinctly yellowish green. The flower is relatively very large ; the falls are rather longer than broad; the styles are bent down so as to be nearly horizontal, and the prevailing colour, a dark grey, is produced by numerous veines and dots of a dark almost black-brown with a slight tinge of purple* on a creamy white ground, which acquires a brownish hue owing to the diffusion of colour from the margins of the veins and dots. The hairs of the fall are black. As the flower withers the purple constituent of the colour becomes very prominent.

I. IBERICAIberica (Hoffman, Comment, i., 41).— I take this second since it is the best known next to susiana, and each of the two may serve as a standard for a group of less well-known species. The distinguishing features of I. iberica, whose home is in the Caucasus and adjoining regions, are as follows :
  • The rhizome is compact, the several parts, buds and branches being more slender than in I. susiana. The foliage is dwarf, the leaves being narrow, often not more than a quarter of an inch in breadth, and short, 1 inches to 6 inches in length, but very falcate. The stem is short, sometimes only 1 inch, and rarely more than 6 inches or .8 inches in length. The flower, though varying in size and generally smaller than in I. susiana, is large enough to seem wholly disproportionate to the foliage. The fall is more or less orbicular, remarkably concave, and the style is not merely horizontal in direction, but curved sharply downwards so as to rest in the hollow of the fall, and an insect crawling in search of nectar up the tunnel, of which the style forms the roof, has at first to ascend almost directly upwards. While the fall is marked with bold netted, irregular coloured veins, the veining of the standard is thin and delicate, often hardly visible; hence in this respect the fall and standard contrast strongly with each other, whereas in I. susiana they are much more alike. On the blade of the fall, just in front of the end of the style is a very conspicuous signal, in the form of a patch of deep colour with a very sharply defined outline, marking the entrance to the nectar tunnel. Whereas I. susiana varies on the whole very slightly and merely in size and depth of colour, I. iberica varies very widely, not only in size, stature, but in colour and in the character of the venation, especially of the falls. In what is perhaps the most common form, the general colour of the fall is a peculiar dark brown-purple, difficult to describe, due to thick irregular, netted, more or less diffuse veins and dots, which almost hide the creamy white ground colour, while the white ground colour of the standard is so little broken by these purple veins or small dots as to appear almost white. The veins of the fall may be very thick and diffuse, running into irregular blotches, or may be thin and comparatively speaking sharply defined, and hence the prevailing tone may be more or less brown or more or less purplish black. The signal patch is very constant, being of rich deep, almost black-purple. The colour of the standard is very vaiiable, due chiefly to the diffusion of one or another hue over the ground substance ; thus it [* I may here say that I use the word purple in its broad meaning as signifying one or other of the several colours which, not being present in the visible spectrum, are complementary to the certain parts of the green of the spectrum, and which may be considered as mixtures of red and blue, following upon the violet of the blue end of the visible spectrum, and thus uniting it with the extreme red o( the red end. Shortly speaking, I apply purple to any colour in which blue seems to be mixed with more red than can be recognized in the violet of the spectrum. ] may be a light bluish purple, almost a blue, or a reddish purple, almost a red, a creamy white tinged with brown, so as to be a stone colour, and so on. Since I. ibarica is not a florist's flower, it is unnecessary to give each plant exhibiting any individuality of colour or form a separate name ; otherwise from what I have seen myself I could easily throw into circulation some two dozen names or so. Regel {Gartenflora, t. 386) figures a var. ochracea, in which the fall is a rich orange tinged with brown, and the standard a nearly pure white. This I have not seen, but the var. Belli, mentioned by Mr. Baker ("Irideae" p. 20) with dark lilac standards, seems to me one of the many varieties which have come before me. All these are beautiful flowers, even the least charming of them to my mind far exceeding in beauty I. susiana ; but I give the palm to two varieties from Kurdistan, which I owe to the great kindness of the Rev. Dr. Kay-nolds, of Van. One of these is remarkable for the large size of the flowers, which combine the magnitude of I. susiana with the graceful outline and purity of colour of I. iberica. The other, though rather small, seems to me by its exquisite tints to be one of the most lovely flowers I know ; the standard is a pure dead solid white, with only a few hardly visible black-purple spots around the base of the claw ; the fall is marked with a thick irregulair network of a chocolate-brown, while the signal is a deep crimson, and the style is almost quite black. The plant known as I. iberica var. van Houttei appears to me to be one of the hybrids between I. iberica and I. susiana, of which I will speak later on.
I. GATESIGatesi (Foster, Gardener' Chronicle. 1,S90, ii., p. 18). — This was discovered in the country above Mardin, in Armenia, by M. Max Leichtlin's collector Sintenis in 1888, and is named after the Rev. T. G. Gates, of the American Mission at Mardin, through whose kind assistance Sintenis came to know of it.
  • It comes very near to susiana. The rhizome is perhaps still more compact, and the foliage smaller, shorter and narrower, and of a darker green than in susiana. The stem is taller, reaching 1 h feet or even 2 feet, and the flower when well grown larger than that of any susiana I have ever seen. The fall is relatively broader, more than 4 inches across, and curved so as to be convex from side to side as well as from above below. The standard is nearly orbicular and very large, 5 inches or even more across, and when the flower is fully expanded in a calm atmosphere stands erect, so curved as to be concave inwards both from side to side and from above below, so that the surface is somewhat saddle-shaped. The prevailing colour of the specimens so far cultivated is, when the flower is seen at a distance, a soft delicate grey, brought about by very thin clear veins (those of susiana are thick, blotchy, irregular) and minute dots or points of purple on a creamy white ground, the dots being predominant on the fall and the veins on the standard. The hairs on the claw beneath the style, grey or brownish flecked with dark purple, are crowded irregularly into a diffuse beard, which, bifurcating in front, embraces a purple patch of no great size or conspicuousness produced by the aggregation of purple dots. The style, whose yellowish ground colour is sprinkled with purple dots, is bent horizontally close down on the claw of the fall and bears two large spotted and streaked semicircular crests with finely serrated edges. The ripe capsule is exceeding large, as much as 5 inches in length. To my mind, this Iris when seen at its best, with standards and falls fully unfolded, and its delicate tint not yet marred by bruises, raindrops, or the beginnings of withering, is of surpassing grace and beauty. The accomplished artist has doubtless faithfully represented in the plate the specimen given him, but it was not in good condition ; the fall especially is too much folded up, the standard has in part collapsed, and the colour is not that of the flower in its pristine beauty. The substance of the petals even in best grown specimens is somewhat flimsy ; the flower does not bear travel, and even gentle winds soon deform its natural grace of outline.
As far as I can learn, all the flowers which have been borne by the roots, which Sintenis sent to M. Max Leichtlin have the same grey hue which I have just described; but Sintenis, in announcing his discovery of the plant to Mas Leichtlin, spoke of it as of a sky-blue colour. Whether the blue was that of a dried specimen (for as in susiana the blue or purple becomes prominent after death), or whether there is a sky-blue variety remains to be seen. If the latter does exist, I cannot but think that it will appear to have touched the very limits of graceful beauty.

