Iris pumila

Iris 'Hobbit'distribution of Iris pumilaThe 32-chromosome tetraploid bearded irises are all members of a single species, I. pumila (unless one regards the similar I. taurica and I. alexeenkoi as distinct). This is among the smallest of all bearded irises, with blooms held only a few inches above the ground, stemless or nearly so. Its range in nature is centered on the Ukraine, extending westward to Austria, and southeastward through Russia to the Caucasus. It has many color forms, from blue and purple through yellow, cream, and white, usually with a contrasting spot on the falls. Crosses between I. pumila and tall bearded irises gave rise to the modern standard dwarfs, and thus indirectly to most modern IBs and MDBs. The genetic contribution of the species to the dwarf and median irises of today has been enormous.

It is reportedly endangered, at least in the western part of its range. Certainly plants have become more difficult to obtain commercially, and the many dozens of collected clones available to breeders in the 1960s have dwindled to just a few. Fortunately, a number of named varieties have been introduced over the years from pure I. pumila breeding, and several of these are still available. Seed collection from a number of localities has also helped increase the range of available forms.

Since there are no other species to expand the gene pool of this family (the diploids I. attica and I. pseudopumila are ancestors of I. pumila, and so presumably carry very similar genes), it is unlikely that further breeding will expand the range of characteristics seen in the plants. Nevertheless, it is important to keep a range of garden pumilas available, both to preserve the species itself, and to use for new lines of breeding, such as the expansion of the arilpum family. Growing forms from wild-collected seed from diverse locales is important in maintaining the diversity of the species in cultivation. My own priority with this species is to collect as many varieties as I can, and raise pumila seedlings that I can use in breeding and to make plants and seeds available to other growers and hybridizers.

I've compiled a listing of Iris pumila cultivars that may be of use in building a collection of pumilas.

 

Hall of Fame

Carpathia (R. Schreiner). MDB, height 4" (10 cm), Early bloomseason. Standards full yellow; falls yellow-brown, edged lighter yellow. A Transylvanian (Rumanian) form of I. pumila from collected seed. Schreiner's.

Nana (R. Schreiner). MDB, 4" (10 cm), E. red-violet blend; darker spots on F.; bluish beards. A Crimean (Ukrainian) form of I. pumila from collected seed. Schreiner's.

Sulina (R. Schreiner, unregistered). MDB, Height 4" (10 cm), Early bloom season. Deep violet-blue; darker spots on falls.; blue beards. A Rumanian form of I. pumila from collected seed. Schreiner's.

This trio of pumilas from collected seed ushered in the modern era of median breeding. Each had its own distinctive qualities that contributed to the range of variety in the early SDBs. Along with Paul Cook's pumila seedling 1546, these cultivars are behind the ancestry of most modern SDBs, MDBs, and IBs.

Cretica (Atchley by A.I.S. Directors, R. 1952). MDB, height 4" (10 cm), Early bloomseason. Smoky pinkish red-purple; darker spots on falls; lavender beards. A form of I. pumila found in Crete, 1929.

This iris is quite a mystery, since I. pumila is not otherwise reported to exist on the island of Crete. Whatever the source of this clone, its impact on median breeding has been enormous. 'Cretica', unlike other forms of I. pumila, does not seem to impede the expression of recessive TB colors and patterns, such as tangerine pink and plicata. Thus the variety of the modern medians owes a great deal to its influence.

Little Drummer Boy (A. & D. Willott, R. 1997). Sdlg. W 94-49. MDB, 4" (10 cm), E. Lightly ruffled white, large violet F. spot; beards cream. W 91-85: (Pittance x W 79-13: (Greenlee GX-2: ((White Mite x self) x (I. pumila alba x Hanselmayer)) x Buttons)) X W 92-6: (Kuban pumila #205 x Daring Eyes). Caparne-Welch Medal 2005. Willott 1997.

This MDB from pure I. pumila breeding won the Caparne-Welch Medal in 2005, proving that the potential of the species to produce superior garden varieties is not exhausted. I cannot think of any other case (outside the SPEC classification) where a selected variety of an iris species has secured the top award for a horticultural class.

 

Gallery

 

Iris pumila aequiloba

Iris pumila

Iris pumila "clausii"

Iris pumila
Iris pumila yellow/brown
Iris pumila Hildebrandt (SIGNA) 04A004
P002-05
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
P002-04
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
Iris pumila taurica
I. pumila 'Wild Whispers' (Coleman, 2012)
I. pumila 'Steppe' (J. Burton, 2010)
Iris pumila 'Royal Wonder' (Coleman, 2013)
P002-01
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
P002-03
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
P002-06
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
P002-02
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
P002-04
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
P002-05
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
P003-01
Iris pumila "taurica blue"
'Little Drummer Boy'
(Willott, 1997)
'Keystone Oracle'
(Jesberger, 2011)
P002-13
Iris pumila ex Sevan Lake, Armenia
'Sudden Butterflies'
(Jensen)
P018-02
I. pumila taurica ex Caucasus

Plant List

The list below shows the name of each plant I currently grow, the source, and the year acquired.

I. pumila

Wild Ginger Farm

2011

Iris pumila aequiloba

Wrightman Alpines

2016

Iris pumila Blazek #4

Elm Jensen

2014

Iris pumila "Clausii"

Wrightman Alpines

2016

Iris pumila Moravia

Wrightman Alpines

2016

I. pumila taurica

Wrightman Alpines

2011

I. pumila yellow/brown

Beaver Creek Greenhouses

2010

Hidden Dragon

2013

Hobbit

Mid-America Garden

2014

Keystone Oracle

Sherry Jesberger

2013

Little Drummer Boy

Carol Coleman

2014

Royal Wonder

Carol Coleman

2013

Steppe

Carol Coleman

2012

Sudden Butterflies

Elm Jensen

2014

Wild Whispers

Carol Coleman

2012

Hildebrant (SIGNA) 04A004

Hildebrandt's

2011

P002-01

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-02

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-03

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-04

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-05

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-06

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-07

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-13

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

P002-14

ex Armenia, from Jurášek seed

taurica P003-01

from Jurášek seed

P011-02

"clausii" X aequiloba

taurica P018-01

ex Balkaria, Caucasus, from Holubec seed

taurica P018-02

ex Balkaria, Caucasus, from Holubec seed

Illustration: 'Hobbit' (Miller '04): an MDB from pure I. pumila breeding.

Tom Waters

September 2010

updated October 2016

Return to Telperion Oasis

Unless otherwise noted, all text and illustrations copyright Tom Waters and all photographs copyright Tom or Karen Waters. Please do not reproduce without permission.