Reprint: Dr. R. E. Kleinsorge and Brown irises

By the editors from a tape interview with Dr. Kleinsorge by Robert Schreiner

All photos from Cooley’s Garden catalogs. In order: Far West, Tobacco Road, Treasure Island, Mexico.

This could be many stories, It could be the story of a young doctor who built a new home in 1914, and who employed Howard Weed to landscape the yard. Among the landscape plants were some irises advanced for that time, and this could be the story of how Dr. Kleinsorge became interested in hybridizing irises.

Or it could he the story of how Rholin Cooley came by to see these irises, received a handful of little seedlings, and thus went on to become interested in irises and to become a titan in irisdom.

It could be the story of RANGER. CASCADE SPLENDOR, SOLID GOLD and GRAND CANYON, still splendid irises in the dark red self, the yellow blend, the full ye/low and the dark violet blend classes.

Or it could be the story of that remarkably small plot of ground, about 50″ by 100″, from which came twenty Award of Merit winners from 1942 to 1959. Or it could be a story in yet another vein, that of the great impact of Dr. Kleinsorge on the medicine and the education of Oregon.

iris - far westBut these stories await another time and another author. Here we are concerned with brown irises and Dr. Kleinsorge’s role in their development. The story really begins with DOMINION irises, such somber blends as DOLLY MADISON, and a theory. “Buy the best that you can get… Inbreed and you discard the bad characters… If you make a few inbred crosses, you will find that you have some weak things. If I find the same characteristic dominant in a couple of seedlings, those are the ones I would cross . . . I never introduced a new source of pollen from anyplace but what I had to weed out the bad ones in it, and start again with the second generation to get anything good out of it.” The goal! Well, we suspect a big yellow, for there was nothing yellow at the time except old SHERWIN WRIGHT, and Dr. Kleinsorge was engaged in the quest for a yellow, along with Sydney Mitchell and Carl Salbach.

The story begins to achieve a crescendo with the appearance of FAR WEST. “My favorite iris for hybridizing until the browns came along; you could cross it with anything and get good flowers. FAR WEST is (sdlg. 115: Mine. Cecile Bouscant x Dolly Madison) X Pres. Pilkington, and superior irises among its progeny are legion. (See Bulletin No. 100, Jan. 1946, pp. 63-69.)

iris - far westThe next great break to brown came with the production of TOBACCO ROAD, and it traces to FAR WEST on three sides of its pedigree and JEAN CAYEUX on the fourth. Old-timers still speak in tones of awe at the superb irises produced from a cross between MEXICO (tracing back to TREASURE ISLAND, PURISSIMA and DOLLY MADISON on one side, and FAR WEST and RAMESES on another) with TOBACCO ROAD. From this cross came as sterling irises as the more yellow toned GOOD NEWS and CHAMOIS and the dark browns of BRYCE CANYON, PRETTY QUADROON and VOODOO. Grant Mitsch repeated this cross, and achieved INCA CHIEF, which the Schreiners used in their brown development; and TOBACCO ROAD is the pod parent of ARGUS PHEASANT, the 1952 Dykes Medal winner, it is difficult to trace an award-winning brown iris of today that does not trace back to TOBACCO ROAD.

Parenthetically, Dr. Kleinsorge speaks with pride of another such row of seedlings, the one which produced SOLID GOLD. Also parenthetically, PURISSIMA X DOLLY MADISON produced the cream seedling No. 157, which crossed with JEAN CAYEUX, brought forth TREASURE ISLAND, the first big yellow iris on the West Coast; which crossed with FAR WEST produced such diverse greats as COPPER CASCADE, OLD PARCHMENT and GRAND CANYON. This TREASURE ISLAND line was the second of the potent breeding strains in the Kleinsorge lines. Parenthetically again, the cross of MEXICO (tracing back to TREASURE ISLAND) X GOLDBEATER (tracing back to FAR WEST) resulted in the fabulous CASCADE SPLENDOR.

iris - far westBRYCE CANYON in turn produced some superb brown irises. The distinctly colored CORDOVAN is 314 X BRYCE CANYON; and GENERAL PATTON, rich reddish brown, with beards that bristled like spurs that suggested the name of the famous World War II general, is 310 X BRYCE CANYON. Roy Brizendine’s MILLION.AIRE also has a liberal dosage of BRYCE CANYON in its makeup.

The richly colored EL PASO, the next in the line of browns, is TOBACCO ROAD X GOLD BEATER.

MEXICO X the same sdlg. 314 (above) produced THOTMES III, named after the Egyptian Pharoah who married an Hittite princess and who, in her honor, sent plant scouts into the surrounding territories to gather and bring back new forms of plant life, and thus introduced into Egyptian gardens irises. THOTMES III, in turn, X PRETTY QUADROON presented the 1959 AM winner, BEECHLEAF.

But the story implies more than a successful line of browns. FAR WEST could have been an accidental and lucky cross that could have happened to any of us, but what happened after that testifies richly to the genius of the man, his powers of observation, his astute judgment, and his carefully planned and studied crosses. Perhaps nowhere have so many superb irises come from such a small seedling patch, and irises of today are richer because of FAR WEST, TOBACCO ROAD, MEXICO and TREASURE ISLAND, and the hybridizing of Dr. R. E. Kleinsorge.

~ Reprinted from AIS Bulletin #193, April 1969.