I. SARI (Schott, Baker, Gardeners' Chronicle, 1876, ii., p. 788). — This, which was described by Schott in MS., but first published by Mr. Baker, derives its name from tlie river Sar, in Cilicia, in the neighbourhood of which it was found. It comes near to susiana, having a compact rhizome, relatively large foliage, a fairly tall (a foot or less in height) stem and large flowers ; indeed the var. lurida, which alone I have seen in cultivation, is often mistaken by a casual observer for I. susiana. In this var. lurida, the flower of which is rather smaller than that of susiana, the fall is somewhat narrower than in susiana, distinctly convex from side to tide, and marked with thick irregular netted dark brownish purple veins, the colour of which diffuses into the ground substance between; below the end of the style the blade of the fall bears a 'signal" patch of dark almost black-purple, but the outline of this is much less sharply defined than in I. iberica. Beneath the style on the claw is seen a diffuse beard of scattered hairs, which are yellow in the median region, but purple towards the sides. The orbicular standard is marked throughout with thick veins and numerous dots of very dark purple. The style, which is red-dish brown with a purple tinge, is not bent down as in I. susiana, and still more in I. iberica, but hardly horizontal, even inclined upwards. As a minor point, it may be mentioned that the scape is to a much larger extent covered by clasping leaves than is the case with I. susiana, in which the scape is largely naked. On first opening the flower has a general dark grey appearance not un-like I. susiana, but as it grows older the purple hue becomes more predominant, and when the flower begins to wither becomes very marked, at least in the standards ; but though the several plants in cultivation vary somewhat as to the prominence of the purple, I have not yet seen a perfectly fresh flower with so distinctly lilac standards as that figured in Botanical Magazine, t. 69G0. I am now speaking of the var. lurida; in the type, as described bv Schott, the fall as well as the standard is a bright lilac, but this 1 have never seen.

I. HEYLANDIANA (Boissier, Flo Orient , v., 1.30). — This species, which is found in Mesopotamia, comes near to I. Sari. The foliage is perhaps narrower and the scape more completely clothed by clasping leaves. Both fall and standard are marked with brown-violet or black-purple veins on a dingy white ground, the purple hue not being so prominent as in I. Sari, and the white ground coming more to the front. The hairs on the claw of the fall are not purple, as in I. Sari, or black, as in susiana, but white, more or less tinged with yellow.
I have in cultivation a plant under this name which I owe to the kindness of M. Max Leichtlin, and which answers fairly well to Boissier's description, save that the root is compact and not creeping. If my plant is the true one, then the differences between I. Heylandiana and I. Sari are perhaps hardly of specific value ; indeed, I may remark that in general among these Oncocyclus Irises there has been a tendency to establish species on very slight differences. In my plant the claw of the standard bears a few scattered hairs, which I have not seen on I. Sari ; but this is a very minor feature.

