Article: 1939 Checklist – Introduction

Alphabetical Iris Check List
Edited and compiled by Ethel Anson S. Peckham

Sloatsburg, N.Y. 1939


First President of the American Iris Society and practiced maker of check lists -with permission of the Executive Board- in admiration and affection, this list is dedicated


To those of you who feel this ‘Check List’ is purely factual, let me assure you that it is far more than that. It is a book of high adventure in the field of beauty, a record of hopes achieved, and a guide to Rainbow’s end. A book for study on cold winter evenings when you can plan new beauty for our gardens.

I hope you will join with me in full appreciation of the unselfish hours of toil spent by its compiler through these many years.

H. H. Everett.


In the American Iris Society Alphabetical Iris Check List 1929 there were listed about twelve thousand names of Irises including species, forms of species, horticultural varieties and synonyms. Since then, because of the increased interest in this genus, many hundreds of new varieties have been raised and written about, numerous catalogues and lists have been issued, many misspellings have been made. All these I have tried to include in this book, the names and synonyms amounting to about nineteen thousand altogether!

It is not easy to keep track of this sort of thing, but the purpose of this book is to correct all the mistakes in our Bulletins (which have been legion, the mistakes, I mean) and also those in the former check lists. In view of more recent research and investigation and because of better cooperation with breeders, nurserymen, other Iris and Horticultural societies, etc., this book must be considered as the final authority for any Iris and should be used for classification in Iris Shows, by nurserymen for spelling etc. when making catalogues, by writers when dissertating upon any variety (especially when writing for our Bulletins!) and–may I suggest that our editors use it?–In fact, it should be the reference book, not only for our American Iris Society members; but for other flower shows and other publications. I do not expect some botanists to agree with everything I have done in the way of classification of species but, when do botanists agree anyway? I have tried to steer our way sensibly between ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’ and, I think, have achieved a pretty direct course to our destination that can be followed by those just beginning to paddle about among these plants and one which, in the long run, will be a help to the horticulturist instead of a confusion. As to species I have consulted many good botanists, the Royal Horticultural Society and other authorities and feel that the policy followed here will not cause any great upheaval. The final resort for what is correct and what is not, in relation to an Iris should be the files of the American Iris Society and this book is simply the printing of part of the information filed on each variety so members and others can have it available in convenient form. Would it were possible to do it on Indian paper in pocket size! All lists are in exact alphabetical order with no grouping, no Madams or Misters all together, and this is to make it quick and easy for a man with ‘label trouble’ to look up the mysterious conglomeration of letters he sees before him and find out what the name really should be. In this edition the blooming seasons have been added as well as many references to illustrations, though those only published in catalogs have not been recorded. In regard to the color classification, that already in use has been adhered to and the question has been raised as to who is responsible for deciding the placing of a variety. The Registrar is faithful about writing for full descriptions and suggestions from raisers as to what the general effect is. After discussion the variety is classified. It should be conceded that those who have done such work for a number of years should be the most skilled in the matter and it is advisable that head- quarters should attend to it; for the peculiar variations among individuals’ ideas of Iris colors are something as diverse as the genus itself. Another innovation in the book is the placing of an asterisk before a name. This means that the variety is obsolete, not listed anymore in catalogs, and when a darkened circle is printed before the name, the variety is almost obsolete. The square fragrance symbol is amplified by classification as to

Mrs. Ethel Anson S. Peckham

Mrs. E. Peckham

pleasantness, strength, type etc. It has been necessary to use one or two of the same letters for different meanings but the position of the letter explains the difference. For example, D means dwarf and also dark. When meaning ‘dwarf’ it is placed in the general classification: when ‘dark,’ in the color-classification, in the latter, after. In the color-classification we have used the term Bitone in addition to Bicolor because the real meaning of the latter is ‘two-colors’, whereas our Irises are often of two tones of the same color. Two tones of yellow, a light and a dark yellow would constitute a Bitone, while white standards and blue falls make a Bicolor. Inside the front cover you will find an explanation of how to use this book. This may seem repetitious but the idea was suggested by three very clever horticulturalists and busy men who said it would save much work. A little preliminary study is advisable; familiarity with the system is soon acquired, when one can use it quite rapidly. Another question is the accuracy of the dates of introduction. This is not important as to one year either way except in relation to the award of the Dykes Memorial Medal in America. For that award certain rules have had to be laid down as to citation with a prize in a certain year constituting an introduction. It should be drawn to the attention of catalog makers that if they cite varieties without prices they endanger the variety’s eligibility for this award. It should also be realized that many wholesale and retail lists and catalogs are searched by the Committee that are not seen by questioners who wonder how certain decisions as to dates were reached. Beside this, the committee must take the word of reputable dealers that they listed and sold certain varieties in certain years; because often lists become entirely out of print and are thrown away to such an extent that it is extremely hard and even expensive for the Society to get a copy for its files. Appeals are made time and time again for catalogs and lists to be sent to the Registrar and to me and, while we get many, we have to spend much time and money begging them from all parts of the world. We understand that it is trying to mail a catalog to a person who may not buy, but when the return is publication in a book like this or in our Bulletins is calculated, the loss is not on the part of the dealer. There are relatively few files of horticultural catalogs in the world, even in the largest libraries, and I am sure there is no other which is based entirely upon whether Irises are listed, that in any way approaches the number of volumes possessed by this society. The dealers, breeders, authors, etc., are listed together with the abbreviations with the exception of a few botanists who are so well known to librarians that the abbreviation of their names needs no explanation. In the matter of names, the practice of making new names was abandoned shortly after the publication of the 1929 list and, in many names that ceased to appear in catalogs in the form adopted by Standardized Plant Names, the original name has been returned to. Where varieties conflicted and the old approved ones became obsolete, the other has been raised to the approved list. The increased registration and cooperation of breeders and dealers has helped to prevent such conflicts. It may be noted that very few Japanese varieties are now in commerce, the reason being that names which were largely only synonyms or misspellings of what were but a few varieties spread over many countries, have fallen by the wayside. I think the American Iris Society and the Iris Society (Eng.) can feel rightly proud of the work they have done in just this one matter. If they could manage to impress upon breeders that names which are attractive and in some way suggest the grace and beauty of their seedlings are the ones they should choose, they might don their halos and go their way!

It is impossible to acknowledge all the help and kindness Mr. Gersdorff and I have received from Irisarians and others from all over the world. One can only mention the very close cooperation of the Iris Society (Eng.) and all its members especially Mr. Peter Rudolph Barr, who had begun to make a check list for them and who, because of ill health, had to abandon it. All his papers and letters relating to the subject were handed over to me by Mr. Pilkington, the President at that time of that Society, and they have been of inestimable value to me in this work. Mr. Barr had investigated many thousand names and through his prestige among horticulturalists, questions were answered that had been ignored before. It is nice to think that Mr. Barr’s efforts were not wasted; I perhaps, am the only one who can properly appreciate how much work he did. We owe a great deal too to Mr. Wynn Hellings who searched many catalogs for listings of Bulbous varieties and whose prompt replies to our questions have saved much heartbreak. Dr. Reed, of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, has kept the Registrar up to date on the Japanese varieties and we owe him much also. I do hope that everyone who has aided us in any way will realize that we are grateful; for it is little to just say Thank you, but I do say it many, many times, Thank you, all of you who have helped us, thank you sincerely.

Ethel Anson S. Peckham,
Editor, Check List 1939.


scott wister hires norton peckham williamson

Mrs. Scott, John Wister, Mrs. Hires, Mr. Norton, Mrs. Peckham, E.B. Williamson
The Williamson Garden, Bluffton, IN, 1926