Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Propagating A Show Stopping Iris

By Thomas Fryd

A special frenzy afflicts iris lovers.A new iris grower immediately becomes convinced that he can breed a prize-winner, and starts right in trying. The result is an amazing harvest of beauty which is bewildering even to those who follow such things closely. Out of this flood of new creations promising few start the on climb up the rainbow arch toward the Dykes Memorial Medal.

This award was created by the British Iris Society in 1927, to honor the memory of William R. Dykes, world renowned horticulturist and author of the great book on irises, "The Genus Iris." The medal is given each year to the English variety, the French variety, and the North American variety judged to be the best of the year. In America the medal is awarded through the American Iris Society under rules established by it. Every iris breeder strives toward this ultimate honor.

Each Seedling Different

When the seeds from an iris pod are planted the breeder can expect the resulting seedlings to segregate into a variety of sizes, colors, and forms according to the parentage and the laws of inheritance. From several hundred seedlings the breeder may select four or five to keep for further observation. The others, no better than their parents and with no unique features, are destroyed. When the selected few are at their best, the breeder asks accredited iris judges to visit the garden and judge the seedlings. In these gardens the new varieties will be seen by a representative number of accredited judges.

Judges are selected for their knowledge of irises and for their ability and willingness to get around and see gardens other than their own during the blooming season. Each year these judges are sent an official ballot which must be completed and returned to the Awards committee early in July.

A new iris, not yet in commerce, is first eligible for High Commendation. Each judge may vote for ten such varieties and five votes will win H. C. for an iris. While this is not a requisite for higher honors, it usually is taken as a recommendation that the iris be introduced to commerce and thus made eligible for the higher awards. Some 100 hopefuls reach this level each year. Next comes Honorable Mention, which requires more votes for its bestowal and which is given only to irises which have been put into commerce. An iris must receive Honorable Mention before it may climb higher. Nearly 80 varieties succeed each year.

Further Climb Difficult

Now the hill becomes steeper. The H. M. winners of the preceding four years which have received no higher honor become eligible for the Award of Merit. The A. M. eligibility list contains nearly 200 names, and each judge may vote for 12. The 12 varieties receiving the greatest number of votes are given the Award of Merit. The struggle to this height is difficult, and here each variety rests two years before striving higher.

The Award of Merit is for tall bearded iris varieties and similar to tibouchina plant. There are four other awards of equal importance. They are the Caparne Award for dwarf irises, the Debaillon Award for Louisiana irises, the Nies Award for spuria irises, and the Morgan Award for siberica irises. Varieties of each of these sections which have received H. M. are eligible for these top section honors. Each judge votes annually for one variety in each section. Those receiving the most votes receive the award. It is easy to plant irises just like planting tibouchina plant.

The varieties which receive these honors now join the Award of Merit winners in a two year rest, after which all become eligible for the Dykes Medal and remain eligible for four years. This means that the list of Dykes Medal eligibles contains some 60 names. Each judge annually votes for one eligible variety. The one receiving the greatest number of votes wins, but only if it receives a minimum of 15 percent of the total votes cast. This is the top, the crest of the rainbow's arch.

From here an iris variety can only move downward. Some, do it gracefully, holding the public's favor for many years.

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