The stunning iris blooms that entice us today are basically hybrids, which have been developed over years - at times through planned crossing and on other occasions by means of accidental or chance hybridization. These hybrids have their origin in different iris species that are mostly native to European countries or the Mediterranean regions. Early travelers gathered as well as carried these original species along with them. However, these original iris species rarely have any resemblance to the present day flowers. Nevertheless, it is the inheritance of these modern irises that is responsible for the disparities in their height, growth habits, and traits of their flowers as well as resistance to various diseases. There are several other features that come into play, for instance extreme heat during the summer months, too much humidity, amount of rainfall as well as the microclimates in the region when they are grown.
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The species called Iris pallida, famed for orrisroot, came from the southern regions of Europe. This iris species is distinguished by its papery sheathing of its flower spathes and is highly valued for the plant's foliage that is glaucous blue-green that remains attractive all through the summer months. The color of the blooms of Iris pallida varies - they may be lilac, blue or even lavender. In addition, there is another wonderful garden form of Iris pallida - the variegated form of this species. This form of iris species especially appears wonderful after the flowering season of the plant is over. While Iris pallida has contributed to the hybrid varieties, it has offered almost nothing as far as the branching genes are concerned.
The traits of a few of the more prominent bearded iris species are discussed below.
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This iris species has its origin in Armenia and Turkmenistan and it introduced the attractive blue blooms into the bearded irises and also contributed to their height as well as branching traits. However, when grown in colder regions, this bearded iris species is susceptible to frosts. Unfortunately, this undesirable characteristic of the species has been transferred to several hybrids, which now include the same genes of Iris mesopotamica.
Having its origin in the central regions of Europe as well as the Balkans, this iris species is responsible for adding the yellow tones to the bearded iris species. Gardeners who have a preference for the old iris hybrid called "Gracchus" would find similarities in the light yellow standards along with the white falls having red-purple stripes of this hybrid to I. variegata. Possibly the Iris flavescens, a yellow iris classified as a species, is also a cross between the I. variegata and I. pallida.
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Native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Iris albicans is found growing in the wild in arid and rock-strewn places at altitudes of about 7,200 feet (2200 meters) higher than the sea level. This bearded iris species is among the forerunners of the bearded irises and people in several colonies in the countries located in the south of the Mediterranean region continue to cultivate it to this day. Iris albicans bears graceful blooms, whose color is generally white. The flowers have a sweet fragrance too.
Originating in central Asia, where it is found growing on rocky hillsides as well as grassy steppes, Iris albertii bears purplish blue blooms having white beards whose tips are yellow. Growing in the wild, this bearded iris plant produces extensively branching stems that may be about 28 inches (70 cm) in length. Iris albertii blooms quite early in the season. The plants are hardy and resistant to diseases.
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It is interesting to note that this bearded iris species has virtually become an umbrella term for several irises that were hybridized in the early days and, over the years, have naturalized in several countries that either bloom in the later part of winter or the onset of spring, much before the bearded irises. In fact, several bearded irises are groups under Iris germanica. Some plants listed under Iris germanica have now been classified as species, such as Iris florentina, which was initially widely cultivated in Italy for producing orrisroot. Other irises in this group include Iris germanica var. "Atropurpurea", which is native to Kathmandu, bears red-purple blooms and was introduced to the West in the 19th century; and Iris squalens, which is one of the initial hybrids producing blooms of violet-gray shades. This particular iris species interests hybridizers as the petals of its flowers have ruffled borders.
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Very much akin to Iris albicans, this bearded iris species also has its origin in Kashmir, in addition to different regions of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. The blooms of this iris species are aromatic and come with flashing falls. Iris kashmiriana plays a vital role in hybridizing programs because it is one of the white tetraploids.
This iris species is a particularly hardy iris plant that grows up to a height of approximately 12 inches (30 cm). It is found growing extensively in its native lands, which include the entire regions of Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania. While yellow is the predominant color of the blooms of this plant, sometimes the flowers also appear in different shades of purple and lilac. The clusters of Iris reichenbachii offer an attractive display in the garden.
This iris species is perhaps the most familiar among the smaller bearded irises. Nevertheless, Iris pumila cannot be said to be equally accommodating as Iris chamaeiris. If you wish to grow this iris species, it is essential for your garden to have an excellent drainage, in addition to a soil that is loaded with lime. The branchless flowering stem of this bearded iris plant (precisely speaking, the perianth tube) usually grows up to anything between 1/2 inch and 4 inches (1.5 cm and 10 cm) - much smaller compared to that of I. chamaeiris. In addition, the flower stem of Iris pumila also differs in shape, size as well as color owing to the immensity of the species' habitat, which is spread all through the erstwhile Soviet Union as well as central Europe. The color of the blooms of Iris pumila also differ - they appear in various shades of yellow as well as blue through lilac to purple and black. Occasionally, Iris pumila flowers also have ruby red or maroon hues. Like in the case of the flowers of Iris chamaeiris, the standards of Iris pumila have a propensity to be larger compared to its falls. Moreover, the standards of this iris species curve elegantly on top of the style arms of the flowers.
A small attractive plant, the blooms of Iris suaveolens have a shot-silk combination of brown and purple. The flowers of this bearded iris species have minute white beards with bluish stains at their tips. This iris species is native to the hilly regions of Greece as well as some countries in the region of the Mediterranean. In order to flourish well, Iris suaveolens requires excellent drainage, and a loose fertile soil that is rich in lime content.
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