Notable Irisarians: The Goos and Koenemann Irises

The Goos and Koenemann Irises

– John Taylor, MT


“Except for the early work of Haage and Schmidt in dwarf irises, apparently the only important work in irises in Germany has been done by
Goos & Koenemann.”   – John Wister, first president of the A.I.S. in The Iris, 1927

With such complimentary recognition from the prestigious John Wister, it is surprising that not much has been written about the founders of the firm of Goos and Koenemann. We know that Max Joseph Goos was born in 1858, and completed the approximate equivalent of a secondary school education and brief military schooling.

iris folkwangIt is also known that his interest in horticulture developed while he served as apprentice gardener with one of the larger German nurseries. So, after working for several other well-known nurseries in western Europe and Great Britain, he bought a small nursery of his own in Niederwalluf am Rhein in western Germany in 1885. Two years later, Max Joseph’s friend August Koenemann became his partner in the business, and the Goos and Koenemann (G&K) nursery firm was founded. Although undoubtedly handling many kinds of annual and perennial plants and seeds, it specialized in flowering garden plants including irises, peonies, bulbs and dahlias. It was also in 1887 that Max Joseph’s son Hermann was born. Not only did Hermann eventually manage the nursery, but all of its significant iris work was accomplished during his short lifetime.

By the mid-1890s, G&K was crossing bearded irises by hand, and had developed breeding programs for both TB and DB irises. To the extent that records indicate, their TBs at that time were probably all diploids, among which must have been selected clones of I. pallida, advanced generation i. pallida-I. variegata hybrids, and garden variegatas of L&eactue;mon, Ware and others. Their dwarf hybrid series was given the Latinized name pumila hybrida although it is doubtful that the species i. pumila was being used. In their 1899 catalog, G&K listed the first of 78 new varieties the firm would introduce abroad during its half-century of operation: six dwarf irises and the light pinkish-purple tall bearded cultivar Trautlieb. The dwarfs were essentially the i. lutescens-type, two of which were blue and the remaining four yellow. Among them was Eburna, which remained in commerce for at least forty years, and which the nursery first called pumila hybrida eburna, i.e., ivory colored. Although it was introduced with the pedigree (pumila X TB), it appears that the “pumila” involved was a form of i. lutescens, and that Eburna approached what we might now call an IB. It was from this same kind of breeding that W. J. Caparne obtained his famous intermediates introduced in 1901 and 1902. One might wonder whether G&K and Caparne were aware of the other’s hybridizing successes in the 1890s.

After the turn of the century, however, G&K was so impressed by Caparne’s work that in about 1905, the firm bought his entire stock of intermediate irises. It has been said that some of Caparne’s IB irises were given Germanic names and introduced later by G&K, but proof of such horticultural subterfuge is lacking. Nevertheless, between 1907 and 1910 the firm did name and introduce ten new IB varieties. Among the 1908 introductions, Helge was found to have 43 and Ingeborg 44 chromosomes, counts not unexpected in the IB class.

A few years later, the young Hermann Goos joined the firm. He was probably already familiar with many aspects of its operation and breeding programs, and quickly contributed to its commercial success. By 1910, when August Koenemann died, the nursery occupied nearly 80 acres.

Kastor, a TB blue self, was introduced for the 1914 season, but by August, Germany had declared war against Russia and entered “The Great War.” Apparently the G&K nursery was spared major military damage, but the war effort adversely affected its operation. Although it seems likely that iris hybridizing continued, their only introduction during the war years was the carmine-purple TB Fuerstin Lonyay introduced in 1916.

irises by goos and koenemann
It was also in 1916, when Britain and Germany were bitter political enemies, that the Royal Horticultural Society awarded AMs to the G&K varieties Iris King and Rhein Nixe, and the HC certificate to their Loreley. Obviously when Hermann Goos took over the management of the firm, it was gaining both recognition and a favorable reputation. After the war, the newly formed Weimar Republic restored confidence to the country, and in 1920 G&K introduced five new varieties, all TBs. However, by mid 1920, a devastating inflation had begun which, by the end of 1923, had reached such mammoth proportions that 30 billion marks were required just to mail a postcard across town. When most Germans wondered if they could afford a loaf of bread, the demand for irises was undoubtedly minimal. It is not surprising then that from 1920 to December 1923, when a new currency brought some sense to the German monetary system, G&K introduced no new irises. In 1921 they registered five TB varieties with the newly organized AIS, and in spite of the unstable economy, apparently continued to hybridize irises, registering the light blue TB Forsete in 1924.

During the post-inflation era, after Hermann had received his doctorate and returned to manage the firm, G&K saw its most active and productive years. From 1924 through 1930, 37 new varieties were introduced, ten of which were registered with the AIS.

