Irises of note: Alcazar

– by Joan Cooper

Alcazar is a historic tall bearded iris. It was hybridized by Phillippe de Vilmorin in Paris, France. It first bloomed in 1905, it was registered in 1909, and was introduced in 1910.

iris alcazarThere are many reasons why Alcazar is an outstanding iris. When it was introduced it represented a great advance over other garden irises of the time. It had clearer color, more vigor, more adaptability, better branching, bigger size, better substance, and better disease resistance than its contemporaries. It was one of the first garden tetraploids; it has a chromosome count of 2n=48. Nearly every other garden iris of its day was diploid. Almost without exception, all the others had lower chromosome counts.

Alcazar has attractive and harmonious coloring. The falls are light violet; the beard is olive-yellow; and the falls are pansy-purple with bold haft markings. The falls are relatively small and they hang vertically; falls of that type were the fashion in the early 1900s. At that time there was no alternative. No TB existed at that time which had the large flaring falls which now are ‘standard’ with TB cultivars.

A description of Alcazar extracted from early-day iris literature is quoted as follows: “A large well-balanced flower of extra substance, firm texture and good fragrance. The exceptionally tall, widely branched flowering stalks are freely produced and well supported by excellent dark foliage of open growth. This is a distinct variety, a late bloomer, and one of the best ten as a specimen plant.” (That description might well be “lifted” by any modem-day hybridizer and used in his next-year’s catalogue to describe his very fanciest 1973 TB introduction!!)

The great British irisarian, William Rickatson Dykes, wrote in his published works that “Alcazar does well everywhere and is an excellent seed plant.”

Dykes was very correct in his observations. By referring to Alcazar as an excellent seed plant he meant that it was a fertile pollen parent and a good breeder and that it transmitted its good qualities to its progeny. The large number of modern-day TB irises which have Alcazar in their heritage is testimony to Dykes’ comment that it is an excellent seed plant.

Dykes’ comment that it performs well everywhere is to some extent verified by the fact that it performs well in all parts of the USA – which certainly is not true of most other TBs which were hybridized and selected in central or northern France. Very truly, Alcazar’s performance in any locality seems very comparable to the performance of irises which were originated and selected in that locality. It is so versatile that when planted in an ideal environment it even reblooms – right alongside those varieties that are advertised as rebloomers.

Because Alcazar is so famous and so notably a classic, it is available from all commercial growers who stock historic irises. And because it is so old and so vigorous, it is very inexpensive. When Alcazar is grown amidst a group of modern TB irises it tends to steal the attraction away from all the others simply because it is so different from all the others; it has falls which droop down while all the others have falls which flare. Why not get it for your own garden? In addition to being a great attention getter, it also is a wonderful conversation piece.

~ Reprinted from Region 15 Newsletter, from SIGNA #10,1972, and from ROOTS, Vol 4, Issue 1, Spring 1991.