984 Iris Louisiana hybridsCommon Names: Louisiana iris, water iris Family: Iridaceae (iris Family)
Louisiana Irises have to be one of the best kept secrets of the garden world. The word Louisiana conjures up images of steamy bayous and tropical foliage, but that's not the altogether correct image for these plants. Yes, most of the five species that make up this incredibly variable mix of plants do make their natural home way south of the Mason Dixon Line. But people are growing them in virtually every state of the union and most likely in every country in the world.
My first experience with this vibrantly colored, vigorous group of floriferous plants came over a decade ago as I was cruising a group of holding beds that I'd rarely visited higher up the mountain. These are beds that I "toss" plants into until a time that I can figure out where their final destination in the garden will be. I'm constantly rotating plants in and out of these beds and I've came up with a great many surprises. It was early Spring, and in the garden there were no Iris blooming. Much to my astonishment a huge clump of Iris appeared in one of the back beds that had gone previously unnoticed. There had to have been over 20 of the most lovely blue flowers with the most unusual look to them. At first I thought it was a Japanese Iris, but it was much too early in the season. I dug around and found a faded tag that said Louisiana Iris - D.K. Williams or Dorothy K Williams. I remember reading about this cultivar at the time, and the woman for whom it was named a long time ago, but for the life of me, I can't find any information about either now.
Plants termed "Louisiana Iris" are interspecific hybrids encompassing varying percentages of Iris nelsonii, Iris brevicaulis, Iris fulva, Iris giganticaerulea and Iris hexagona. Each one of these species brings a different range of color and form to the group. These are mainly "water Irises", but they do quite well in average garden soil. The wetter the soil, the more vigorous the growth. I've had equal success in shade or sun, but if you grow them in full sun, in most climates, they appreciate more moisture.
The parent species are native to the southeastern United States.
CultureLight: Shade or sun (requires more moisture in hot sunny situations) Moisture: Will grow in average garden soils but prefers moist soils and even in standing water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10. Propagation: Propagation couldn't be easier by division. The rhizomes resemble lobster tails and new plants grow from both sides of the front of the rhizome as it creeps along the ground. How slow or fast it creeps is determined mainly by soil moisture content. The sometimes fist sized seed heads yield handfuls of seed per plant. They are huge seeds and seem to germinate slowly over the period of a few years. Seedlings of open pollinated plants vary widely, but I've never experienced an "Ugly Duckling" in the lot. This group of plants has not yet succumbed to the insanity that the Daylily world has seen with hundreds of thousands of named cultivars. I certainly hope that it doesn't.
Louisiana iris are perfect for bog gardens and at the margins of lakes and ponds. Use in containers that can be sumberged to add dramatic color to fish pond. Louisiana iris is easy to grow in ordinary garden soil and a showy addition to beds and borders.
The popularity of this group of plants is most definitely on the rise, and if your interest has been piqued, you should think about joining the SLI, Society for Louisiana Iris. They have an extensive website at: http://sliris.bizland.com/welcome.html
Barry Glick of Sunshine Farm and Gardens, Renick, WV 1/16/04