Gardeners’ Chronicle (May 8, 1886) 554-555, 586-587.
IRIS CENGIALTI
AN ATTEMPT TOWARDS GARDEN NOMEMCLATURE
M. Foster, Shelford.

UNDER this name there has recently been introduced into cultivation a dwarf free blooming, light blue, bearded Iris, which, especially when grown freely in masses, is a welcome addition to the floral beauties of the latter end of May or early June, though its somewhat flimsy and tender petals are apt to be torn and disfigured by the, alas! too frequent fierce winds of early summer. It needs no special care, only asking to be placed in light but rich soil in some sunny spot, where the dark dampness of winter shall not lay too firm a hand upon it.

But it is not about its culture or the worth of its beauty that I wish now to speak; I desire rather to call attention to it because it seems to illustrate exceedingly well certain difficulties of nomenclature which so often arise, or, may I say, always arise, whenever any one attempts to cultivate all or even a large number of different kinds of the same sort of plant. (I purposely use the untechnical words "kind" and "sort.")

And first let me speak concerning the authority for applying the above name Iris cengialti to the plant introduced under that name.

My earliest specimens came to me from my friend, Mr. Max Leichtlin, and probably reached him from Vienna; but two years ago I brought away from a visit to that admirable botanist, Dan Pedro Porta, in his lovely home in the Val di Ledro, on the west side of the Lago di Guarda, a plant which he called Iris cengialti (and his knowledge of the flora of the neighbourhood is nearly perfect), and which I understood him to say had been gathered on Monte Cengialto itself. This plant proved to be identical with that which I had received from Mr. Max Leichtlin. It may briefly be described as follows:—

The leaves are yellowish-green, 6-9 or more inches in length, half an inch or more in breadth, the scape 1 foot, more or less, high, and thus overlapping the leaves, bears three or four (rarely more, sometimes fewer) flowers; the terminal bud supplying two flowers, and the two or more lateral flowers being supported by short peduncles. So far the plant is not unlike some of the so-called I. biflora group; but the flower itself, though small, is in all its essential features the flower of I. pallida. The ovary is a short ellipsoid, deeply six-grooved; the perianth tube is short and broad, the perianth segments are similarly broad and short; the beard is short, dense, with thick, stunted hairs, white, with orange tips; the pollen is abundant and coarse grained, and the spathe valves are papery membranous, scarious long before the bud expands, though not silvery-white but slightly flushed with purple. Both falls and standards are nearly of the same colour, a beautiful sky-blue flushed with violet, and the styles are of a similar blue but much paler.

The name Iris cengialti was introduced by Ambrosi in his Flora Tyroleae Australis, i., 643. He there says that Bertoloni speaks in his Flor. Ital., of having obtained from Facchini a specimen of Iris pumila, gathered on Monte Cengialto, near Roveredo; but that that species is not found among the plants collected by Facchini, and that the only Iris from Cengialto is one which, with hesitation, he proposes as a new species under the name Iris Cengialti. His diagnosis runs thus:— "Caule tereti bifloro; folds ensiformibus cattle brevioribus; spathis membranaceo-scariosis perigonii tubo longioribus, laciniis exterioribus oblongo-obovatis, apice rotundati-subemarginatis, interioribus subaequalibus; antheris filamento brevioribus." He adds that the scape is divided above into two pedunculiform branches, and that the dried flower is in colour a dirty yellow flushed with violet, the beard white, tipped with orange. This description unfortunately omits many of the distinctive features of the plant we are now discussing, but it contains nothing to contradict the idea that the plant now cultivated as I. cengialti was the one Ambrosi had in view, if we allow ourselves to suppose that his specimen was imperfectly grown, and therefore had only a two-flowered scape, and that a naturally sky-blue perianth may in drying become a dirty yellow. Seeing that no other Iris answering to Ambrosi's description has been found on Cengialto, we may probably without fear conclude that the plant which we now call I. cengialti, coming from that mountain, is the plant which Ambrosi described.

But now comes the question, Is this Iris a "good species," deserving to be written "Iris cengialti Ambrosi"? If any one were to take the flower alone he would, I think, unhesitatingly say that it was simply a small flower of I. pallida, of somewhat flimsy texture; unhesitatingly, I think, save for the purplish flush on the otherwise silvery spathe-valves. Indeed we may at first go farther, and say that the whole plant is a dwarfed I. pallida with shortened inflorescence, small flowers, and stunted foliage, and may speak of it as a dwarf variety of I. pallida. But by a dwarf variety it most be understood to be meant, not a form rendered temporarily dwarf by imperfect nutritive conditions, but a form whose dwarfness has become permanently fixed in the plant. Even the generous culture carried on for five years has produced no material change in the plant; moreover, I have raised seedlings from cengialti crossed with the pollen of a large I. pallida, and these, some to a very great, others to a less extent, carry the dwarf features of the mother.

I. cengialti, however, differs from I. pallida in points other than those relating merely to size of parts or to vigour of growth. While the leaves of I. pallida proper remain above-ground and green all the winter those of cengialti die down altogether, so that if the rhizome be at all deeply buried the winter buds are completely hidden. While the seeds of I. pallida are larger perhaps the largest of the bearded group, red-brown, and if sometimes oval, frequently at least by compression angular, those of I. cengialti are quite small, grey in colour and regularly oval, resembling, save in colour, the seeds of the I. pumila group. The former difference may not have much value, but the latter seems to me of considerable importance, one which, taken by itself, would justify specific recognition.

