Notable Irisarians: The Many-Sided Dr. Kleinsorge
By R. M. Cooley, OR
“A son of the Middle West, during fifty years of residence in our state, has proudly called himself ‘country doctor’ and has brought dedicated excellence to his profession. His avocational distinction is recognized wherever the science of floriculture is honored. For almost two decades he served as Member, and President, of the State Board of Higher Education. The splendid physical plant of the State’s institutions of higher education is due, in great measure, to the wisdom and imagination of his leadership as Chairman of the Building Committee. As eminent physician, as public servant, as practical geneticist in the culture of Nature’s beauties, his career has been an inspiration to his fellow-citizens of Oregon.”
Dr. Kleinsorge looks over his creation ORMOHR. From Cooley’s Gardens catalog for 1938
So reads the citation awarded to Dr. Rudolph E. Kleinsorge on October 21, 1959, by the University of Oregon, in recognition of a lifetime of diverse service to his fellow men. At the moment I, the writer of this brief account, and you the reader, are specifically concerned with that phase of his activity as a practical geneticist in the culture of Nature’s beauties. And the span of time during which the Doctor has grown and worked with iris misses a half-century by only a half-dozen years!
He was born in Waterloo, Iowa, September 26th, 1883. His earlier education took place at Le Mars and he then attended the University of Iowa where he received his B.A. in 1904 and his degree in medicine in 1908. He was engaged as an instructor in the Medical School at Iowa University from 1904 to 1909. He was a member of Sigma Xi fraternity and of the Honorary Medical Society Omega Alpha.
In the summer of 1909 he decided to cast his professional future in the West, and so came to the growing lumber town of Silverton, Oregon, to begin his practice as a physician and surgeon. The next year he married Nina Bazley, member of’ an English family. Two daughters, Elizabeth and Harriet, subsequently doubled the number in the Kleinsorge household. World War I found him serving as a Second Lieutenant in the Medical Corps. Always intensely interested in the field of education, he served first on local school boards and in 1941 was appointed by the Governor to the State Board of Higher Education. He was President of this body from 1953 to 1959, when he retired from its membership. The first honorary membership in the University of Oregon Medical School Alumni Association was awarded to Dr. Kleinsorge.
Dr. Kleinsorge’s garden. From Cooley’s Gardens catalog for 1950
When he built a new home in 1916 he suggested to Howard Weed, the landscape architect and nurseryman, that some iris be included in the planting scheme. He had admired the flowers in the nursery and the Weeds had one of the finest iris collections of that era. A lone survivor of that original planting, PRINCESS BEATRICE, still stands in the original spot. So began the long cycle of blends, browns and yellows which today are to be found in catalogs and gardens around the world-wherever bearded fins are known and grown.
His first purchases included such rarities as the then new DOMINION strain – CARDINAL, BRUNO, TITAN, etc., and the French imports which included AMBASSADEUR, MME. GAUDICHAU, CECIL BOUSCANT and others. He was meticulous in the choice of his selections, dividing his purchases among such leading dealers of the time as Franklin Mead, Lee Bonnewitz, E. B. Williamson, Carl Salbach, Mrs. Pattison, and F. X. Schreiner.
First crosses were made in 1925 and the first introduction was a velvety, plum colored seedling of AMBASSADEUR X TITAN. It was named KLAMATH, after an Oregon Indian tribe. He was one of the first to succeed in making a cross on the hybrid WILLIAM MOHR, his seedling ORMOHR missing the Dykes Medal because ‘hybrids’ were not eligible for the award at that time. This kind of jinx again blocked his path to the Dykes in 1946 when his DAYBREAK tied with OLA KALA and as a result of the tie no medal was awarded that year.
Dr. Kleinsorge’s garden. From Cooley’s Gardens catalog for 1950
Since the launching of KLAMATH thirty years ago, 95 Kleinsorge productions have ‘gone into orbit’. Of this total, 40, almost half, received the H.M. of the American Iris Society and 20 have been given an A.M. Two have been runner-up for the Dykes. SUNSET BLAZE won the President’s Cup at the 1949 A.I.S. meeting. TOBACCO ROAD, the first really brown Iris, was a milestone in this color class, and CASCADE SPLENDOR set a new pattern and standard of quality in ruffles and branching. RANGER and its progeny have been widely used in breeding reds.
Visitors at the Kleinsorge garden have always expressed astonishment at the limited space which constitutes the entire planting, seedlings and all. The whole area is scarcely more than a 100-foot square. But from this little garden and an annual crop of a few hundred seeds have come such iris giants as THOTMES III, BEECHLEAF, PRETTY QUADROON, TOAST AN’ HONEY, FRONT PAGE, GOLDEN CROWN, FABULOUS, NUEVO LAREDO and SOLID GOLD.
Recognition has come, too, for in 1945 Dr. Kleinsorge was given the Hybridizer’s Medal of the A.I.S., in 1950 the Iris Society of England presented him with the Foster Memorial Plaque, and more recently the Massachusetts Horticultural Society awarded him the Large Gold Medal “for his outstanding work in hybridizing Iris.”
He declines to name a favorite amongst his many accepted introductions. But he does say that he thinks the raising of thousands upon thousands of seedlings by amateurs as well as “professionals” has brought about and will continue to bring constant and great improvement in this flower.
Oh yes, he has still another hobby! For years he has been keenly interested in antique glass. His collection of cruets and other rare and authentic objects in this absorbing field would cause any museum curator to drool. Well, that is another story, but it would make interesting reading in an Antiques magazine.
Reprinted from AIS Bulletin #157
The following is an excerpt from Half Century of Iris,
by William J. McKee & Prof. Jamison R. Harrison, 1954
From Cooley’s Gardens catalog for 1951
Dr. Kleinsorge has been hybridizing irises for about 30 years. In addition to his medical practice, his hobby has been breeding irises, and he also has taken an active interest in education, having served many years on local and state boards of higher education. His first iris registrations were made in 1929, and to date  68 of his seedlings have been introduced. Of these 68 varieties, 37 have received the Award of Merit, an enviable record of iris breeding.
Dr. Kleinsorge practiced line breeding and only in a few specific cases was outside blood infused with his blood line. The outstanding results he has obtained in his line breeding over a period of 25 years places him in an eminent position to evaluate the merits of line breeding. His answer is, it is the most interesting and dependable way to reach an objective.
Dr. Kleinsorge considers Far West one of his most outstanding breeders. It has entered into his breeding for the past twenty-five years. Varieties, Copper Cascade, Old Parchment, Buckskin, Aztec Copper, Grand Canyon, Tobacco Road, Idanha, Bryce Canyon and Gold Beater are descendants of Far West.
Tobacco Road, the first brown colored iris, and a descendant of Far West, proved to be an excellent parent for brown colors, and varieties Bryce Canyon, Cordovan, Magic Wand, Good News. General Patton, Thotmes III, Voodoo and El Paso were the result of Tobacco Road line breeding.
Day Break, a rose blend variety and a Far West descendant, proved to be a good breeder for rose blends, and Rose Splendor and Opal Cloud are results of this line of breeding.
Cascade Splendor, a yellow blend and a Gold Beater seedling, carried yellow blend shades to varieties, Ballet Dancer, Minuet, Alline Rogers, Lovelight and Cairo. All of the aforesaid varieties with a few exceptions are blends of various hues of color. A most impressive list of blend varieties without doubt places Dr. Kleinsorge as the most outstanding American breeder of blends to date.
Dr. Kleinsorge’s special awards: American Iris Society Hybridizer Medal Year 1945, American Iris Society President’s Medal Year 1949. British Iris Society, Sir Michael Foster Plaque Year 1950.