The genus Iris is a large group of plants with about 200 species. Iris have always had a special place in Nebraska gardens. They were one of the first plants and one of the most popular plants to be used in landscapes and cemeteries in Nebraska. Iris are easy to grow and propagate. They are drought and cold tolerant and have few pests.
Although the flowers of many of the old iris varieties were yellow, blue or violet, their range in color expanded rapidly in the early 1900’s with new cultivars. Unlike some plants, there is still a strong interest in breeding and selecting new varieties of iris in Nebraska. Several people instrumental in the American Iris Society came from Nebraska, such as Hans P. Sass, Jacob Sass, Henry Sass and Allan Ensminger. Many individuals in Nebraska have private gardens containing spectacular iris collections as well as other plants.
There have been several affiliate organization of the American Iris Society in Nebraska. These are:
Dawson County Iris Society
Elkhorn Valley Iris Society
Greater Omaha Iris Society
Lincoln Iris Society
Trails West Iris Society
Monument Valley Iris Society
Numerous individuals have named and released cultivars/varieties of iris. The American Iris Society has a very extensive list of Iris Plant Breeders and Iris Cultivars. It is an excellent resource for Iris and has many nice photos. The American Iris Society (AIS) deserves special credit for maintaining these records. From the AIS source and other sources, we estimate there have been about 980 Iris cultivars released from Nebraska, from about 70 Nebraska Iris breeders. Many more iris cultivars have been released in the United States and Europe.
The American Iris Society use a classification system for describing iris. These are: Arils, Arilbred, Border Bearded, Intermediate Border Bearded, Japanese, Louisiana, Miniature Dwarf Border Bearded, Miniature Tall Border Bearded, Pacific Coast Native, Siberian, Species, Species Hybrids, Spurias, Standard Dwarf Border Bearded, and Tall Bearded. I won’t try to go into a description of each of these iris groups, but additional information can be found on these in books and online.
As a Garden Club Member, I would like to share a few of my favorite Iris cultivars.
One of my favorite Iris cultivars, which is commonly found in cemeteries is an
iris which is often referred to as Iris flavescens, some people consider it a heirloom
cultivar. It has a lemon yellow color but may vary in shades of yellow to cream.
This iris was believed to have first been collected in about 1813 by a gentleman
named DeCandolle. It is considered a Tall Bearded type with smaller yellow flowers
than most Tall Bearded types. It sometimes has olive colored veining. It has pale yellow standards and paler yellow falls. Some people describe it as having a lemon-like aroma. It is believed to be a naturally occurring hybrid. It usually flowers early in the season. Some sources indicate it is adapted to all hardiness zones of the United States and will tolerate temperatures as low as -40 degrees F.
One of my favorite Nebraska Iris released cultivars is 'Batik’ with variegated colored flowers.
‘Batik' was released in 1985 by Allan Ensminger of Lincoln. ‘Batik’ is a Border Bearded type,
with an average height of 26 inches and blooms in midseason. I describe it as a royal purple
color with white strips. Allan Ensminger was very interested in developing and releasing iris
with variegated colors in the flowers. ‘Batik ‘ received an AIS Honorable Mention in 1988; and
an AIS Award of Merit in 1990 and the AIS Knowlton Medal in 1992. I have seen this cultivar
for sale at some of the local nurseries and box stores.
A cultivar that was introduced to me through one of our Spade and Hope Garden Club member,
Marilyn Huebner, is an iris cultivar called ‘Immortality’. This cultivar was introduced in 1982 by
Lloyd Zurrigg. This tall bearded type has a beautiful large pure white ruffled flower, about 30
inches tall. It is midseason for bloom and reblooms in the fall. It has a slight fragrance. It received
an AIS Honorable mention in 1986 and an AIS Award of Merit in 1990.
A fourth iris cultivar I would like to mention is ‘Autumn King’. This is a special cultivar bred here in Nebraska by Hans Sass of Bennington, Nebraska. It was released in 1924. I bought one of these plants at the Ways and Means table at the Nebraska State Garden Club’s Convention a couple of years ago. It was provided by Evelyn Boyd of Nebraska City. This demonstrates how important Garden Club contacts are. ‘Autumn King’ is described as having a blue bitone. In our garden at North Platte, it flowers in May and again in early October. Hans Sass, who released this cultivar, released many iris cultivars. He was a charter member of the AIS and introduced his first iris in 1923. Many of his iris and peony cultivars are on display in the Sass Garden at the ugene T. Mahoney State Park in eastern Nebraska. Several of his selections and he himself received numerous awards and honors. He bred iris until 1949.
Iris are a great spring flowering plant for gardens in Nebraska. I have only touched on a few Iris cultivars. A whole article could be devoted to iris blooms, care and/or history. Enjoy these early blooming plants in your garden and landscape. Don’t forget to enjoy them as a cut flower.
IRIS by Dr.Dale Lindgren