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A Rose By Any Other Name…

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

If, like me, you’re a fan of fragrant flowers, you likely have a favorite rose or two. I’ve

mentioned before that my personal favorite is ‘Tiffany’. It’s a beautiful, high-centered

pink rose with a yellow blush. But, the thing I like most about ‘Tiffany’ is the

fragrance; Intense, sweet and memorable.

I have two ‘Tiffany’ roses coming in this Spring from Edmond’s Roses. I’ve ordered from them before and always been pleased with their products and service. If you’re looking for roses you can find Edmond’s here

(FYI, I don’t have an affiliate relationship with Edmond’s, but I like their roses.)

There is also a Tall Bearded Iris named ‘Tiffany’. Surprisingly, it sports colors somewhat similar to the ‘Tiffany’ rose. Unfortunately, it doesn’t share the quality of fragrance. Even though this beautiful iris was registered and introduced to the public in 1938 by Hans Peter Sass, it is still available and offered for sale.

The bearded irises that we know today had their beginnings in France around 1830, thanks to the efforts of a self-proclaimed “amateur” gardener named Marie-Guillaume de Bure.

Through his controlled iris breeding experiments de Bure was able to prove that many irises thought by botanists to be species were actually just hybrids of two irises; Iris pallida and Iris variegata.

Only one named iris cultivar is attributed to de Bure, it was known as ‘Buriensis’. Sadly, not one rhizome of ‘Buriensis’ is known to exist today. A true lost treasure!

Even today many older, historically important irises are disappearing from existence each year. Since a particular iris cultivar does not come true from seed, once the last remaining rhizome is gone, that cultivar is essentially extinct.

There are gardeners all around the world who may possess the last remaining plant of an endangered iris cultivar and don’t even know it.

Enter The Historic Iris Preservation Society

The Historic Iris Preservation Society (HIPS) was founded to address that concern. The mission of HIPS is to promote and foster the preservation of historic irises.

Members of The Historic Iris Preservation Society provide assistance to rescue and redistribute rare irises to ensure their continued survival for future generations. They have established a kind of ‘secret society’ of gardeners to achieve their mission.

Here’s a link to an interesting article about that group, known as Guardian Gardens.

If you’d like to learn more about HIPS and perhaps even consider joining, you can check them out here.

A Brief History of the Iris

Irises have been grown by men and women for thousands of years. Orris root, produced from iris rhizomes, was used for medicine and for scenting clothes and linens by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Moving forward to the 8th century, Japanese poetry mentions the beauty of the iris flower.

Irises are depicted in Renaissance paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries. It was during that time that gardeners learned when they planted iris seeds the seedlings produced often had colors, patterns or color combinations that differed from the mother plant.

Iris florentina and Iris pallida are typically referred to as “the oldest known irises currently in cultivation”, dating back to the 1500s. Both are still available in the iris trade today.

The next oldest known iris is a natural hybrid called Swerti. The flower that produced the seed that became the Swerti iris was pollinated by an insect, not by the hand of any person.

Emmanuel Sweert was a Dutch artist, botanist and merchant of rare plants from Amsterdam. He discovered a unique iris while on one of his plant hunting excursions and named it Iris swertii, which actually means Sweerts’ Iris.

Being of Dutch origin, the ‘w’ in Sweerts name is actually pronounced as ‘v’. So, Iris swertii is pronounced Iris svertii. Sweert offered his iris for sale to the public in 1612.

And, what about fragrance? Well, this is, right?

Swertii boasts a strong fragrance of ripe grapes!

The previously-mentioned Marie-Guillaume de Bure is attributed to have been among the first to begin growing irises from seed and giving popular names to the most distinctive seedlings.

These early efforts at iris hybridizing occurred around the same time (early to mid-1800s) in France and in Japan. From that time until now tens of thousands of new iris cultivars have been registered and sold by hybridizers around the world.

Hybridizers work to develop irises with new and unusual colors and traits. But as the list of new cultivars grows, so does the list of older cultivars that are in danger of being lost forever.

One of my goals with is to identify those historic iris cultivars with strong fragrance that are at risk of being lost. If I can then locate and obtain a few rhizomes of each, I’ll work to produce sufficient inventory to reintroduce them in the marketplace.

And I’ll use this blog to keep you informed of my progress. I’ll bring you photos and detailed descriptions, including fragrance, of course. Perhaps I can cultivate enough interest and curiosity that you might decide to give a few of these rare and important fragrant flowers a home.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for quality irises to plant this year, I highly recommend Bluebird Haven Iris Garden. Mary Hess, the owner, was kind enough to grant me permission to use photos from her website in this blog post.

Mary lists a significant number of historic iris as well as lots of newer varieties. Some may be in short supply so don’t delay.

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