Notable Irisarians: Lloyd Austin

– In Memoriam, 1898-1963
By Thomas Wilkes


In February 7,1963 with the departure of Lloyd Austin, the United States lost its outstanding arilarian, a man uniquely identified with the arils and aril species. To many iris fanciers Lloyd was “Mr. oncocyclus”. Iris fanciers everywhere received Lloyd’s colorful catalogues, and for many years the arils, aril hybrids, and arilbreds received “top billing”.

lloyd austinBy 1944 Lloyd had determined that he was going to hybridize irises, and specialize in the aril field. Lloyd’s article “Twelve Years of Progress in Breeding Arils” in the 1958 Aril Society Year Book contains much information about his professional background and much information about his activities in the Aril field. All of us should reread this article as it tells us a very great deal about the man and his work. By 1945 Lloyd had managed with great difficulty to accumulate a fair sized stock of arils and aril hybrids — enough to launch his ambitious hybridizing program. In 1946 he established his well known firm Rainbow Hybridizing Gardens. In his first catalogue he offered I. susiana and Aphrodite[not to be confused with Aphrodite (Dykes 1923) a TB] some regelias and some van Tubergen hybrids for sale.

World War II had a very serious impact on the arils. The old Near East sources of the arils were eliminated by the war and most of the European dealers and devotees lost their entire stocks. One of Lloyd’s first and extremely important accomplishments was to relocate sources of supply for the arils and aril hybrids. Each new catalogue brought back into commerce, or introduced in this country for sale for the first time, additional oncocycli or aril hybrids for aril fanciers and for iris enthusiasts who wanted to try their hand at growing these exotic but difficult plants. He even went so far as to finance an expedition into Turkey to collect I. gatesii, which one year was priced as low as $2.95! It is safe to say that almost all of the rare aril species stocks in this country originated from importations by Lloyd. Such rare species as nigricans, acutiloba, auranitica, iberica, lineolata, basaltica, sari, gatesii and paradoxa were reintroduced to commerce or sold for the first time. All of these are now on the “Critical List” of the Species Committee, and it is extremely doubtful if sources from the wild for many of them will ever be reestablished. Lloyd’s accomplishments in collecting, propagating and distributing species alone would entitle him to rank among the world’s outstanding arilarians.

From his large scale hybridization Lloyd created thousands of indescribably beautiful arils and aril hybrids. Some of these were based on the arils as parents and others were derived from the van Tubergen regeliocycli crossed with oncocyclus species or hybrids. It may also be said that Lloyd rediscovered the fertility of the regeliocycli and publicized it so widely that it became well known to aril lovers. Lloyd was keenly aware that there was a definite need for a yellow range in the regeliocycli and aril hybrids, and that most of the few previous yellow hybrids were derived from urmiensis. Lloyd accordingly made heavy use of auranitica in his breeding and it is believed that he first created auranitica hybrids of which several were introduced: Persian Bronze, the first regeliocycli derived from auranitica and Judean Bronze, the first oncocyclus hybrid from auranitica. Advanced generation hybrids introduced included Persian Lace, Persian Two Tone and probably Bronze Satyr. Among his other oncocyclus hybrids was Judean Raven which seems to be the only known hybrid in commerce originating from I. nigricans. Along with his introductions, Lloyd sold many of his selected oncocyclus and aril seedlings, some of which are still grown and are presently being used for breeding. Lloyd won several awards with his aril hybrids and except for their extremely difficult cultural requirements, (which few growers could master) would have undoubtedly won many more. His breeding achievements in this field place him among America’s most outstanding hybridizers and place him foremost in the aril field.

From about 1890 the traditional cultural handling methods for the oncocycli and aril hybrids were the same as those introduced by Sir Michael Foster (which Foster modestly attributed to his friend and master horticulturist of the day Max Leichlin). Lloyd, as do we all, experienced difficulty in growing arils using these methods which had been developed to solve problems created by the cold, wet, European climates. Lloyd experimented, developed, and publicized widely his methods of foliar feeding using multi-component sprays which contained nutrients, insecticides and fungicides. This radical departure from the “old methods” is now used extensively, and will likely be the solid foundation on which a really scientific and reliable method of handling aril culture will ultimately be built.

Besides breeding arils and arilbreds on a large scale Lloyd also worked extensively with the oncobreds. He produced one of the few Capitola seedlings in the yellow range — Real Gold which is a fine iris and is widely grown today. He early experienced the infertility found in most Capitola seedlings and searched for better things. He became interested in the C. G. White hybrids, and when he learned that they were very fertile, started collecting and propagating them. He introduced a few irises from C. G. White breeding, but at present we are in doubt as to how far he had progressed along these lines. As with all things aril or arilbred, Lloyd gave the C. G. White hybrids considerable space in his catalogue and fine publicity.

