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SLI and GNOIS Launch Major Project to Preserve Louisiana Iris Species Forms

At the 2015 Convention in Lafayette, the Society for Louisiana Irises adopted a proposal developed by Charles Perilloux of Baton Rouge to create a “Louisiana Iris Species Preservation Project.”  It was approved by the Society, and GNOIS is taking a lead role in getting the Project started.

Planning has been underway since the 2015 convention, and concrete steps are being taken to assemble and grow a list of identified species forms deemed important to preserve.   This page will describe the purpose of the Project and how it will be carried out.  Undoubtedly, it will have to be implemented in phases and will take several years to achieve the full scope envisioned.

Typical colors and forms of the five species.
brevicaulis fulva Hexagona giganticaerules nelsonii
I. brevicaulis
I. fulva
I. hexagona
I. giganticaerulea
I. nelsonii

Mission and Concept

Irises in the Series Hexagona, the Louisiana irises, continue to disappear from the wild, a process already well advanced when Dr. John K. Small first came to Louisiana in the mid 1920s.  His efforts were the catalyst for the modern “discovery” of these irises.  The work of Dr. Small is a fascinating story that is told elsewhere (see References below).

Many forms of the Louisiana iris species remain in the wild, but development continues to destroy their niche in the environment.  Many specimens have been “rescued” by those attracted by their unique beauty, but “saved” plants sometimes are forgotten, and effectively lost, as people pass from the scene or interests change.   Without intervention, much of the genetic diversity of Louisiana irises will be lost to future generations.

Most people are familiar with the most typical form of the species -- the red I. fulva, the blue giganticaerulea and brevicaulis -- but there is huge variety of shades, shapes, and even colors within the species.  The yellow form of fulva and the white giganticaerulea are most familiar.  The pictures below show subtle and not-so-subtle differences among wild species irises, and these plants should be preserved, not lost to development, heavy equipment, herbicides or neglect.

The purpose of the Louisiana Iris Species Preservation Project (SPP) is to create a permanent collection of representative examples of the colors and forms of each species from throughout its geographic range.  Once established and thriving in the collection, plants would be made available to individuals and organizations, consistent with guidelines adopted for the project and outlined below.

Organization and Process

1.     SLI will create and maintain a standing committee to oversee the Project.  The SLI president will appoint the chair, and the chair will appoint other committee members.  GNOIS will take the lead in administering the Project.

2.     The Committee will:

        a)     Create a Preservation List of species iris clones to be maintained in the collection

        b)     Designate “Species Stewards” charged to grow and preserve the integrity of some or all irises on the Preservation List

        c)     Locate irises on the Preservation List and seek additional species clones, especially from geographic areas outside Louisiana

        d)     Facilitate the distribution of irises to the Stewards, including the phasing of that distribution when an iris is in short supply

       e)      Coordinate the evaluation and preservation of other irises that may be future candidates for inclusion on the Preservation List

       f)       Receive annual reports from the Stewards on the status of the irises they grow.  The report will include digital photographs, a description of performance, and the number of plants on hand.

      g)       Provide information for an annual update on the SPP page of the SLI and GNOIS websites and prepare an annual update to be published in the Fleur de Lis

Guidelines

1.     The Preservation List should represent as full a range of color, form and geography as possible for each species.

2.     Species Stewards are to be private individuals or groups.  Generally, public gardens are not eligible, although as the Project matures and excess irises become available (as determined by the SPP Committee), donation to public plantings would be a high priority.

3.     Irises sold by commercial gardens would not be available for donation from the SPP gardens.

4.     Excess irises from Preservation Project gardens could be provided to commercial growers to encourage availability to the larger public by purchase, thereby serving as a vehicle for the distribution of the irises beyond the Project itself.

5.     Plants provided to commercial nurseries should be described and labeled as "Species Clone Certified by SLI", with the name of the collector, the location and date, if known.

6.     Species Stewards must be able to grow a substantial portion of the irises on the Preservation List, but would not have to grow them all.  Collectively, the participation of multiple Species Stewards will provide needed redundancy in assuring the survival of the irises.

7.     Species Stewards will not be responsible to maintain public access to their collections, although they are free to do so if they wish.