I. LORTETI (Barbey, Herbor. au Levant, p. 178, t. 7). — This most beautiful Iris was discovered some years ago between Meis and Hounin, in South Lebanon, by Dr. Lortet, the accomplished naturalist of Lyons. It was described by Barbey, " Herborisations au Levant," p. 178 1882, who there gives a large coloured figure of it. Thanks to the unwearied zeal of M. Max Leichtlin, a considerable stock of roots has recently been imported from Palestine.
  • la general features it comes very close to I. Sari, but its wonderful colouring puts it by itself as, perhaps, the most beautiful Iris in the world. In the specimens gathered by Lortet the outer/ segments are described and figured as showing a very pale blue ground covered with crimson spots, which, scattered sparsely over the marginal parts of the fall, are concentrated into a dark crimson patch or "signal "in the centre beneath the end of the style ; the inner segments or standards are similarly described as being of a delicate pale rose. In a plant flowered by myself this summer the falls showed a creamy yellow ground marked with crimson spots, concentrated at the centre into a dark crimson signal, while the standards were nearly pure white, marked with very thin violet vines, hardly visible at a distance. The plant figured in Botanical Magazine, t. 7251, from Mr. Elwes' garden gives the prevailing tone of the standards as a light violet, while the veins, spots, and signal on the fall a-e purple.
    I learn that the plants imported by M. Max Leichtlin show considerable variation in colour ; apparently, however, the "note" of the plant is a peculiarly charming combination of crimson spots and blue or violet veins on a white o' creamy yellow ground.
The flower figured by Barbey is as large as that of an ordinary or rather small I. susiana; the one shown in the plate is not quite so large. I imagine that, when well grown, the flower will be found to be about as large, but on the whole rather smaller than that of a well-grown I. susiana. When the plant is well grown, the foliage seems to be larger, longer, and broader than even that of I. susiana.

I. BISMARCKIANA ( Gartenzeit., 1892,355, fig. 72). — This lris, found in the Lebanon, has been introduced by Messrs. Dammann, of Naples. I only know the rhizomes and imperfect dried specimens of the flower. It is described as having a flower as large as I. susiana, with grey falls and sky-blue standards. Some years ago I received from Miss Lee, of Nazareth, rhizomes of an Iris which seems fairly common in Palestine. I exhibited a flower this at the Koyal Horticultural Society under the provisional name of I. Sari var. nazarena. But it differs from I. Sari most distinctly in the characters of its rhizome, which is not compact, but spreading or creeping to a very marked extent ; it sends out long, thin, stolon-like shoots many inches in length. In this it agrees wiih I. Bismarckiana, and by this the two differ from all the Irises of which I have so far spoken. I am very much inclined to think that my Iris is identical with I. Bismarckiana ; at all events, I do not put it forward as a new one until I have had an opportunity of comparing authentic specimens of the two in a living state. Besides the creeping rhizome, my Iris possesses the following features:
  • in foliage and in its relatively tall stem it resembles I. susiana, and is nearly as large in flower. The fall, obovate, with the blade convex from side to side, is marked by an irregular network of dark reddish brown-purple veins on a straw-coloured ground, if we can give the name of vein to a regular row of spots or blotches running into each other. In the middle of the blade in front of the end of the style is a well-defined heart-shaped " signal " patch of intense, almost black, crimson or red-purple. Behind this and stretching along the claw beneath the style is a diffuse beard of not very numerous dark purple, almost black hairs, disposed chiefly on each side of the middle line, leaving a bare mediin streak. The standard, orbicular, or nearly 80, but somewhat obovate, with a bluntly serrate edge, is marked with thin blue veins on a creamy white ground, there being no spots or dots, though on the claw the veins become blotched as they assume a red-brown-purple colour. The style, which is horizontal, or even inclined upwards, is somewhat narrow, bears deltoid crests, which are divergent, reflexed, and have a finely serrate edge ; it is marked with numerous reddish brown spots or blotches on a creamy white ground. The flower is very striking and handsome, though it is inferior in beauty to Lorteti, Gatesi, or iberica. 1 have observed in this species what, as far as my experience goes, is very rare in Oncocyclus Irises — the rudiment (not more than the mere rudiment) of a second flower within the spathe valves.
I. LUPINA (Foster, (Gardeners” Chronicle, 1887, i.^ p. 738).— The live Irises of which I just spoken so far resemble I. susiana, that they may perhaps be put into a group with it. I. lupina, a native of Armenia and Central Asia Minor, which was made known to me by Mrs. Barnum of the American Mission at Kharput, is in some ways intermediate between I. susiana and I. iberica. The rhizome is compact; the foliage, though somewhat variable, is dwarf like that of I. iberica, sometimes exceedingly dwarf, 3 inches or so in length, and then extremely falcate. The flower, borne on a stem sometimes 1 inch or 2 inches, sometimes (6 inches or even more in length, differs in form from both I. susiana and I. iberica in that the fall is distinctly lance-shaped, narrowing to a blunt, but still pointed tip, and the standard also is oval, not orbicular. Its colour, moreover, is very distinctive, being brought about by irregular brownish red veins on a yellow or greenish yellow ground, the red of the veins often merging into purple. The claw and the hind median part of the blade of the fall bear a number of large yellow hairs arranged in several rows, some of the hairs being tipped with purple, and on the blade of the fall in front of this diffuse beard is a more or less triangular " signal " patch of very dark almost black-purple. The style is curved down close over the fall, and bears very large semicircular crests with serrated edges. The claw of the standard is furnished with quite numerous hairs. Though the colour is always the result of a contrast between a yellowish ground and a red-brown, more or less purplish veining and mottling, the exact result varies much in different plants. In some plants the ground colour is a nearly pure bright yellow, and sufficiently abundant to give a good contrast with the red-brown veins ; the whole flower is then to my mind exceedingly handsome.