When Hermann Goos died in 1933, the chief horticulturist, Frederick Buchner, took over management of the firm. Whether as a result of that administrative change, the inability of the nursery to compete with the increasing number of high-quality tetraploid TBs being introduced by other hybridizers, or the radical political upheaval taking place in Germany, G&K entered a period of decline from which it never recovered. During the Third Reich years, G&K introduced only one cultivar, the red-violet amoena Rheinelfe in 1934. In 1937, its fiftieth anniversary year, G&K issued its grand Jubilee Catalog, now certainly a collector’s item. Just two years later Germany invaded Poland and World War II had begun.

iris loreleyRegrettably, the G&K nursery was located in what was to become a strategic battle area, and was destroyed during bombing raids over the Rhein valley. The firm closed and never rebuilt after the war ended, but the G&K varieties, especially the variegatas, remained so popular in Germany that there were over 40 varieties still listed by one German nursery in the 1950s. Perhaps that might have been expected, for the G&K varieties, though occasionally lacking in quantity of bloom, were recognized not only for the showy colors of their flowers-sometimes softly subtle, sometimes almost garish-but also for their vigorous growth, strong stems and rugged constitutions. Even after so many years, most of those that survive are still welcome in contemporary gardens.

The following list of G&K introductions was prepared from the 1929 and 1939 Alphabetical Check Lists of the AIS, and is presented in chronological order as recorded:

Citrea DB-EE-Y4L 1899
Cyanea DB-E-B1D 1899
Eburna DB-E-W4L 1899
Excelsa DB-E-Y4M 1899
Florida DB-E-Y4L 1899
Formosa DB-E-B3D 1899
Trautlieb TB-M-R7L 1899
Argentea TB-?-BlL 1906
Compacta DB-E-B1M 1906
Gajus TB-M-Y9M 1906
Pfauenauge DB-ML-S6L 1906
Dalmarius TB-M-S4L 1907
Iris King IB-M-Y9M 1907
Halfdan IB-E-W4 1908
Helge IB-E-Y4L 1908
Ingeborg IB-E-WW 1908
Walhalla IB-E-B3M 1908
Berchta TB-M-S6M 1909
Fro IB-M-Y9D 1909
Loreley TB-M-Y3D 1909
*Mars TB-M-Y9D 1909
Floribunda DB-E-Y 1910
Fritjof IB-E-B3M 1910
Gerda IB-E-Y4M 1910
Lohengrin TB-M-R1L 1910
Mithras IB-L-Y9D 1910
Nibelungen TB-M-S6M 1910
Pr. Viktoria Luise IB-ML-Y9L 1910
Rhein Nixe TB-M-W9 1910
Schneekuppe DB-E-W4 1910
Meimung TB-M-B1L 1911
Contrast TB-?-W3 1912
Nothung TB-M-S4L 1913
Kastor TB-?-BlM 1914
Fuerstin Lonyay TB-M-R7M 1916
Eckesachs TB-M-B3M 1920
Flammenschwert TB-M-Y9D 1920
Ilsan TB-M-S6M 1920
Rheintraube TB-ML-R3M 1920
* indicates an unapproved name
Schwanhilde TB-M-R7M 1920
*Balder TB-M-W2 1924
Rheingauperle TB-M-R7L 1924
Rota IB-M-R7M 1924
Vingolf IB-ML-Y3M 1924
Folkwang TB-M-R9L 1925
Forsete TB-M-B1M 1925
Alfheim TB-LA-S3L 1926
Erek TB-M-B7L 1926
Iduna IB-M-Y3M 1926
Iwein TB-M-B1M 1928
Ratu TB-?-? 1926
Thorsten TB-ML-D3D 1926
Thrudwang TB-M-Y3D 1926
Titurel TB-M-B1D 1926
Aareshorst TB-M-S9L 1927
Asa TB-M-Y4L 1927
Bronzechild TB-M-S6M 1927
Eppo TB-M-W1 1927
Gandvik TB-M-B1M 1927
Goldvliess TB-M-Y9D 1927
Havamal TB-M-B3L 1927
Hawanah TB-L-Y3M 1927
Lenzschnee TB-E-W2 1927
Odenvogel TB-M-Y3M 1927
Orchis DB-M-S4D 1927
Runsteln TB-M-S3D 1927
Fatum TB-M-B1D 1928
Indra TB-M-M1 1928
Pfauenfeder DB-ML-S9M 1928
Rheinfels TB-M-W2 1928
Rheintochter TB-M-B3L 1928
Sulphur DB-E-S4M 1928
Asmund TH-M-S9M 1930
Brising TB-M-W3 1930
Fylla DB-M-Y9 1930
Ivald TB-M-Y2 1930
Rheinsage TB-M-S9L 1950
Rheinelfe TB-M-W9D 1934

[Please see corresponding gallery photos for credit and full varietal information.
This article is reprinted from ROOTS Vol. 7, Issue 1, Spring 1994.]