About Iris unguicularis
is still often found listed erroneously as Iris
. Many people grow it but it is not often offered in the trade.
is one of the gems of the genus iris because of it's
bloom time. It often starts to bloom in October and blooms through March
or even into April. When the temperature dips into the single digit
range the flowers and buds will all freeze solid then turn to mush when
they thaw. However within a week, if the weather warms above freezing,
the plant will send up more buds and again be in full bloom.
Like many other species, taxonomists cannot agree on the status of the
different forms of I. unguicularis
. To us as gardeners it really doesn't
matter as long as we know there are three very distinct types of plants
in the unguicularis group.
itself is quite variable. The leaves range from 1/4"
to 1/2" in width and are generally about 15" long. They are sometimes
ribbed and may vary from a bright green color to almost grey blue. The
leaves are very tough and as a general rule the narrower leafed forms
are more bluish and leathery while the wider leafed forms are more green
and succulent. The flowers on I. unguicularis
are mostly in shades of
lavender but vary from pure white to deep purple and there is even a
clear pink form. In the typical form the standards are lavender with
brownish spotted hafts. The falls are lavender with a large white area
on the upper part that is heavily striped with lavender. There is also a
yellow signal stripe on the falls. The flowers are sweetly scented and
though they do not have a stem they have a very long perianth tube so
they can be used for cut flowers. Since they have almost no stem if you
are looking for seed you must search among the leaf bases almost
underground to find the pods.
is a plant of the dry Mediterranean climate. It is a
bit tender and resents heavy frost. I have grown it in a protected spot
out doors for about ten years. One year when the temperature dropped to
0° F. the foliage was completely burned to the ground, but later it
again started to bloom and in the spring grew new foliage. The whole
freezing episode did not really harm the plant, only made it unsightly
for a while. I. unguicularis
requires a good baking in the hot summer
sun. In the Puget Sound area the usual suggestion is to plant I.
against your foundation on the south side of the house. It
will then get very hot in the summer and stay quite dry and will also
get a bit of lime leaching from the concrete foundation to provide the
neutral to slightly alkaline soil it prefers. Do not let I. unguicularis
dry out completely, it needs a bit of dampness under ground within reach
of it's roots. I water once or twice during the summer if we have no
rain but never when the sun is on the plants. Iris unguicularis
seem to need a lot of fertilizer. A light application of 5-10-10 in the
fall and again in the spring after bloom is all it will need. The
biggest problem you will encounter is slugs, they love having flower
salad in the middle of winter. You may never see the flowers of I.
unless you are diligent about baiting for slugs. It is well
worth a little effort to have iris in bloom all winter.
There are several named clones of I. unguicularis
to be found in
collectors gardens. 'Mary Barnard' is one of the best in a dark reddish
purple. It is a very strong grower that always looks like it will bloom
itself to death. 'Walter Butt' is just the opposite, neither growing
very well or blooming heavily but it's very large pale silver orchid
flowers make it worth the effort to give it a little extra care. There
is a pure white form known as 'Alba' which has given rise to some white
seedlings. 'Alba' and all it's seedlings being fairly narrow in form.
There are several pink forms the most commonly encountered being 'Starkers
Pink' which also is a rather weak grower. There are more and better
forms but most have not been imported into this country. The field is
wide open to a hybridizer with a bit of creativity.
is considered by some to be a separate species and by
others to be a small variety of I. unguicularis
. It is a tiny plant
found on Crete as the name implies. The leaves are only about 1/8" wide
and about 6" to 7" long. The tiny flowers which bloom from January to
April are in proportion to the leaves. The blade of the fall is almost
entirely covered by the purple and white striped area with only the tip
of the blade being a solid color. The signal stripe on the fall is
orange and the standards are lavender. This tiny plant is not easy to
grow or flower as it seems to be more tender than it's larger relations.
It probably does not get enough heat in the Puget Sound area to bloom
well. I cretensis
also seems to need a more alkaline soil than the
larger I. unguicularis
. There is a pure white form of I. cretensis
is truly a collectors item.
is the third member of this group. This is a very large
robust plant with leaves up to 1" wide and 20" or more long. The flowers
are very similar to the typical Algerian form of I. unguicularis
. I have
not heard of any other color forms of Iris lazica
. This plant comes from
the area around the Black Sea and is much more content in our climate.
It will even tolerate some shade although I grow and bloom it well in
the same bed with all the other forms of I. unguicularis
. I. lazica
blooms later than I. unguicularis
, not starting into bloom until January
or February and blooming through April. Brian Matthew states that he has
never seen a form of I. lazica
with a stem but has heard that it
sometimes has a stem. The form I am growing has a 6" stem that is
sometimes even branched but has a much shorter perianth tube. I. lazica
does not have the sweet scent that I. unguicularis
All of the plants in this group are well worth growing. Some are more
showy than others but their bloom period makes all of them desirable. I
would hope that they will all become more available in the trade. The
KCIS beardless sale usually has some of them to offer. The only other
sources of Iris unguicularis
are the seed exchanges such as the
Submitted by Carla Lankow for the KCIS Newsletter, November 1997