In other plants the ground colour is greenish-yellow, and the total effect is spoilt by a certain dinginess. In other plants, again, as in the one figured in the plate, the peculiar red-brown-purple of veins so encroaches on the ground colour, especially in the standards, as to make these too sombre and dark. In its native home it is called the " Wolf's-ear," to which indeed an opening bud presents no small likeness. Hence I have called it I. lupina.

I. ATRO-PURPUREA (Baker, Gardeners' Chronicle, 1.8811, i., p. 330).— This Iris, introduced into cultivation from Syria by Messrs. Dammann, may perhaps be considered as coming within an iberica group. The foliage is not unlike that of I. iberica, and the stem, though always of some length, never rises very high. The flower is somewhat small. The fall, narrow and ovate, bears on the claw and hind part of the blade a yellow patch, on which are numerous, but scattered yellow hairs, tipped with dark purple or black. In front of this is a semicircular " signal " patch of almost black-purple, and the rest of the fall is a very dark purple, almost black, no distinct veins being discernible. The standard, larger and orbicular, is also of a deep black-purple, but on this veins of a still deeper colour may be distinguished. The style is of a reddish purple-brown, with relatively small quadrate crests. Within the spathe valves a rudiment of a second flower may sometimes be seen. The plant varies somewhat, one variety being called by Messrs. Dammann "Odysseus."

I. MARIAE (Barbey, " Herborisations au Levant," p. 159, under the name I. Helenae).— This, which very clearly belongs to the iberica group, was discovered by M. Barbey on the confines of Egypt and Palestine, and was first named by him I. Helenae. Owing to the name having been already used by Koch for an Iris of which I will speak later on, M. Barbey has recently withdrawn the name Helenae; and proposed that of Mariae. The rhizome is compact, but rather slender, the foliage not unlike that of iberica, but narrower and less distinctly falcate. The stem is short— about (1 inches. The flowers, which are somewhat smaller than in I. iberica, are of a uniform lilac colour, though marked with veins, but the uniformity is broken by a conspicuous " signal " patch of deep purple on the fall. The standard is larger and more rounded than the fall. The claw of the fall is beset by numerous deep purple hairs, which, scattered at the sides, are crowded together along the middle line more after the fashion of the beard of an ordinary bearded Iris.

I. BARNUMAE (Foster and Baker, Gardeners' Chronicle, 1888, ii., p. 182). — This Iris, a native of the hills of Kurdistan, in the neighbourhood of Van, was made known to me by Mrs. Barnum, of Kbarput, after whom I have named it. It seems closely allied to I. Mariae, and with that Iris may be classed in the iberica group. The rhizome is slender, and especially when starved has some tendency to creep. The foliage is not unlike iberica, but perhaps narrower and less falcate. The stem is some few inches high. The flower, which is distinctly smaller than in iberica, has the fall smaller and narrower than the orbicular standard, both of which are of vinous-red-purple marked with darker veins, the standard being lighter in colour than the fall and its veins more conspicuous. The style, which is horizontal, is of a brownish yellow colour marked with red-purple spots or splashes, and bears somewhat triangular crests with finely serrated edges. On the claw of the fall numerous hairs, bright yellow tipped with purple (there are also a few hairs on the claw of the standard), are crowded together into a triangular space, the apex of the triangle pointing forwards and abutting on a signal patch of deep almost black purple, which, however, is much less conspicuous than in I. iberica and many other Oncocyclus Irises. This collection of hairs may be called a beard, but it differs from the beard of a so-called Pogoniris Iris, such as I. pumila, since the hairs cover a relatively wider space, whereas in a Pogoniris Iris they are confined to what is almost a linear space along the median vein.

