The 48-Chromosome Bearded Irises

distribution of Iris aphylla, Iris reichenbachii, and Iris schachtiiIris 'My Fantasy'This family is the largest and most developed of any of the bearded and aril irises. It includes the immensely popular modern tall bearded iris, as well as border bearded irises and some MTBs and IBs.

Originally, the tall bearded irises grown in Europe were diploids with 24 chromosomes, mostly hybrids of Iris pallida and I. variegata. In the early decades of the 20th century, breeders combined these diploid varieties with tetraploid species from the eastern Mediterranean. The result was the eventual conversion of the diploid tall beardeds to tetraploids. All the original color patterns were present in the new tetraploids, and novel patterns emerged as well: the tangerine bearded pinks, the luminatas, the dominant bicolors. The tetraploid plants were thus not only larger and more dramatic, but more varied as well.

The creation of the modern tall beardeds also paved the way for the fertile families of medians (standard dwarf bearded) and arilbreds (C. G. White type halfbreds).

The dwarf species I. reichenbachii has both diploid and tetraploid forms (the latter often identified as I. balkana), and the tetraploids belong to this family, as does the copiously branched median species I. aphylla. These species thus have the potential of extending the fertile family of the TBs and BBs to include smaller medians and even dwarfs. I. aphylla is in the background of the black and dark violet TBs from Schreiner and Cook lines. I. reichenbachii was used by Paul Cook to produce the intermediate 'Progenitor', which introduced the dominant bicolor pattern into the TBs, resulting in the modern amoenas, variegatas, and neglectas. Similarly, Joseph Ghio used I. balkana to breed some subtly colored bitones and bicolors. In these cases, bringing the novel color pattern into the TBs was the objective, not breeding smaller tetraploids.

The latter goal was taken up by Ben Hager, who used I. aphylla to create a line of tetraploid MTBs. (Most MTBs are diploid, descendants of the original diploid TBs.) He was thus able to bring some of the color patterns of the tetraploids (notably tangerine pink) into the MTB class. This work was carried on by Jim and Vicki Craig, who have produced increasingly lovely tetraploid MTBs, IBs, and BBs, and even two tetraploid SDBs, 'Arrival' and 'Slick Trick'. The aphylla-based median lines now have established their place among garden irises.

Presently, I. aphylla features in Paul Black's work with small-flowered TBs and nontraditional median types.

What more remains to be done, aside from the continual quest for new and improved varieties? The main area where I see room for expansion in this family is in its smallest members. The potential of I. reichenbachii / I. balkana to produce SDBs or even MDBs that are fully fertile with modern TBs and BBs has not yet been tapped. Unfortunately, the known tetraploid forms (such as the clone Balkana Darby) have become very difficult to locate. The yellow I. reichenbachii is somewhat more available both as plants and as seed, and some plants may be tetraploid. I have made it a priority to find and preserve a tetraploid form of this species. (See my notes on I. sp. aff. reichenbachii ex Vardar Gorge, Macedonia.) In the meantime, it is possible that crossing the diploid forms - as well as other 24-chromosome diploids such as I. suaveolens (mellita) - with tetraploids might produce a tetraploid seedling or two from an unreduced gamete.

The small Turkish species I. schachtii is also a 48-chromosome tetraploid and will be useful for breeding in this family. The somewhat larger species Ii. junonia and purpureobractea may also be of value.

I've compiled a listing of 48-chromosome medians that may be of use in building a collection of these irises.

 

Hall of Fame

Snow Flurry (Clara Rees, R. 1939). TB. EM, 48", Pure, frilled and ruffled icy white with a faint blue cast; orange blossom fragrance. Purissima x Thais. AM 1941.

I have chosen 'Snow Flurry' as the poster child for the work of early 20th-century breeders in creating the modern fertile family of tetraploid TBs. Most irisarians know the story of how Clara B. Rees's cross of the white tetraploid Purissima with the orchid diploid Thais produced a pod with a single viable seed. The seedling, 'Snow Flurry', was a breakthrough in form, color, and substance, and appears in the parentage of a great many modern irises, especially whites and blues.

Progenitor (P. Cook, R. 1951) Sdlg. 1346. IB, 15" (38 cm), E Light yellow and light violet bicolor. Yellow I. reichenbachii x Shining Waters.

This unspectacular little iris (barely IB height) revolutionized TB iris breeding by introducing the dominant bicolor pattern, as seen in its famous descendants 'Whole Cloth' and 'Melodrama'. This stands as an example of how introducing new species into the gene pool of a fertile family can have far-reaching affects that are not obvious when the initial crosses are made.

New Idea (Ben Hager, R. 1970). Seedling MTB2009A . MTB, height 26" (66 cm), Early Mid bloom season. Rosy mulberry self; yellow beard. A668A : ('June Bride' x Iris aphylla 'Thisbe') X M1381A : ('Frenchi' x 'Pagoda'). Melrose Gardens 1970. WWA 1976.

