Do You Know What These Iris Terms Mean?

The “Language of Flowers” is a sentimental phrase that crops up here and there, often to promote Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. However, apart from sentiment or promotion is the distinct vocabulary used by fanciers or specialists for a particular flower like the Iris.

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Iris Popular Garden Favorites

Because the Iris is one of the most popular garden favorites, the esoteric language used by those in the know has provoked both interest and curiosity among beginners. 

In learning the language of Iris, one does not merely acquire a strange vocabulary. But, one becomes familiar with iris terms that increase appreciation for this exquisite flower.

It is a simple matter to remember:

  • The standards of the iris are the three petals that are erect or stand up.
  • The falls are the three petals that hang down or fall. 
  • The crest means the tips of the style branches in the center of the flower. These carry the stigmatic lip which receives the pollen. 
  • The haft, or shoulder, is the area across the falls near the center of the flower. On the haft, one often sees reticulations. Thin pencil-like markings hybridizers have been trying to eliminate. The narrow haft has seen its day; now it must be broad as well as “clean” to rate with the experts.

A seedling is, of course, a baby plant grown from seed, but it has a special meaning for the iris hybridizer. 

Each year a breeder crosses or “marries” many iris couples that promise to produce desirable progeny.  

In the fall, they plant the seeds produced by the fertile pairs, then wait and dream of the beautiful children they hope will come. Then, in two or three years, these plants grow to maturity and bloom. The hybridizer then sees for the first time the results of their crosses. 

If there are exceptional blooms among these many plants, they give the plant a number – they are then numbered seedlings – and continue to observe them. 

If finally, the plants fulfill all the exacting standards of the hybridizer, they may name one or two of these numbered seedlings and introduce them into the market as named varieties

In short, to a hybridizer, a seedling, even when it is a mature plant, remains a seedling as long as it is on trial or until it is officially in the market.

Bearded Iris Group Classifications 

The bearded iris group is divided into a number of classifications with respect to general color types. 

  • A self is a pure color, with both standards and falls of the same color. 
  • A bitone is one in which the standards and falls are of the same color, but the falls are deeper and more velvety. 
  • An amoema is a bicolor (standards and falls of different colors) with standards white and falls colored – a present either purple or maroon. An interesting development was the yellow amoena, with white standards and yellow falls. 
  • A neglecta is very much like an amoena, except that the standards are slightly tinted lavender while the falls are velvety purple. 
  • A variegata has yellow standards, and reddish maroon falls. 
  • A blend is what the name suggests: a Blend or suffusion of muted colors. 
  • However, a variegate blend has quite a bit of contrast between the standards and falls and is reddish in tone. 
  • A plicata has a light ground color and is sanded or stitched with a darker color. 

The American Iris Society set up the classification for dwarf, intermediate, and tall bearded iris. Now iris are:

  • Dwarf when their height is up to 15″ inches
  • Intermediate, from 15″ inches to 28″ inches
  • Tall bearded, 28″ inches and above

What Is A Beard of a Bearded Iris?

The beard of the Iris resembles a fuzzy caterpillar and is found at the center of the falls. 

The “beard” was supposedly intended by nature to catch pollen carried on the body of insects so that, when the flower closed as it faded, the pollen would be rubbed against the stigma. 

However, the beard is almost entirely decorative. For a while, occasionally, there are bee crosses. Most hybridizers do not plant the seeds from them because bees are not discriminating in their choice of parents. 

Beards in the iris are in the category of hairy decoration in men, possibly an adjunct to vanity! It may be borne in mind, then, that a “blue beard” in an iris is hardly a description of a predatory or dangerous male but merely one more achievement for the hybridizer. 

The tangerine beard doesn’t reflect a beautician’s discovery but is a decorative conceit painstakingly sought and achieved by design and hard work on the part of the hybridizer.

Aims Of Breeders and Hybridizers

While we are on the subject of the aims of the hybridizers, we might caution the reader that a dog has no connection with the canine world to a hybridizer. It merely refers to an undesirable seedling that merits only the consideration of the compost pile. 

Another canine allusion, a thoroughly deprecatory one, is dog-eared. This simply means that the falls droop, floppy, incurved, or recurved, and probably pinched at the haft, failings. 

Now the falls must flare or resemble the skirts of a skater in an arrested pirouette. The lower the plant, the more horizontal the flare should be. 

If a plant is tall, the falls should hang down somewhat; otherwise, one would see very little petal surface at eye level. Iris fashion decrees that while a good tailored flower is all right, the standards and falls should have a more feminine aspect to be truly a la mode. They should be ruffled and wavy. Sometimes nowadays, one even finds fluted or crinkled edges.

To be equally decried with floppy falls are flat, open standards. Although the standards may be domed or conic in shape, the “right” iris have standards that touch each other at the top. Some indulgence is permitted, however, provided the standards are firm even if a little open.

by FW Cassebeer