I. Barnumae possesses every character of an Oncocyclus Iris except that the hairs on the fall are somewhat crowded together ; it seems to me wholly irrational to separate it from the group on this account. Moreover, there are several scattered hairs outside the triangular space spoken of above. Further, a plant found near Urumiah, on the confines of Kurdistan and Persia, kindly sent me by Dr. Cochran, of that place, in every way resembles the plant from Van, save that the hairs, which are dark purple, are much more diffusely scattered. I have also received from Dr. Cochran a plant almost exactly resembling the typical I. Barnumse save that the entire flower is a fine rich yellow ; and in this, too, which if I wished I might call var. flava, the hairs on the claw are much more scattered, so that the crowded arrangement of the hairs in the typical form seems more or less an accidental matter. Mr. Baker, in his " Irideie," has placed I. Barnumae in the section Regelia. I can only say that it seems to me to have none of what I consider to be the distinctive features of that group. The typical I. Barnumie falls much short of I. iberica in point of beauty owing to the somewhat dull vinous-red-purple colour; but the yellow variety is in my eyes an exceedingly charming plant, and it has the additional virtue of being deliciously fragrant, the odour being not unlike the Lily of the Valley.

I. ACUTILOBA (C. A. Meyer, Ind. Cauc, p. 32).—This Iris, a native of the Caucasus and known for some considerable time, though rarely met with in cultivation, differs so much in certain respects from other Oncocyclus Irises, that it may be taken as the centre of a sub-group of its own. The rhizome is slender and very distinctly creeping. The leaves, which are slender and narrow, are exceedingly curved, forming a semi-circle, with the tip bent down to the ground. The stem is an inch or two or even less in height. The fall is very narrow, not much more than half an inch bread, almost strap-shaped, with a lanceolate blade, which is sharply reflexed, in fact, curled back on itself. The standard is very much larger, oblong, twice as broad as the fall, and more than twice as long as broad, erect with a wavy edge. In fact, that feature of the Oncocyclus group, which consists in the standard surpassing the fall, is greatly exaggerated in this Iris. The style, which lies down close on the fall, than which it is rather narrower, bears two small triangular crests. The claw of the fall beneath the style is densely covered with short, dark purple, almost black hairs, which stretch on to the blade in front of the style, and in front of these is a conspicuous, but rather smaller "signal" patch of deep purple, the edges of which are very irregular. The rest of the fall is, according to Meyer's description, a very pale lilac, with darker, conspicuous veins; while the whole standard is of a fuller, but still pale lilac, and the style a pale yellow with purple streaks. In a plant which I have had in cultivation for some years, and which agrees in respect to everything but colour with Meyer's description, the body of the fall is creamy white marked with thick purple veins, and tinged, especially towards the front of the blade, with brown ; the standard is creamy white, suffused with brown and marked with close-set, thin purple veins ; while the style is a pale greenish yellow, striped with rows of purple dots. Among the drawings and MS. notes by Dean Herbert, preserved in the Lindley Library, is a sketch of an Iris named I. acutiloba major. In this the standard is broader than in my plant and very strongly veined. The species probably varies a good deal. The flower is not without charms ; indeed, has a quaint beauty of its own, but is far less showy than I. iberica and some others.

