Article: A Tale of Three Red Iris

by L. Munro

numa roumestanIt was the late 1920’s. hybridizers efforts to chart the course of bearded iris development were being rewarded with gratifying results. It should come as no surprise that Mrs. Douglas Pattison, a prominent iris grower and judge, declared that 1929 “should be noted as a very famous year in iris history.” In that year three very beautiful reds, real reds in color, each remarkably fine in height, substance, poise, and branching quality were introduced to the public. Of these, two were American: Dauntless (Connell 1929), and Indian Chief (Ayres 1929) and one was French, Numa Roumestan (Cayeux 1928). “Prior to that date”, Mrs. Pattison continues, “there was hardly a red iris worthy of the name.” It did not take the AIS long to recognize the beauty of one. Dauntless was awarded the Dykes memorial Medal by the American iris Society in 1929, the very year of its introduction.

Mrs. Pattison, the iris judge, chooses no favorite. But she does go on to describe and compare the three in more detail:

  • Indian Chief, being the largest flower, was the greatest in height; Dauntless being second and Numa Roumestan third.
  • However, it was noted that Indian Chief was not as ‘true’ a red as the other two, and it is Numa that is praised as being of a more uniform shade than the others, and also the most beautifully frilled and ruffled.
  • Dauntless is described as the finest shaped flower, most beautifully held on the stem.
  • Pattison ranked them with regard to ‘velvety quality’ and named Indian Chief, Dauntless and Numa Roumestan in that order.

dauntless“If you ask which one we like best”, she says, “we shall answer, ‘the one we saw last’.”

Considering the economic uncertainty of the times, iris enthusiasts must have been quite a stalwart group. The red trio could have been purchased from Mrs. Pattisons Quality iris Gardens catalog in 1930 for $67.50 … or individually as follows: Dauntless (‘very limited stock’) at $30.00; Indian Chief, also very limited, at $17.50, and numa Roumestan at $20.00.

Dauntless, having garnered the Dykes in its introduction year, must have been the enfant celebre of the iris world. It truly is ‘more red’ than any of its forebears, and by winning the highest prize in irisdom, was ensured a place in history, despite its occasional fussiness. If Dauntless were crowned royalty, then Indian Chief was elected the peoples’ choice. It carved itself a different path to fame and glory. Its vigor was exceptional and it grew like a weed. Grannies grew it, housewives grew it; even at Presby Iris Gardens, home of thousands of iris, in 2002 it was the only one that was so abundant that it was removed in wheelbarrows full, and sold to visitors on the spot. And they all loved it too! It truly earned its place in the hearts, backyards, and local nurseries of America, and by the early 40’s was being called “the most popular iris of the garden”.

Mrs. pattison was right. All three of these iris were noteworthy and sold well. One sees them offered in the best iris catalogs of the 1930’s. Numa is listed in Schreiner’s; and is of course, a staple of the Cayeux offerings in the years to come. The Dykes winner is carried everyone who is ‘anyone’ of importance in the iris world, and Indian Chief is simply everywhere. By the 40s however, the going price has dropped dramatically. For instance Dorothy Stoner’s Iris Garden in Merriam Kansas, 1940 catalog still offers all three: Dauntless for $0.25, Indian Chief for $0.15, and Numa Roumestan for $0.15. Then something happens.indian chief

Past the early 40s Numa is no longer listed in catalogues which continue to carry IC and D. While even today, it is easy to find starts of these latter two growing in historic iris collections (and still being offered for sale) Numa has simply vanished. perhaps her fate was sealed when catalogs start to describe her as merely “similar to Dauntless” and nothing is mentioned of her unique beauty. Who needs another Dauntless, when you can buy the real thing? Numa quietly slips away, a casualty of a red iris ‘explosion’ of the late 30s and 40s. No protest does she offer as she is consigned, like countless beauties before her, to virtual iris obscurity. Did anyone notice? Or more aptly, did anyone even care?

The world did not have room for the three ‘breakthrough’ reds of 1930, only two. While Indian Chief and Dauntless have transcended their original expectations, Numa simply ran out of space (on catalogue pages) and out of time.

This article is from Vol. 16 Issue 1, Spring 2003 issue of ROOTS.
[Please see corresponding gallery photos for credit and full varietal information.]