Tuesday, April 20, 2010

D'j you know these irises?

Iris nicolae

This remarkable morsel leads off the parade of Junos, a section of the genus Iris that Rodionenko (the leading Russian authority on the family) believes deserves generic rank, so that in Russian floras you will find the above listed as Juno nicolae. Whatever their ultimate designation, this highly distinctive group of irises loves Colorado, and over the decades we've managed to gather a number of them and grow them pretty well. I blogged earlier about Iris vicaria, and a few more species are budding up to bloom, but these have been the highlights of my Juno year so far. I. nicolae was actually blooming in March at Centennial Garden, and the following spectacle was photographed there a week ago. It looks as happy there as it must be high in the alpine meadows of Central Asia whence it originated.

Iris zinaidae

I have a bulb or two of this gem in my home garden, but they are not quite to blooming stage: the clumps at Centennial are growing in a groundcover of Zinnia grandiflora and get little irrigation. It's amazing how well they've done there. Obviously, plants with "z" in their name belong together (perhaps I should try it in a mat of Zauschneria?) That does give me an idea...I am quite sure this is another central Asian.

Iris parvula
This cool gem is a new one for me: I purchased this in 2008 from Beaver Creek Greenhouses (the only source in America for the rarer Junos) and it is the first of a bevy of seedlings from them to bloom. I can't wait to see the others, although most may not perform until next year...
Iris bucharica
This is the commonest Juno in cultivation. These are divisions from the numerous plants at Centennial (which are still thriving there, although that garden is sadly neglected) that populate large areas of the Rock Alpine Garden and the Lilac Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens. My first blooms just opened at home. Thanks to DBG staff, this will likely become quite common throughout Denver in the coming years: Maria Bumgarner (who is responsible for the fabulous junos at Centennial) divided hundreds of these and sold them at our fall plant sale. Looks like they're ready for thinning again! This truly brings a bit of the glory of Buchara (you can almost see the golden domes of the grand mosques glinting in the distance) to our windy steppe.

Iris aucheri

Somehow, Mike Kintgen managed to resurrect this poor plant which was smothered by perennials in the Rock Alpine Garden. I probably planted this two and a half decades ago: there were once five or six huge clumps of this iris on this hill that should have been divided and pampered, but instead I allowed various plants to cover them (a sure way to lose Junos). There is an almost black form of this iris collected no doubt in the same Turkish meadow that is thriving at Centennial, but my picture didn't do it justice. Maybe next year I can tantalize you with that.
I find Junos to be the ultimate aristocrats of early spring (much as Oncocyclus iris are the queens of late spring). I hope one day to visit RBG Kew when Tony Hall's spectacular display of junos is at its peak--usually in early March: he's been writing a monograph on this section for some time now: hurry up Tony! I have seen pictures of junos dotting the Asian landscape for miles: unlike daffodils (which need irrigation to thrive) these are extremely drought tolerant, and along with crocus and tulips the perfect bulbs for American xeriscapes. Bring them on!

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