Reprint: Lost Treasure Discovered

Cameron Hall, VA

For some of us, the 1940s are not a decade from remote antiquity; we were there. It is surprising, however, that so many 1940s irises, very popular in their own day, seem to have vanished off the face of the earth. Why? It isn’t really that long ago and many of them were widely grown.

Well known varieties like Cordovan, Lynn Langford and Lilac Lane to name just three, appear to be gone. In the last few years I have acquired Lilac Lane from two different sources and been sent a photograph of Cordovan which was also incorrect. Lynn Langford is supposedly growing in a bed of irises at a California nursing home. However it has refused to bloom for several years so cannot be identified.

Practically no one grows the correct Tobacco Road, introduced in I941, and one of the most famous and important irises of all time. But beware — there is an impostor in circulation out there. The correct TR has purple based foliage, the incorrect one does not.

golden eagleHowever, one long-lost iris from the ’40s seems to have resurfaced: Golden Eagle (Hall 1942). It was growing in the Oregon garden of Roger Nelson who had received it as an unidentified older yellow. Phil Edinger visited Roger’s garden during the 2000 bloom season, spotted the iris in bloom, and recognized it as one he had grown years ago — a truly remarkable rediscovery! An important one also, because Golden Eagle is very significant historically. It was used fairly extensively by hybridizers and is in the pedigree of many later irises. We are glad to have it with us again.

This episode bears out one of my pet theories. It is my contention that a lot of so-called ‘lost’ irises are really out there. They are still grown but their identity has been lost. When handed down from Aunt to niece or elderly neighbor to sweet young bride, the name probably seemed unimportant to the recipient of the gift (if indeed Auntie or the neighbor knew it in the first place.) Thus the identity is gone even though the iris contiues to be grown and enjoyed.

It’s only the churlish old purists like myself who insist on such petty details. How many of us have given boxes of labeled irises to friends and suggested that they prepare a planting chart as the iris are set out only to be told when the iris bloom the following spring “Oh, I didn’t bother with a diagram; that’s so much trouble and I don’t really care!”?

Sometimes I sort of envy this mind set (or should I say, this point of view?)The moral of all this didactic chaff is this: hang on to those unidentified older irises you grow. In fact, go out and look for others to salvage. Who knows? You may wind up with a long-lost iris treasure and it doesn’t even have to be from the 1940s. There are hundreds of ‘lost’ irises from the 1930s, 1920s and earlier that might be out there right now, waiting to be identified. At the risk of sounding like the SPCA, give ’em a home!

~ Reprinted from ROOTS, Vol13, Issue 1, Fall 2000. Photo is uncredited.