I. MEDA (Stapf, Denkschrft Wien, Acad., vol. 50, 18.S5, p. 1). — This Iris is a native of Persia. The rhizome, though small and slender, is compact. The leaves are very narrow, narrower than in I. iberica, and for the most part erect, not falcate. The stem is about 6 inches in length, more or less, but seems to vary a good deal. The fall, which spreads horizontally, is elliptical, but narrow and pointed, the blade being sharply curled back on itself. The standard is also elliptical, but rather larger than the fall, and the style, which lies close down on the claw of the fall, is narrow, ending in two small triangular crests. In the plants which I have cultivated, and which, like many other of my garden rarities and treasures, I owe to M. Max Leichtlin, the colour of the fall, standard, and style is a greenish yellow, marked in the case of the fall with thick purple veins, in the case of the standard with brown veins, which, well defined in the median region, become diffuse towards the edge, and in the case of the style with rows of brownish dots. On the claw of the fall beneath the style a number of bright orange hairs form a distinct linear, but thick beard, which is continued on the fall in front of the style (being here especially thick), ending against an oval, well-defined signal patch of deep, almost black-purple. In the typical plant described by Stapf the fall is lilac in colour with a yellow beard and a deep purple signal patch, while the standard is of a paler lilac. He says there is a yellow variety, and of this my plant seems to be an example. The roots given me by M. Max Leichtlin come from two different gatherings, and the plants, though all of the variety yellow, differ in some minor features.
  • Now, I. Meda exhibits the characters of an Oncocyclus Iris in rhizome, in general habit, in capsule, in seed, and in other features— in fact in every respect except that the hairs on the fall are not scattered, but crowded together into a beard. In this feature only does it markedly fail in answering to the distinctive tokens as given by Siemssen, for other partial failures, such as the erect attitude of the leaves, the shortness of the perianth tube, and the slightness of the difference in size between standard and fall, are shared by one or other members of the group, and indeed of themselves are not of great moment. Led by the feature of the beard alone, Mr. Baker (" Irideae,'' s.v.) places I. Meda in the Pogoniris group, and indeed says that it differs very little from Chamaeiris. I cannot accept this view. As I have already said, the character of the beard is perhaps the least safe token to trust to in judging of the affinities of Irises, and when weighed against all the other characters may without any fear be at once thrown on one side. Anyone who has grown I. Meda cannot help recognizing its Oncocyclus nature; it needs exactly the same cultural treatment as do the other members of the group ; and indeed when it and I. acutiloba are put side by side in flower. everyone would, I think, say at once that the two not only belong to the Oncocyclus division, but to the same group of the division. And one may continue to take this view of the Oncocyclus nature of the plant, while admitting that in its beard, in its short perianth tube, and in some other features it exhibits a tendency to approach the ordinary dwarf bearded Iris. As a garden plant I. Meda is not so striking as I. acutiloba ; some of the specimens, however, have the charm of being sweetly fragrant. Though the figure of this species in Botanical Magazine, t. 7010, is said to have been drawn from a plant supplied by myself, I fear some accident or other must have happened, for I am bound to say that the resemblance between the figure and any plant of I. Meda grown by me is extremely small.
I. POLAKI (Stapf, ibid).— This Iris, also a native of Persia, which I only know from the author's description, seems very closely allied to the foregoing I. Meda. It has much the same general characters ; the fall, however, is a dark purple, with a very dark purple, almost black beard, and an intensely coloured deep violet or black-purple "signal" patcli, and the standard is a deep lilac with deeper coloured veins. The author says it differs from I. Meda in having relatively longer leaves, a shorter stem, a still shorter perianth tube, broader, more darkly coloured flowers, with broader perianth segments. And what I have said concerning I. Meda may probably be repeated concerning it.

I. PARADOXA (Stevens, Mem. de la Sol. Imp. Nat. Mosc, v., p. .'iSS).- In this singular Iris, a native of West Persia and the Caucasus, fitly called " paradoxical," one of the features of the Oncocyclus group, the disproportion between fall and standard is carried to extremes. The fall is reduced to a narrow strap half an inch or less in width, stretching horizontally outwards and ending in a rounded apex. It looks very much as if the lateral parts of an ordinary fall liad been cut away by two parallel incisions, leaving only the median region containing the beard. The standard, on the other hand, is large, orbicular and erect; and while the small fall is stout and firm, almost leathery, the standard is delicate and flimsy in texture. The style, which lies close down on the fall, being gently curved over it, bears two very small nail-like crests, the division between the two being very slightly marked. The rhizome, though slender, is fairly compact, and the narrow, short, scanty leaves are very falcate, though different plants vary a good deal in the amount of curvature. The ground colour of (he claw is a rich crimson or deep pink, but beneath the claw and for some little distance in front of it the crimson hue is all but entirely hid by numerous short dark purple, almost black, hairs, so thickly set as to imitate velvet very closely indeed. This velvet area, at some distance in front of the end of the style, comes abruptly and squarely to an end, being marked off by a cross bar of rich crimson devoid of hairs. The small portion of the fall in front of this bar is of a creamy white, traversed by radiating thick dark purple veins, which are so close set as to leave little of the ground visible. Along the edge of the hinder part or claw of the fall, by the side of the velvet beard, is a rim of similar veined nature. The standard in the type, as described by Stevens, is marked by deep violet or bluish violet veins, the interspaces between which are coloured of a paler violet. Over the claw of the standard and along a median streak over the blade the colour is a creamy white, studded with violet dots. A number of dark hairs are also seen on the claw. The style is brownish yellow, marked with dark purple spots or dots arranged in lines. The plant varies much in size and colour. I have grown plants differing a good deal in the exact hue of the dominant violet, and plants have been observed with white standards or with red-purple standards, the purple being so red as almost to be called merely red. The total effect of the flower is very striking, and, unless an element of grotesqueness be thought inconsistent with beauty, very beautiful. It at once suggests the idea that it is some strange butterfly which is pretending to be a flower.

