IMPROVEMENT in our principal garden flowers is always going on. At times it may be slow or even seem to cease, then, perhaps, a new species may be introduced, or it may be simply that a freer imagination is applied to the task, and once more the flower sets forth on its onward course towards that ideal of perfection which will always be just beyond. When a flower is in its most active period of development one is tempted to try to forecast its future. Not too far ahead, for that can be little better than random guessing. But for the immediate future we can have every confidence, and even certainty within limits, in the light of the knowledge that Mendel's laws have given us, and especially if we have records of the ancestry of our present varieties. In fact, breeding will some day become an exact science, and when all the characters of a flower have been analysed and their factors and their interrelationship determined (as Miss Saunders and Miss Wheldale have already done for the colours of Stocks and Snapdragons), flowers will be made to order. The Iris is now in such an active period of development. Let us roughly analyse its characters and see wherein has been the improvement that has made the Iris of to-day so greatly superior to the earlier varieties. We may then see perhaps what further possibilities there are on these lines in varying combinations, and gather suggestions of improvement in other directions that appear to have been so far neglected or overlooked.
We deal chiefly with the individual flower. For those whose ideal in the garden is masses of harmonious and contrasting colour the florist's ideals of perfection of the individual flower are no doubt scarcely understandable, but it is in the flower—its size, form, colour and substance— that the progress has been made. These are the essential characters—habit, height and freedom of flowering, though by no means negligible, are of secondary importance in displaying the flower to best advantage.
In freedom of flowering the Flag Iris of to-day is, perhaps, no better than the earlier varieties, and there are, indeed, some with the highest qualities of size, form and colour that are all too shy, but on the whole the free-flowering qualities have been at least maintained, and this is a notable achievement, since increased size and quality is so often accompanied with fewer flowers. There is, then, every indication that the Iris of the future will not only be as free flowering as those in the past but will surpass them.
The introduction of Trojana has given us generally a taller and wider branching habit, well adapted for specimen plants. The type of the older varieties, however, was often equally freely branched, but with shorter and less spreading side stems, thus holding the flowers closer, and these are more suitable for massing. The two types, as they each have their use, will be maintained side by side in the future, but the tendency is towards the wider branching habit, as it displays best the larger and finer formed flowers of the newer Irises.
The general height of Irises has also been increased, so much so that except for special positions 2ft. is a minimum, and the average is between 2ft.6in, and 3ft, The introduction of Ricardi, Junonia and Mesopotamica has produced still taller plants with noble spikes 5ft. high, but as yet the flowers are poor in form and colour, and the constitution of these varieties is so weak and uncertain that they are of no use for general cultivation at present. There is no doubt, however, that these drawbacks will be overcome in time and that the average height of Irises will be between 3ft. and 4ft.
It is in the individual flower that the greatest and most remarkable advances have been made. We must try to see what it is that constitutes this general improvement. There can be no single or exclusive ideal of beauty for any flower; but that there are some principles which, applied in various ways, will give several or many different types of beauty, each ideal in its own way, no one could doubt if they compare the best of the newer Irises with the older varieties. And I think that the main principle is symmetry or balance. A f.lower may be small or large, and its form may vary within limits, and yet it may be beautiful if perfectly proportioned. Again, in colour, the ultimate criterion of excellence seems to be richness and purity—harmony and contrast being much more elusive and indefinite.
Let us then sum up the qualities in the flower of the modern Flag Iris. Already it is, on the average, larger—much larger—than the older varieties, and so long as the symmetry and balance of the flower and its substance and colour is maintained no limit can be set, and it may be that even larger flowers will be attained. There are, however, already in existence flowers so large in comparison with the species that have helped to produce them that the work of the immediate future will be in perfecting the form of these giants and producing them in the full range of Iris colours (the pure yellow standard variegata type is still comparatively small) than in any appreciable increase of size. These include such varieties (to mention only a few) as Lent A. Wiliamson (the finest and largest American variety), Vilmorin's Magnifica and Ambassadeur, Hort's Ann Page, Yeld's Asia and Prospero. Denis' Mdlle. Schwartz, and my Titan, Cardinal and Bruno. Nevertheless, the Iris will eventually be larger even than these. In substance likewise there has been a very great advance, of which Dominion was the first and is still the most remarkable example. Many of even these largest-sized Irises have great substance and stand firm through sunshine or rain to the last. It may be noted also that this increase of substance is always combined with, and is probably partly the cause of, the richer colouring of these flowers. The only one of the old standard varieties that has anything like such substance is pallida dalmatica Princess Beatrice.