Selected Irises on the Preservation List

Click on image for larger version.
Brevicaulis Auburn Blues I. brevicaulis Gary Babin I. brevicaulis 'Pink Joy Roberts' I. Brevicaulis - Livonia I. brevicaulis -Toledo Bend
I. brevicaulis "Auburn Blues"
I. brevicaulis - Gary Babin
I. brevicaulis 'Pink Joy Roberts'
I. brevicaulis - Livonia
I. brevicaulis - Toledo Bend
I. fulva Baton Rouge Fulva Hiwy 190  Orange Fulva Lil Tris I. fulva Bayou Bandit I. fulva 'Bayou Gauche'
I. fulva - Baton Rouge Bayou Fountain
I. fulva - Highway 190 Orange
I. fulva - 'Lil Tris'
I. fulva 'Bayou Bandit'
I. fulva 'Bayou Gauche'
I. fulva 'Ouachita Half Moon' I. fulva 'Lottie Butterscotch' I. Fulva Sycamore I. fulva Bit of Blush I. fulva Borrow Pit Red
I. fulva 'Ouachita Half Moon'
I. fulva 'Lottie Butterscotch'
I. fulva 'Sycamore'
I. fulva 'Bit Of Blush'
I. fulva - Borrow Pit Red
Fulva Rosedale Road Orange 2015 Fulva 'West We Go' I. fulva 'Chackbay' Fulva Shangri-la Pass Fulva Marvell Gold
I. fulva - Rosedale Road 2015
I. fulva 'West We Go'
I. fulva 'Chackbay'
Fulva - 'Shangri-la Pass'
I. fulva 'Marvell Gold'
Giganticaerulea Barbara Elaine Taylor I. giganticaerlea Big Tex I. giganticaerulea Dark Purple I. giganticaerulea Pale Blue I. giganticaerulea Medium Blue
I. giganticaerulea 'Barbara Elaine Taylor'
I. giganticaerulea 'Big Tex'
I. giganticaerulea - LaPlace Purple
I. giganticaerulea - LaPlace Pale Blue
I. giganticaerulea - LaPlace Medium Blue
I. nelsonii - Red I. nelsonii Young's Coulee I. nelsonii 'Steen's Gold' I. nelsonii Buteaud's Gift I. nelsonii Bronco Road
I. nelsonii - Red
I. nelsonii 'Young's Coulee'
I. nelsonii 'Steen's Gold'

I. nelsonii 'Buteaud's Gift'

I. nelsonii 'Bronco Road'
  I. hexagona - Early I. hexagona - Late I. hexagona - John Wood  
 
I. hexagona - Early
I. hexagona - Late
I. hexagona - John Wood
 

Funding

Species Stewards should be willing to bear the incidental cost of maintaining irises on the Preservation List that they grow.  It may also be necessary for the Stewards to pay to purchase and ship some irises initially, but an effort will be made to secure contributions from other organizations and to obtain grant funding to support activities with a significant cost.  In particular, funding may be needed to purchase particular irises or to pay shipping costs.

Issues

Keeping the Project Manageable.  The current draft of cultivars for the Preservation List numbers over 60 (see pictures of many below).  It is anticipated that as more people learn about the Project and wish to become involved, other irises will be suggested.  The issue in part will be to manage the sheer number of different irises at multiple locations, but because there may be other irises as good or better as examples of the species, there also must be a process to evaluate additional clones for inclusion.  Care will have to be taken to limit commitments to a reasonable level and to engage in appropriate organization and record keeping to keep things straight.

The Problem of Florida Irises.  The Florida members of the Series Hexagonae are disputed by many as to their species identity.   Even if all are correctly regarded as I. hexagona, there is considerable variety among them, even if not as much as among irises found in Louisiana.  SLI membership is not widespread in Florida, and there does not appear to have been a devotion to the wild irises there that matches the enthusiasm in Louisiana and the states of the Gulf Coast and farther north.  East Coast irises are as equally deserving of preservation as those found elsewhere, but obtaining appropriate forms will be a challenge.

In addition, the experience of SLI members in South Louisiana who have grown Florida hexagonas has been that they do not perform especially well in the State.  It may be difficult to do justice the preservation of these irises without enlisting participants from the East Coast.  This aspect of the Project will need to be developed further.

References

For a general overview of the Louisiana iris species, see the Zydeco Louisiana Iris Garden species pages 

Society for Louisiana Irises, The Louisiana Iris:  The Taming of a Native American Wildflower, 2nd ed., Timber Press, 2000, Chapter 1, "History of Louisiana Irises"