The Great Iris Dilemma

Well, I got my misty sunrise. The rain left everything soft and fresh.

But let me tell you the story of the irises.

I planted the irises in the rain in one of the beds that flanks the path to the "front door". I have two types of plants I think: one type is tall and slender, and the other is shorter and maybe wider at the base.

I thought I'd plant each type in a group, for more impact. Here's a blossom of possibly a parent of one of the baby irises, from just up the dirt road.

I built up the mound a bit more with the garden soil we bought and plopped them in, after loosening up their roots. They were not potbound, but the roots were beginning to coil round the bottom of the gallon pots, so I think they were ready.

Denise, who guides the CNPS propagation group for our chapter, keeps plants in smaller containers for quite a long time. She doesn't pot them on till their roots are really filling the pot. She says it seems to be true that you can't skip a stage, that is, go straight from seedling to gallon pot. I wonder why it should be so, that plants that are upsized but not by a lot seem to do well compared to babies planted in large containers and left to grow into them. The propagator from Yerba Buena nursery said the same thing.

The irises have been living on my deck in gallon pots for quite a while, getting regular water. I propagated them from local seed. I was surprised when they came up.

"I wonder how they'll adapt to their new environment," I wondered, happy and proud.

Next Morning:
Oh, No! All the short type totally munched. Down to one inch of the ground.

Why didn't I protect them? I know better! Any baby plant is vulnerable.

Five little stumps. But here's how the other ones did:


And here's how they looked ten minutes after the moment of discovery:

Of course it may not be enough. Deer could reach right in even if rabbits don't squirm under.

I kept backup plant of each type:

Maybe someone can tell me what the short squat one on the left is.

I'm pretty sure of the tall ones. At first, I thought they were all Iris douglasiana, but Ellen the botanist thought they might be Iris fernaldii, and I think she's right. The blossoms are long and slender. And the habitat where I collected the seed certainly fits the description for Fernald's iris:
"Wine country iris" would be equally appropriate, since its distribution coincides with the best wine producing regions in the coastal ranges of central California. [And] a clear habitat preference for rich humus soil in shady forests are typical fernaldii traits..
The parent plants of the ones I planted today were growing in fairly high or dappled shade, near a dirt road, and near a winery. Both kinds of iris have creamy variants, and the parent flowers were all creamy. Here's another of our local wild blooms:

Douglas iris is very coastal -- I didn't know that. It grows in exposed coastal habitats. Not woodland habitats at all. Douglas iris is actually considered to be an agricultural weed. Its blossom is usually an intense deep bluish violet color with sometimes striking yellow markings. I love them and have a bed of them right across from the new guys. Here's how they looked this spring (they were late this year - April I think).

Douglas iris is a main part of the mix that goes by the name Pacific Coast Hybrids. The hybrids are larger and more colorful, and they sell well at the native plant sales. I think they are hybrids of native coastal iris species, so they are natives, but nursery bred ones. I think these are hybrids but am not sure. The native douglas iris can occur in lavender and creamy colors too I believe:

And here is a beautiful garden arrangement from the Fleming garden in Berkeley, open once a year during the native plant tour up there. Town mouse and I went this spring.

It inspires me to think about what else to plant with the irises in my front bed.

Native pure or garden nurtured, they have an organization: Society for the Pacific Coast Native Iris.

Hm. This page says that Fernald's iris can interbreed with Douglas iris. Now I am in a dilemma: I have well established Douglas iris in the bed next door! So what should I do - if I dig them up and transplant them farther off would it make any difference? How far does a bee fly?

But I really want to grow more of these local iris and be able to offer them to others.

Hmmm indeed. Douglas iris, anyone? It's a wonderful time of the year to divide and plant them.

At any rate, when the 'Dark Star' ceanothus is covered with intense blue blossoms in early spring, I hope there will also be creamy yellow iris blossoms to offer a pleasant contrast.


Barbara said…
I enjoyed your post about irises. Didn't know there were native California ones. I have something at least similar-looking to your Iris douglasiana, and it proliferates like crazy, taking over whole corners of the garden. It looks beautiful in combination with ferns imho.
Brent said…
"Douglas iris is actually considered to be an agricultural weed."

