Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jewels of the rainbow

Iris ruthenica

Iris potaninii

People will insist on asking you (when they find out you make a living from plants) what your favorite flower is. Asking someone like me to pick a single favorite flower would be like asking Harpagon which coin he liked most: plant misers love all things green...but there is something about tiny iris that sets them apart.

I was astonished to find Iris ruthenica growing by the untold million last year everywhere in the Altai and Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan, from the fringes of the steppe in the foothills to above treeline on tundra. It makes mats a yard or more across that were studded with hundreds of those prismatic blue jewel like flowers. I have seen Iris ruthenica on the Yulongshan of Yunnan and know it makes it all the way to Ruthenia in Europe: and yet this is not a common plant in gardens. I have grown many forms. I have grown some of them in large quantities. One of the sad things of being an old gardener is you realize you have fumbled many good plants: those forms are largely no longer with me. I now make a point of propagating and planting lots of plants of this around so that I never lose it again. I am particularly pleased to have found quite a bit of seed of Iris ruthenica in the Siberian larch forests above Markakol lake in the Altai a month or so ago, so we will have plants one day from a known locality.

Iris potaninii (if it's not actually I. tigridia) is a bona fide alpine from Tibet and neighboring regions I have grown off and on for years. It seems to be settling down in my garden in this marvellous yellow form.

But the REAL miniature iris are all the dwarf Iriodictyon and Junos sections that one must plant this time of year. I have placed orders with three specialty nurseries to get even more of these prismatic gems. I am not going to tell you which ones or where I ordered them until they are delivered to my door (and preferably planted in the ground). I don't want YOU snatching my jewels! Half a year has elapsed since these last bloomed in the garden, which means their bloom season is now fast approaching! Winter is so much more tolerable knowing that it will chased away with a flurry of irises on its heels!


  1. Did you mean Iridodyctium?

  2. Oh, Mr. Anonymous: you caught me there...but since both "Iris" (rainbow) and "Dictys" (net) are Greek words, I couldn't resist opting for the Greek neuter nominal suffix over the labiodental Latinate nasality. How's THAT for a Linguistic mouthful! By the way, both Zeus and my maternal grandfather were born on the Dictyan peninsula (the penultimate horn on Crete's bovine profile). Small world dontcha think?

  3. And Hybris was born nearby, was she not? (Thanks Edith Hamilton)


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