austins catalog cover for 1966Lloyd was a skilled publicist and it is easy to overlook the educational value of such to a subject. His catalogues, which were distributed internationally, gave much needed and excellent publicity to arils and arilbreds and attracted attention to them among his readers. He also published a number of supplements which covered such things as culture and hybridizing. The value of a color catalog is generally recognized by fanciers, but few appreciate the heavy costs involved. All commercial growers must sell iris to cover their costs of doing business and also to earn a living. When one publishes a catalog which is profusely illustrated in color the costs run very high — a single color “cut” from which a flower is portrayed in print costs several hundred dollars, and printing costs are about tripled. Although color pictures are not always too true to color, they do convey color meaning better than words as a general rule. Many of our ideas as to what an oncocyclus and other types of arils and aril hybrids should look like are derived, to a goodly degree, from the impressions we received while looking at the pictures in Lloyd’s catalogues. The educational value of a color catalogue in conveying meaning to such highly indescribable flowers as arils species and hybrids cannot be underestimated. It is very easy to overlook the fact that our commercial iris growers, besides selling iris, are usually dedicated iris lovers and very often are leading hybridizers. Lloyd knew and loved all iris, and he especially loved the arils.

After some 14 years of work with the arils — the iris he loved above all — Lloyd was reluctantly forced to give them up. Since his major iris interest was in hybridizing, he found that it was impossible to combine large scale aril hybridizing with an iris business — the economics of the situation were too formidable. Lloyd’s inability to cope with the problem of delayed germination to the extent necessary to create rapid development and progress in the arils figured largely in his painful decision. In a letter to a customer explaining his decision to discontinue the arils he wrote “My conclusion is that breeding true arils is best adapted to small scale individual work, or to a large endowed research foundation not concerned with making ends meet.” We can only regret that financial problems forced our leading aril commercial grower and hybridizer to drop his aril work. We are also grateful that his work did stimulate others to the extent that it is being continued now by individuals using the foundation that he so largely created.

austin's horned rosyredWhile Lloyd was breeding arils he was also breeding all sorts of irises including TBs. In his TB breeding Lloyd discovered the breaks which led to his Horned and Flounced irises. With his energy and skill he went to work to develop these new things in irises. It is unfortunate that he did not have enough time left to fully explore the potential of these new types, as it is quite probable that he would have developed a ‘new race’ of bearded irises with double falls whose future we can only imagine at this time. Lloyd was a creative and imaginative breeder and undoubtedly had a vision of what he expected to get. It is hoped that this work will be continued until it is possible to completely evaluate these developments.

In addition to his other broad iris interests Lloyd was greatly interested in the reblooming irises. Although fanciers and judges view these quite generally with antipathy, Lloyd realized that if the tall bearded irises were ever to become really popular with the gardening public, fall blooming irises of quality were essential. He attacked the problem energetically by collecting and publicizing highly the available rebloomers and by working them into his already overcrowded hybridizing programs. He leaves a legacy of reblooming irises in his seedling beds for introduction in the future. A geneticist and a skilled plant student Lloyd knew that this could be accomplished since all the genes of the TBs were available for floral traits, plus genes for reblooming tendencies and other floral modifying genes not usually found in the TBs. For the future of iris we hope his reblooming seedlings will be a long step forward and be useful to our reblooming enthusiasts, many of whom became interested in these neglected irises through his publicizing of their garden utility. Present indications are that when rebloomers become highly developed, aril rebloomers will add to their utility and appeal.

austin's horned amethystIt is as a really great arilarian that we of the Aril Society will remember and honor Lloyd, although he has a high place in many other fields of iris activities. As a trained horticulturist and a skilled plantsman, Lloyd concentrated his efforts and energies on the arils at a critical time when the iris world needed just such a man. A talented and imaginative hybridizer and a cultural innovator of skill and resourcefulness, we must place him in the first ranks of men in the field. It is with a genuine feeling of regret that we see him pass on into aril history where he joins the distinguished company of such as Leichtlin, Regel, Foster, and C. G. White; company in which he certainly belongs. We all look forward to the day when Lloyd’s vision of gardenable oncocyclus hybrids, capable of being handled by the many, will be a reality. Through his work Lloyd has greatly improved the chances that some of us will live to see this occur.

To many of us his loss will be more personal, the loss of a friend and associate. Farewell Lloyd; we of the Aril World who share our dreams of oncocyclus beauty beyond compare were privileged to have you in our midst, even though for only too short a time. You gave us much and enriched our lives with your creations of beauty. We shall remember you each spring when some of your beautiful hybrids bloom, or when we see some of their descendants unfold for the first time in the cool quiet tranquility of the dawning sun.

[This -was sent by Region 14 Historian Joyce Ragle, who has been incredibly helpful in unearthing information about Lloyd Austin — a man about whom little written information has been available. Many irisarians know him as the ‘Father of Space Agers’ and those of us who have access to his catalogs know that he espoused the cause of rebloomers early on. It is interesting to learn more about his achievements and contributions to yet another sector of the Iris World. Many thanks to Joyce for this bit of iris history from The Aril Society International Yearbook, 1963.]

[Please see corresponding gallery photos for credit and full varietal information.
This article is from Vol. 13 Issue 1, Fall 2000 issue of ROOTS.]