Although 'New Idea' was not the first tetraploid MTB to be introduced from Ben Hager's I. aphylla breeding program, it was the first to receive wide-spread acclaim, receiving the Williamson-White Award in 1976. Not only did Hager succeed in producing MTBs that were fertile with TBs and BBs and showed the improved branching bestowed by I. aphylla, he also demonstrated that this unprecedented breeding approach could produce irises that met the highest quality standards of the class.

Puppy Love (Ben Hager, R. 1979). Seedling AMT3152Pk . MTB, height 19" (48 cm), Early Mid bloom season. Pink self; pale tangerine beard. (('New Idea' x (('Norah' x Iris aphylla 'Thisbe') x sibling)) x (((('Norah' x 'Thisbe') x sibling) x ('Frenchi' x 'Pagoda')) x sibling)) X (((('Seventh Heaven' x unknown) x ('Frenchi' x 'Pagoda')) x (('Norah' x 'Thisbe') x sibling)) x (((('Norah' x 'Thisbe') x sibling) x ('Frenchi' x 'Pagoda')) x (('Norah' x 'Thisbe') x sibling))). Melrose Gardens 1980.

Another Hager tetraploid MTB, 'Puppy Love' brought the tangerine pink genes into the MTB class. (Traditional MTBs are diploid, and the tangerine factor has never shown itself at the diploid level.) Note the complicated line breeding involved in the parentage. This would only be possible in a fertile family. This is thus another fine example of how using the fertile family approach to breeding can dramatically expand the possibilities in a given class of iris.

 

 Gallery

Iris reichenbachii
Iris schachtii
Iris aphylla
Iris reichenbachii
Iris aphylla 'Ahburg'
(Chacellor/Rust, R. 2013)
Iris aphylla 'Slick'
(L. Markham, 2003)

'Saucy' (Craig, 1998)
tetraploid IB from aphylla breeding
'Gypsy Lord'
(Keppel, 2006) TB
'Butterscotch Blush'
(Miller, 2009) BB
'Maidenhood' (Craig, 2008)
tetraploid MTB
 from aphylla breeding
'Oops'
(Craig, 2003) BB
'Say Red' (Craig, 2008)
tetraploid MTB
 from aphylla breeding
I. junonia T011-01
'Tic Tac Toe'(Johnson, 2010)
MTB
from aphylla breeding
I. reichenbachii T008-01

Plant List

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

I. aphylla

Arrowhead Alpines

2010

I. aphylla small form

Arrowhead Alpines

2010

I. aphylla Ahlberg

Cindy Rust

2011

I. aphylla fieberi

Cindy Rust

2011

I. aphylla Witt V-4

Cindy Rust

2011

I. aphylla Slick

Cindy Rust

2011

I. babadagica

Wrightman Alpines

2013

ploidy unknown

I. babadagica blue

Janis Rukšans

2012

ploidy unknown

I. babadagica white

Janis Rukšans

2012

ploidy unknown

I. reichenbachii

Odyssey Bulbs

2013

probably tetraploid

I. schachtii

Wrightman Alpines

2011, 2016

I. schachtii

Janis Rukšans

2012

Are You Crazy

Mid-America Garden

2012

Brazilian Art

Superstition Iris Gardens

2014

Brown Lasso

Superstition Iris Gardens

2012

Bundle of Love

Mid-America Garden

2012

Butterscotch Blush

Long's Gardens

2010

Date with Destiny

Mid-America Garden

2012

Devil's Waltz

Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden

2016

East Hampton

Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden

2016

Endless Treasure

Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden

2016

Fire and Ice

Mid-America Garden

2013

Got Milk

Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden

2014

Gypsy Lord

Mid-America Garden

2011

Ink Patterns

Mid-America Garden

2012

Lady of the Night

Mid-America Garden

2011

Maidenhood

Wildwood Gardens

2011

Montmartre

Superstition Iris Gardens

2013

Night Mood

Mid-America Garden

2012

No Regrets

Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden

2016

Penguin Party

Mid-America Garden

2012

Saucy

Wildwood Gardens

2011

See My Etchings

Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden

2016

Silver Ice

Mid-America Garden

2015

Sprint

Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden

2014

Sultry Dreams

Wildwood Gardens

2011

Tic Tac Toe

Mid-America Garden

2013

Wine Dark Sea

Stout Gardens

2014

chromosome configuration uncertain

I. aphylla polonica T003-01

from rareplants.eu seed

T006-01

Slick X I. aphylla bohemica

from MIS seed

T007-02

Slick X I. aphylla Witt V-4

from MIS seed

I. reichenbachii T008-01

from Jurášek seed

I. reichenbachii T009-01

from Jurášek seed

I. reichenbachii T009-02

from Jurášek seed

I. reichenbachii T009-03

from Jurášek seed

I. reichenbachii T009-04

from Jurášek seed

I. junonia T011-01

ex Antalya, Turkey, from Archibald 590.100 seed

I. reichenbachii T013-01

ex Kevala, Greece, from Archibald 595.406 seed

I. schachtii T014-01

ex Malatya, Turkey, from Archibald seed

I. schachtii T014-02

ex Malatya, Turkey, from Archibald seed

 Illustration: 'My Fantasy' (J. & V. Craig '05) a tetraploid IB from I. aphylla 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.