I. HAYNEI (Baker, Gardeners' Chronicle, 187il, ii., 710),— This Iris, a native of Gilboa, in Palestine, has been so named by Mr. Baker. The diagnosis was founded on two dried specimens, and the description is very incomplete. The specimens evidently belonged to an Oncocyclus Iris, but whether they really represent a distinct Iris, or are only examples of I. Bismarckiana, remains to be seen, if it can ever be settled.

I. HELENAE (Koch, see Wochenscrift in Gartenbau-'Verein, Preuss„ 1870, No. 23),— This name (in favour of which Barbey has substituted I. Mariae for his previous name of I, Helenae) was given by Koch to an Iris found by him in the Caucasus, near the town Helenenburg. It illustrates the difficulty of determining Irises from dried specimens only, to mention that while some authorities say Koch's type specimens are those of I. iberica, others say they are of I. acutiloba. From the description given in the journal quoted above, I should be inclined to think that it was simply a deformed I. iberica.
The above named Irises are all the known and described Irises which I can with certainty place in the Oncocyclus group, but the future will doubtless add to the list. M. Max Leichtlin has received at various times from Persia Irises undoubtedly of the Oncocyclus group, some of which, had they prospered, might have proved new species ; but, unfortunately, difficult of cultivation as are all the members of this group, those from Persia are, perhaps, the most troublesome. I believe I am not betraying confidence in saying that M. Max Leichtlin has also quite recently received from Persia rhizomes which seem likely to furnish one new species, if not two or more of this group. And I myself received some few years ago from Central Persia, through the kindness of Mr. Reece, of the telegraph service, rhizomes of an Iris, certainly an Oncocyclus Iris, and apparently belonging to the acutiloba division, but probably a new species. Unhappily, the only flower it has yet produced was deformed, so that I cannot satisfactorily describe it. Moreover, I have a suspicion that some of the dwarf, single-flowered Central Asian Irises, which have generally been described as belonging to the ordinary Pogoniris division, will, when they come into cultivation (if ever they do), and are thus more closely studied, prove to be in reality Oncocyclus Irises. I am nearly sure that I. tigridia belongs to this group, and I fancy others do so. There are also probably in Beloochistan and Afghanistan, in the region stretching from Southeast Persia to the Himalayas, several Irises either belonging to this group, or forming connecting links between it and other groups. I know of one such Iris growing in the neighbourhood of Quetta, but my many prayers, directed both through official and private channels, have hitherto failed to gain an answer in the shape of living roots.
The striking features of an Oncocyclus Iris, the large flower, so out of proportion to the scanty foliage, the conspicuous coloration, the boldness of the marking, as seen, for instance, in the intense colour of the " signal " patch on the fall, tire manner in which the anther is covered over and hidden by the curved style, all these and other features tell us very clearly that the flower needs the intervention of some insect to secure fertilization. From the frequent occurrence of seed-pods on imported rhizomes, I am led to infer that in its native home an Oncocyclus Iris goes to seed freely ; and further, from the condition of imported roots, strengthened by the behaviour of the plants cultivated in this country, I am also inclined to believe that the life of an individual rhizome is not a very long one, and that the race is largely continued by seeding. Here in this country plants left to themselves do not seed freely. But this is due not to the coldness of our climate, but to the absence of the proper fertilizing insects. Our bees, accustomed to more sober flowers, appear frightened at the strange aspect of an Oncocyclus Iris ; at least I have never, so far as I remember, seen one of these Irises visited by a bee or other insect. On the other hand, if the flower be artificially fertilized, it goes to seed with great readiness. I think I may say tint I am more sure of getting seed from an Oncocyclus Iris than from almost any of the ordinary bearded Irises. They cross readily with each other, and hybrids may be without any great difficulty obtained between them and the ordinary bearded Irises. M. Max Leichtlin, for instance, has produced several hybrids. I myself, too, have reared and flowered the following hybrids, and possess many more in various stages of development.

I. IBERICA X I. SUSIANA AND I. SUSIANA X I. IBERICA. (The species coming first in these and the following hybrids is always the mother seed-bearing plant.) — Of these two crosses I have raised several plants. Though varying in the exact colour and size of the flower, the height of the stem, Sec. they all have a common likeness, and are all more or less intermediate between the two parents. One of them so exactly repeats the I. iberica var. insignis of Van Houtte, or I. iberica var. van Houttei", that I have no hesitation in recognising that plant as a hybrid.

I. PARADOXA X I. IBERICA. — I have so far raised some four or five hybrids of this strain, differing chiefly in size and in the colour of the standards, but all, so to speak, half way between the two parents ; the fall especially is strikingly intermediate. The flower is a very handsome one, and the plant seems perhaps more robust than either of the parents.

