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■ (SPEC) Iris vartanii Fos.

1885, botanical author Foster

_Iris vartanii_ Fos. (Sir Michael Foster, 1885, Palestine); Subgenus Hermodactyloides.

See below:
Biodiversity Heritage LibraryAlexander Jeans photoPeter Taggart photoKen Walker photoCurtisPhoto by Kirsten


Foster presents the following article in The Gardeners' Chronicle 83: 438. 1885;

"I had intended to leave the description of this plant to my friend, Mr. J. G. Baker, who has done so much to extend and correct our knowledge of this as of many other genera. But the flower which I purposed to send him unfortunately failed; and as blooms may also fail next season I have thought it best, with his approval, to describe the plant myself, while the image of it is still fresh on my mind.

The bulbs have reticulate coats, like those of I. reticulata and I. histrio, but are in shape a longer, more pointed oval, and those bulbs which proved flowering bulbs were smaller than flowering bulbs of I. reticulata. In colour they seemed to be not so silvery-white, but more distinctly a brownish hue.

A flowering bulb produces two leaves, each guarded at its base by two vaginal sheathes, the lower of which is colorless, the upper marked with faint green parallel veins. The leaf itself is about 1 foot or more long at full growth, 8 or 9 inches or less at flowering time, dark green, tetragonal, with concave sides and sharp angles, the inner side being the smallest, and the outer the largest; it is twisted once on itself in along spiral, and the ends in an opaque-white sharp point. One of the leaves is at flowering time 2 or 3 inches shorter than the other.

The bud appears between the above two leaves, guarded by a vaginal sheath, which is pointed and colorless, or marked near its apex with a few faint green lines only. The spathe valves, about 1 ½-2 inches long, are pointed and colorless, except for a few green veins in their upper part; one (the lower) is shorter than the other.Tube about 2 ½ inches, colorless, or faint yellowish-green, slightly constricted below the short perianth funnel.

Whole flower about 3 inches across, not fragrant. Fall, with narrow claw, suddenly enlarging into an ovate-lanceolate blade. In the middle line of the hinder part of the lamina is the crest, which, beginning as an even ridge, is contained along the whole length of the claw as a ridge thrown into transverse folds like a frill. The crest is yellow, except at the extreme point, which in some cases is white; over the frilled or folded part are numerous black or dark brown minute spots or dots. The claw is on its upper surface yellow, with a tinge of green, becoming a deeper yellow at the edges, but not so deep as that of the crest, and is marked with diverging lines lilac in colour; i.e., pale blue, with a slight tinge of red. The yellow colour of the claw spreads on to the lamina on either side of the crest, and then dies gradually away into white or cream-colored ground marked with lilac or lavender veins, which, diverging from the claw and crest, become broader and confluent at the edge of the lamina, so that the whole lamina seen at a little distance seems lavender or slaty blue in colour, and indeed might be described as lavender or lilac broken by diverging bands of creamy white. The under-surface of both claw and lamina is a greenish-yellow, marked by the veins shining through. The claw, which has a slight flange at its base, is placed at an angle of 45° with the prolonged axis of the tube, so that the flower is turbinate; the lamina is bent at about right angles to the claw.

The standards are small, erect, not connivent, with a small narrow, almost linear, lanceolate, lavender-colored blade, and a very slender completely canaliculate claw, yellow in color, with a tinge of brown, and marked with brownish-lavender lines. On the lamina a few faint diffuse veins of deeper hue are seen.

The style, shorter and broader than the claw of the fall, which it overlaps, is very concave from side to side, lavender-colored in the median portions, but becoming lighter on each side, and nearly white at the edge on both surfaces. It bears two pointed triangular crests one-and-a-half times or even twice as long as the style itself, divergent, with obscurely dentate or serrate edges, one crest overlapping the other at the base behind, the inner edge being continued as a ridge some way down the back of the style. Each crest is of a pale lavender color, marked by conspicuous divergent veins of a deeper hue. The stigmatic surface is bifid, and presents the form of two teeth of nearly white color. The anthers, with blueish light lavender pollen, are longer than their filaments, which are white and short, and are expanded and flattened at their base. The concave style and the concave claw of the fall present a narrow tunnel, in which, however, owing to the style being shorter than the fall, the anther cannot be seen unless the fall be pulled down.
The perianth segments unite into a short (two or three lines) perianth funnel, which is by a slight constriction continued into the thin cylindrical tube.

The ovary being completely buried underground was not seen at flowering time, but after fructification was in due time thrust up, and then appeared to be rounded-trigonal, with shallow grooves in the middle of each side, and at each angle.

The dimensions are as follows:-Fall: claw, 1 inch by 3/8 inch; lamina, 1 ¼ inch by ¾ inch. Standard: lamina, 7/8 inch by 3/8 inch; claw, 1 inch by 1/8 inch; style, ¾ inch by ¼ inch; crests, 1 inch or more by 5/16 inch; spathe valves, 2 ½ to 3 inches long; tube, 2 ½ inches long, or more, by 1/8 inch or more; leaves, 15 inches long by 1/8 inch or more broad.