I think that this classification is due to the influence of cattlemens' associations, since useful public grazing lands can be overcome with iris, which is not a good grazing plant. The irony is that Doug iris would have less advantage over grasses if the meadows were less disturbed.
Christine said…
Your fernaldii looks exactly like the one Clare gave me from her part of the Santa Cruz Mtns. So pretty, like big butterflies hovering over the foliage. As for the distance that bees fly... I've heard 3 miles is not unusual for European honeybees. However, I can't think of a time I've seen a bee on an Iris. Who pollinates those, I wonder?
I'm not sure about the 'strictly coastal' designation for Douglas Iris. In fact it does grow in OPEN woodland areas. There's quite a lot I. douglasiana in Glenwood north of us, and it's reportedly found in Big Basin, and as far inland as Gilroy. I agree with Christine, your blooming Iris looks more like the Iris fernaldii we have here:

I do hope you can keep the deer at bay though, they don't seem to touch the mature plants here, but there is evidence of nibbling on the younger ones.

When I found out they cross with Douglas Iris though, I made a rule that no Douglas Iris will ever be intentionally planted here. The fernald's iris grow wild here, and I'd hate to lose them to outcrossing. By that's just my personal preference. It's always hard to avoid picking up Douglas iris at plant sale though, but I'm strong-willed :P

There's an abstract here regarding pollination of Iris douglasiana:

Its seems that Bumble Bees (Bombus genus) do visit them. Next time I'm on campus I might see if I can get to the rest of the article!
Susan Krzywicki said…
Love your sense of humor re: the after-fence!
Town Mouse said…
Oh, those deer! I'm sorry to hear they were at it again. I also must disagree with what you read: I see Douglas Iris a lot during my hikes in Wunderlich and other County parks along the bay. In woodland.

As for planting them or not, that question just makes my little mouse-head hurt ;-> If you didn't have a lot of neighbors, the answer would be easy. But with those in place, I really don't know.

Thanks, though, for the lovely pictures of morning mist and irises...
Country Mouse said…
Thanks for your comments - I wonder what your iris are there in Germany, Barbara. Are there a lot of wild natives? I think Germany may have more unspoiled land than the UK for wild plants to survive in. Interesting comment about land management and iris there, Brent. I read about bumblebees pollinating the iris, I'll have to pay closer attention this year, Christine, and other bees are reported in that abstract CVF pointed us to. Thanks for the pointer to your post, CVF - as usual, detailed and wonderful. Clearly douglas Iris do occur inland from the coast too - but their occurring in open areas of the coast means I could feel more comfortable putting them in the open more instead of shadier locations. If I grow them. I don't think neighbors are growing them, but I don't know. I could ask. Clearly those shorter squatter irises are something else. I hope I can get at least one to grow to maturity and see.
ryan said…
Your short iris looks like young doug iris to me. When I grew them from seed they started out short and squat like the ones in your photo. They cross with fernaldii naturally in the wild. Whether that means it's a good thing to have happen in your garden, I don't know.
Randy Emmitt said…
Oh my these are so nice. Got me wanting for spring already! Thinking of our woodland Dwarf Crested Irises blooming by the hundreds. We never have problems with deer eating ours wild in the woods they do just fine. Enjoyed this post!!
Very nice post, I love irises of all types. I had no idea they would be classified as an agricultural weed, though. But I can see how they might get that honor.

I planted wild irises in my prairie garden: Iris fulva (a bronzy red), Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag) and Iris versicolor (blue flag). They are all doing extremely well and exhibiting a penchant for becoming empire builders. Fortunately, I have put them somewhere where they don't get "too much" water, which seems to keep them in bounds.
Brad said…
The first iris in your post is really beautiful. I've seen doug irises here in the East Bay, but we are technically part of the Central CA coastal area. Gilroy I'm pretty sure is not. I definitely have seen a ton of them in Pt. Reyes in the spring. They seem to do much better there than here.

I went by my old place and was happy to see at least one of the iris is still alive and happy, which I worried about because it was so exposed, but now I see that's not a problem.
ebw-pete said…
do you have rabbits in your yard? i'd guess that rabbits would nibble the young ones before deer would. irises are VERY deerproof in my experience - even young ones. those do look like iris fernaldii to me. it's often very difficult to tell i. douglasiana from pac coast hybrids. doug irises grow in woodland areas here in the east bay - not usually in grasslands - too hot/dry i think. beautiful misty mountaintop photo!
Genevieve said…
As to the issue of why plants prefer to be potted up in stages, I wrote about this some time ago:

It's an issue of the roots not being able to soak up all the water in a larger pot, and surface tension not allowing full drainage, so the plant battles bacteria and fungal issues in the pot if transplanted into something too big.