When we compare the newest with the old varieties, the most obvious improvement in the form is in the broadening of the segments. And it is the most important In this the old florists were right, but when they laid it down that the circular outline was the one and only ideal form they fell into the error of pushing things to extremes. For though it is true that a circle is the logical conclusion of the principle of broadening a surface in proportion to its length, beauty is not based on logical conclusions. The Iris, like all flowers has a distinctive form of its own with three upright standards and three either hanging or spreading falls. In the perfect flower these two sets of petals must be balanced One of the effects of the introduction of Trojana has been to give us oblong unbalanced flowers. Not even the beauty of colouring of Isoline can compensate altogether for its lack of refinement of form. This defect is now being bred out by mating Trojana hybrids with broad-petalled varieties, and in the near future we shall have perfectly proportioned flowers with all the size of Trojana and Macrantha. Such, indeed, are already in existence, and they demonstrate beyond question that size is no bar to refinement of form.
Mr. Hort's ANN PAGE and Mr Yeld's PROSPERO
'The Garden' 1921.
The form of the standards still needs much improvement. They are always of less substance than the falls, but they should have enough to stand up stiff and not flop in hot sunshine. They should curve outwards from their base, meeting again at their tips. At present few Irises do more than approximate to this ideal, and 1 do not see any special tendency yet to an improvement in this direction. But when such flowers, having finely arching standards, are compared with those having flatter or overlapping or open or erect standards and it is realised how essential this character is to the beauty of form, its selection will be more carefully attended to in the future.
The falls are more nearly approaching perfection, in smoothness and in outline. Their disposition gives scope for varying types—the flat hanging, the rounded drooping, and the spreading or "flaring" (to use the American term). The standards with revolute edges displaying the interior of the flower is often an effective and beautiful type, especially when the style arms are of a contrasting colour, and this form strengthens the standards though it gives a narrower appearance to the flower. Even the type with open cupped standards is sometimes pleasing when it is accompanied, as it usually is, with broad-hafted spreading falls. All these types are being developed, but not, I think, with any definite selection. It is in the colouring that the greatest general advance has been already made, and yet it is also in colour that we may expect the most important developments in the near future.
The richness of the colouring of the falls of the most recent varieties and seedlings already in existence far surpasses anything seen in all but a very few of the old varieties, such as Jaquesiana or Maori King, and this richness is accompanied by a velvety or satiny surface which seems very likely to be due to their extra substance. This will undoubtedly be a feature of all Irises in the future. In all the self flowers we have, now, purer and brighter colours, but there is still scope in this direction, especially in deeper coloured self-violet pallidas, and these may be expected very soon. The range of colour is also extending, and colours are now beginning to appear (as in many other florists' flowers since the adoption of Mendelian methods in breeding) of art blends, soft and delicate in the standards, contrasting harmoniously with warmer, richer tones in the falls Vilmorin's Isoline, Mount Penn, Wyomissing and others of Mr. Farr's seedlings, M. Denis' Troost and Deuil de Valery Mayet, and, in deeper tones, Vilmorin's Opera are examples, and are being added to and surpassed.
Among other new colour developments may be mentioned Miss Sturtevant's Shekinah, a luminous yellow self of pallida form and habit, and Citronella with soft yellow standards and crimson veined falls, also of pallida size and form and exceptionally free flowering. From these it is only a step to a true yellow-ground plicata in fact, a slightly different but similar series of crosses such as produced these should produce it, and it may be even now in existence. Plicatas are now appearing in giant size and more perfect form, and with a wide range of margin colour and often finely spotted. Flowers with yellow standards and white falls are likely to appear someday. Crusader and Blue Bird show that we may hope for a flower at least as near blue as the Monspur or the Sibirica sanguinea hybrids, and though the crimson Iris is still far off, we may at least hope for a substantial advance towards it in the near future.
All these forecasts are, in the light of the knowledge that Mendel's laws have given us, well within sight. There are other possibilities, hints of which have been given by chance seedlings— that may perhaps be mutations—which may be realised some day but in the more distant future. I will mention but one. The seedling I have named Samite, a self-cream white, is remarkable in several characters, and I hoped to get new types from it, but all the more obvious crosses that I made were failures.
One chance cross, however, most unexpectedly produced a series of seedlings, all of which were more or less of the Tigridia type, with small weak open standards and very broad falls spreading almost horizontally, and some with abnormally broad hafts that, together, almost formed a cup, as in Tigridia. Furthermore, the hafts are covered with comparatively large and defined spots. The resemblance to a Tigridia is certainly far away, especially in colour, but it is suggestive. And it is from such suggestions that our flowers give us that new types come rather than from our unaided imagination. At any rate, it is safe to say that for all the great improvements already, obtained the Iris is yet only at the outset of its career, and there are still infinite possibilities of its development.
A. J. BLISS.
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