Gorgeous Irises on Show

A photo of a new iris caught my eye. I learned it is the recent accomplishment of a local iris hybridizer, Jim Cummins, who is a stalwart of the Monterey Bay Iris Society and long-time friend.

Cummins’ Iris Seedling

The iris is so new it doesn’t even have a name; it’s referred to only as “Seedling 14-21-C, TB”, indicating that it is a Tall Bearded Iris. The numbers suggest that this is one of a large number of seedlings.

Hybridizing irises involves a process that is essentially the same in hybridizing other plants. First, the hybridizer selects two plants that have desirable characteristics that would be good to combine in one plant. Characteristics might relate to flower form, height, plant vigor, color, beards, ruffles, or ability to re-bloom, i.e., produce a second flush of bloom.

The hybridizer then transfers pollen from the three anthers of one plant, the pollen parent, to the three stigmas of the other plant, the pod parent. These can be called the ”father” and “mother” plants if preferred. Some hybridizers will transfer pollen with a cotton swab, paintbrush, pencil or knife; others will use tweezers to actually remove the anther and bring it to the stigma. This simple process can be seen on YouTube demonstrations.

Detailed record keeping is important so that the parents of an exceptional new plant will be known.

Then, assuming fertilization is successful, the pod parent produces a seedpod. When it matures, the hybridizer harvests and plants the seeds, and waits to see what results.

Even a little familiarity with genetics suggests that this process is chancy. The progeny might be exactly what the hybridizer intended, or any of a wide range of other outcomes that are more or less successful. The hybridizer might propagate the best results, register a name with the American Iris Society, and introduce the plant into the commercial market.

The Cummins seedling 14-21-C, TB has noteworthy parents, ’Luxuriant Lothario’ and ‘That’s All Folks’.

Barry Blyth registered ‘Luxuriant Lothario’ in 2008. His description includes these comments: “Bright and showy for sure. Standards are buff apricot with a slight violet flush at midrib. Falls are bright lilac with a well-defined 3/8″ edge of tan to tan violet. Beards are muted burnt tangerine. Ruffled and waved petals.”

In 2005, William Maryott registered ‘That’s All Folks’, his last introduction before retiring. This plant has been described as follows: “Midseason bloom. Standards brilliant gold; falls white with gold blending to a wide muted gold band; beards gold. Honorable Mention 2007; Award of Merit 2009; Wister Medal 2011; American Dykes Medal 2013.” Local hybridizer Joe Ghio reportedly bred this plant and registered a sibling named ‘Pure and Simple’ in 2005.

‘That’s All Folks’ is a favorite of mine; I am developing a swath of its brilliantly colored blossoms, and planning a companion planting of an appropriate blossom color.

A large group of gardeners is hybridizing irises, and gorgeous cultivars by the thousands are available. A fine time to see some of the newest and best is at the annual Iris Show presented by the Monterey Bay Iris Society. This year’s Show will be at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center Street, Santa Cruz, on April 28th and 29th. The public is invited to attend the show from 1:00 –6:00 p.m. on Saturday, and from 10:00 – 5:00 on Sunday.

The Show offers an ideal occasion to see some of the finest flowers grown by local gardeners, and to make notes on plants to add to your own garden. Opportunities to purchase your favored plants will be at the Society’s annual sale of iris rhizomes on August 4th at August 4 at Deer Park Shopping Center in Aptos and on August 11 at the Cabrillo Farmers Market.

Choose your favorite irises now, shop in August, and plant in September.

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