The bulbs were kindly sent to me by Dr. Vartan, of the Medical Mission, Nazareth, under the idea that they were bulbs of I. histrio. The plant, however, differs from I. histrio, (1), in the bulbs being more pointed and of a longer, more slender oval form; (2), in the falls having a very narrow claw and a lanceolate lamina, whereas in I. histrio the claw is almost as broad as the lamina; (3), in the claw of the fall possessing an obvious crest, whereas in I. histrio the orange ridge or "signal" on the lamina of the fall sinks away on the claw into an inconspicuous bar, hardly visible without the help of a lens; (4), in the very long triangular pointed crests of the style, these in I. Histrio being shorter and more obtuse; (5), in color.
Indeed, this plant
Krel. 1892; 1913;
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, t. 6913-6972, vol. 113 [ser. 3, vol. 43]: t. 6942 (1887) [M. Smith]
For more about Reticulata Irises see Alan McMurtrie's website
Fos., Bulbous Irises 10., 61. 1892,
Van T. 1900; 1909; 1937; Barr 1905; Wal. 1913; 1928; Van W. 1912;
Dykes in The Genus Iris, 1913;

Rootstock , a bulb with netted coats, of a more pointed oval shape than those of I. reticulata and I. histrio.
Leaves , with four unequal sides and a colourless horny point, each bulb sending up two leaves of unequal length, of which the longer is 8-9 in. long at the flowering time, finally about 18 inches.
Stem , none or very short.
Spathe valves , 2½-3 in. long, white, thickly veined with green, narrow, not keeled.
Pedicel , very short at first, but afterwards growing and forcing the ripe capsule above the surface of the ground.
Ovary , cylindrical.
Tube , 2-3 in. long, slender, cylindrical, of a pale greenish yellow.
Falls , with a narrow cuneate haft and a lanceolate blade. The ground colour is white, closely covered with lavender or lilac veins, which become confluent near the margin. The median yellow ridge along the haft develops into a thin, low, yellow crest, which becomes wavy and almost tuberculate, and marked with blackish dots.
Standards . Blade narrowly lanceolate, with long canaliculate haft, of a dull slaty blue, with faint veins.
Styles , short, very convex, broader than the haft of the fall, of a slaty lavender colour.
Crests , longer than the styles and very narrow.
Stigma , bifid.
Filaments , white, expanding at the base.
Anthers , dark lavender, longer than the filaments.
Pollen , pale lavender, of the pointed double oval shape of that of I. reticulata.
Capsule , narrow, rounded trigonal, almost cylindrical.
Seeds , of the reticulata type.
Fragrance , very distinct, recalling that of almonds.

This Iris is perhaps hardly worthy of specific rank, and should probably be considered as a subspecies of I. histrio.

It is the earliest to flower of all the Reticulata Irises, and for this reason, perhaps, is the most difficult to cultivate. When the flowers appear, as they often do, before Christmas, the foliage has already attained some length and suffers sadly in severe weather. The consequence is that sound bulbs do not develop for the following year ; on the other hand, this early flowering habit makes it a desirable addition to our gardens, and it is all the more welcome for its strong almond fragrance.

A white and very floriferous form of this Iris has recently been introduced from Palestine. If grown in a pot in a cold frame, flowers are easily obtained even before Christmas. One specimen has appeared among those that I have grown with the blade of the fall dotted with bright blue, giving the flower an appearance not unlike that of the albopurpurea variety of I. laevigata (see Plate XVI II).
The Garden 90: 387. 10 July 1926, illustrated;
Hocker 1938; Amer. Col. 1939;


Christmas Iris; Iris vartani coerulea. ----

Chromosome counts

2n=20, Johnson & Brandham, 1997. ----


Cultivars of vartanii include 'White Pearl' ----



Distribution & Cultivation


Culture of Reticulata Group Irises

Quick Summary of Cultural Directions

Hardiness Zones 4-8 for most varieties, Some cultivars tolerate colder, others tolerate warmer zones (please comment in comment box with your location if this cultivar grows well in zone 3, 4, 9, or 10.)
Exposure Prefers full sun for optimal performance, may still bloom in half-day shade
Water: Prefers well drained good garden soil, Tolerant of dry conditions in established plants, Intolerant of swampy conditions.
PH Prefers Neutral to basic solis 6.1 to 8.5, quite toleranr of more extreme conditions
Fertilizer Prefers rich conditions on relatively inorganic soils.

-- BobPries - 2011-03-07

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-- BobPries - 2010-02-04
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
Iris-vartanii-11.jpgjpg Iris-vartanii-11.jpg manage 57 K 21 Jan 2015 - 13:59 BobPries Alexander Jeans photo
Iris-vartanii-21.jpgjpg Iris-vartanii-21.jpg manage 65 K 21 Jan 2015 - 13:57 BobPries Peter Taggart photo
Iris-vartanii-31.jpgjpg Iris-vartanii-31.jpg manage 97 K 21 Jan 2015 - 13:58 BobPries Ken Walker photo
bulbousirises00fost_0014.jpgjpg bulbousirises00fost_0014.jpg manage 61 K 13 Nov 2013 - 14:49 BobPries Biodiversity Heritage Library
vartanii.jpgjpg vartanii.jpg manage 110 K 02 Aug 2016 - 20:01 BobPries Curtis's Botanical Magazine
vartanii9.jpgjpg vartanii9.jpg manage 225 K 20 Apr 2022 - 18:18 TerryLaurin Photo by Kirsten
Topic revision: r13 - 20 Apr 2022, TerryLaurin
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