I. IBBEICA X I. PARADOXA. — This, again, is like the preceeding ; but in one plant which I reared the flower was a very large one, since the parent (I. iberica) was not a pure strain, but itself a hybrid with I. susiana. It was, moreover, rendered especially beautiful by the standard being a heavily veined red-purple.

I. LUPINA X I. IBERICA AND I. IBERICA X I. LUPINA. — In these cases, again, the I. iberica used was in reality a hybrid with susiana, and some of the plants bear very large handsome flowers, in
which one can trace the characters of the two parents. One of them, in which the colouring is a mixture of yellow with brownish crimson, is to my mind exceedingly beautiful.

I. LUPINA X I. PARADOXA. — 1 have so far flowered three or four hybrids of this kind, all of which, especially in the fall, betray their double parentage. One of (hem, by reason of the contrast of the violet hue of the standard with the yellow and purple of the fall, is especially charming.

I. MEDA X I. PARADOXA. — This has a relatively small flower showing the characters of both its parents, bat follows its mother in being less handsome than any of the preceding. The following are hybrids between an Oncocyclus and an ordinary bearded Iris : —

I. LUPINA X I- Cengialti. — This has the inflorescence of the father, but iu flower and rhizome is intermediate between the two parent?. It is an interesting plant, but the colour is disappointing, being a fusion of the yellow and brown -purple of the mother with the light blue of the father into a dull, peculiar livid purple, a teint degradc. It has an advantage over the mother in being perfectly hardy, needing no special culture.

I. Cengialti X I. LUPINA. — This resembles the preceding, but is of a better colour, though less vigorous in constitution.

I. Chamaeiris X I. IBERICA. — This gives a pleasing little flower in which the iberica blood is shown by the more rounded form of the perianth segments, the boldness of the veining. the richness of the purple colour, a rudimentary signal patch on the fall, and the presence of scattered hairs outside tlie beard. Without being especially handsome, it is a useful little plant. The seed bearer was not a typical ]. Chamaairis, but one of the numerous probable garden hybrids of the wild species.

I. ITALICA X I. IBERICA.— This again has very much the same characters as the preceding. In both cases the hybrid plant is not vigorous ; it does not need special culture, but it grows slowly and blooms shyly

I. BALKANA X I. IBERICA. — I have flowered two hybrids of this kind. One was a mo5t charming flower with a rich yellow fall, heavily veined with purple, and a light purple standard. tTn happily, in moving it I lost it.

I. SUSIANA X I. PALLIDA. — I have raised several hybrids of this strain, which in rhizome and foliage are quite intermediate between the parents. Unfortunately, they are most difficult to manage. I have wholly lost several before they flowered, and those which have flowered have always, as is often the case in Iris hybrids, produced deformed flowers. The flower if properly developed would, as far as one could judge, be one having the form, markings, and general characters of I. susiana, but one in which the black and grey of the mother were changed into the deep and light blue of the father. If well grown it would have been exceedingly handsome.

The cultivation of the Oncocyclus Irises has recently been so fully discussed, that I need say nothing here on the subject. --Shelford. Sir Michael Foster

* Drawn for TuE Gaktikn liy H. G. Moon from flowers sent May 3(1, 1.S92, by C. G. van Tubergen, Jnn., Haarlem. Lithographed and printed by Guillaume Severeyns.

Oncocyclus in The Garden 1893.jpgThe Garden 1893Gatesi.jpgTheGarden1893Iberica.jpg

Please do not enter images that are not your own without owners' permission, this is against Wiki policy

"Although the Encyclopedia is free to all, it is supported by Emembership in AIS, If you would like to help sustain this reference, for $15 you can become an Emember, click here."

Interested in Iris Species? Please visit the: Species Iris Group of North America website.

To Report errors do not use comment box but contact the Iris Encyclopedia Photo Manager or Iris Encyclopedia Manager Comment box is reserved for added information about the topic.

Your Observations Are Valued. Please make note of bud count, branching, purple based foliage and bloom time, etc. Because these are affected by climate, note date, year and geographic location and write these and other comments in the comment box below.


-- Main.RPries - 2011-03-07
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
Oncocyclus_in_The_Garden_1893.jpgjpg Oncocyclus_in_The_Garden_1893.jpg manage 197 K 10 Oct 2013 - 16:19 BobPries From the Biodiversity Heritage Library
TheGarden1893Iberica.jpgjpg TheGarden1893Iberica.jpg manage 103 K 10 Oct 2013 - 16:58 BobPries Biodiversity Heritage Library The Garden 1893
The_Garden_1893Gatesi.jpgjpg The_Garden_1893Gatesi.jpg manage 274 K 10 Oct 2013 - 16:43 BobPries Biodiversity Heritage Library The Garden 1893
Topic revision: r8 - 02 Mar 2017, af.83
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