Some Historic Bearded Iris


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These are a few historic bearded iris I grow in my garden in Corvallis, Oregon. I have over 30 varieties of historic iris, but since I just moved my garden this year, only a few bloomed in their temporary pots.

The top picture is of Iris violacea grandiflora.  The variety was discovered in the wild by D. Barry in 1856 and when in bloom is about 36 inches tall.  The standards (the upper petals of the bloom) are a rich blue, the falls (the bottom petals) are violet blue.  The flowers are considered a self in iris classification terminology, meaning all petals are the same color or of one overall color.  It is almost a bitone, meaning the standards and falls are two tones of the same color.  The flowers are fragrant.

The second picture is Iris swertii a natural hybrid collected in 1612.  In iris classification terminology it is a plicata, meaning it has a pale base color with a darker margin.  The petals of this variety curl under in an interesting way.  It is a vigorous grower to 31 inches.

The third picture is of Mrs. ‘Horace Darwin’ hybridized by Sir Michael Foster and released in 1888.  The flower is a white self meaning it has standards and falls all one color.  It has some purple veining on the falls and grows to about 20 inches tall.  The fragrance of this flower is delightful.

The last picture shows ‘Bertha Gersdorff’ hybridized by Sass and released in 1942.  When originally released, there was no classification for the unusual flowers of this variety.  It  was termed a fancy or fancy plicata.  Since 1972, this color pattern has been termed a luminata.  A true luminata has falls with paler, rather than darker veining on the petals; the hafts, the top part of the falls, where the petals connect to the rest of the flower, are unmarked.  This variety makes an excellent show in the garden.

Iris make wonderful garden plants.  Several of them are winter hardy to USDA zone 1, most to zone 3, and they can be grown in mild climates as well.  I have grown them in various climates in the western U.S., even in the low desert.  Good drainage is important, as well as full sun and an airy situation without competition from neighboring plants.  Water regularly in spring until six weeks after blooming, then watering can be reduced.  This is an advantage in the dry summers in much of the western U.S.  The best time to divide and replant is in summer after the bloom period.  Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer, mixed into the soil when planting with a top dressing applied in fall.  Bearded iris are adaptable to different kinds of soil, but prefer a neutral to alkaline pH.  Lime can be mixed into soils that are too acidic.   For more information about historic iris, visit the website of the Historic Iris Preservation Society at




2 thoughts on “Some Historic Bearded Iris

  1. Jeff

    Dear mr sagmiller,
    I just read te blog about iris violacea grandiflora, i just love the flowers! Do you mabe know where i can get it or do you maybe have a cutting of it?

    I hope you can help me.
    Friendly regards,

    Jeff reimers


    • I do not have any plants of Violacea grandiflora right now, as I moved to Montana last April, but I plan to bring some starts here later this summer. I received the plant through an iris plant exchange held by the Historic Iris Preservation Society (H.I.P.S.). I will contact you when I get some starts again. Yours truly,
      James Sagmiller


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