For what do we mean now-a-days by a "species" and a "variety?" We certainly do not mean by variety the embodiment of temporary distinctions which have arisen in the course of time, and which may be expected in the course of time to disappear, the variety being then absorbed again into the species, for we apply the term ''variety," again and again, to forms concerning which we have no jot or tittle of evidence that their distinctive features are ever likely to disappear. And there are few at least, if any, of us who, when we call one plant a species and another a variety, do so because we have evidence that the one existed ab initio, or was specially crested, while the other came into existence post initium, "by the natural course of events." I take it that most systematic botanists, whatever their theoretical views as to the "origin of species," practically " make " a species when the difference between the plant which they are describing and others has a certain large magnitude, and make a variety when the difference has a certain small magnitude.

But what in such cases is she canon by which we can measure the magnitude? There can be only one true canon, and that is the amount of energy, expressed as units of beat, or otherwise, required to be expended in order to bring about the difference. We cannot, in our present ignorance of the events which lead to differences among plants, make an exact use of this canon, but we may, nevertheless, in a rough and approximative way employ it. Thus we can see that the change from a blue flower to a white flower entails very little expenditure of energy; though we do not clearly see, we dimly judge that a very little twist in the working of the plant's machinery might bring about such a result. Similarly, we may conclude that a larger expenditure is needed to materially change the form of a petal, and so on; so also, though we know very little about the causes which determine the form and character of seeds, we may probably presume that a change in these means a considerable amount of labour, and conclude that a difference in seed is a difference of a large magnitude.

*There remains a possibility—one which must not be neglected—that this Iris from Monte Cengialto is a natural hybrid. I have considered this possibility and come to the conclusion that there is no evidence in favour of it. Not only do I not see any distinct evidence of any but "pallida" blood in the plant, but such seedlings as I have obtained, show no sign of any admixture in the parent of foreign blood. Such evidence is of course not conclusive, but is at least as strong, and in the absence of any positive evidence in favour of the plant being a hybrid, we may, I think, at once dismiss the view.

So that, comparing as well as we are able the magnitude of the difference between the Cengialto Iris and the typical I. pallida with the magnitudes of difference usually recognised by botanists as justifying specific distinction, we should, I venture to think, be inevitably led to consider I. cengialti as a "good" species.*

But observe what this leads to. We thereby wipe out of the name of the plant every indication of its many and striking affinities with I. pallida. The name itself, then, tells us nothing about the plant, except that it is an Iris connected in some way with Monte Cengialto. Yet surely a plant's name ought, if possible, to tell us something about the plant's nature. The generic name always does, though often, of course, some amount of interpretation is necessary. The words Iris, Crocus, Fuchsia, &c., are all compressed definitions; and ought not the specific name, as far as possible, to give us similar help?

Shall we then fall back on the phrase I. pallida var. cengialti, using the word variety with the cautions given above?

But this leads us into difficulties in another direction. In the spring of 1884 I found on the northern slopes of Monte Baldo, overlooking the little lake of Loppio, at the height of about 3000 feet, a small clump of an Iris with dwarf foliage. It was not living under favourable conditions, having obviously been often eaten down by goats or cattle, and there were no signs of its ever having flowered. It was the only patch of Iris of any kind which I saw on that hillside, I gathered some pieces of rhizome, sent them home, and cultivated them. They grew vigorously, and in the summer of 1885 bloomed, showing me that I had thus obtained an Iris very similar to the Cengialto Iris, but in some respects quite different from it. It had the same dwarf foliage, stunted inflorescence, small pallida-like flower, and the same small grey seed; and it died down in winter. But the leaves were narrower and taller, bluish-green, not yellowish-green, and the flower had not only somewhat narrower and longer perianth segments, but instead of being a very pale blue, was a full dark rich blue. Any gardener seeing the two plants side by side, would say they were different plants from the foliage and mode of growth alone, and when he saw them in flower would insist on their receiving different names.

Now this Iris, being of sufficient beauty to deserve being cultivated, therefore needs a name, and I want to associate its name with that of my friend Don Pedro Porta, of Ledro, in memory of the pleasant day I spent with him. But how am I to do this?

Many in my place would, I dare say, call it at once I. Portae, but the reasons I urged just now are valid also against such a course. If we were agreed to consider the Iris from Cengialto as a specific form and call it I. cengialti, I might call this Monte Baldo Iris, I. cengialti var. Portae. But if, as we just now suggested, the former is to be called I. pallida var. cengialti, is the latter to become I. pallida var. cengialti, something Portae? —I say "something" because we have no other titles but "species" and "variety," and the distinction between the Monte Baldo Iris and the Cengialto Iris is of much less magnitude than that between the latter and a typical Iris pallida.

I certainly shall not myself propose a name so ''intolerable and not be borne," and propose to get out of the difficulty by following the plan which I adopted in dealing with I. reticulata (see Gardeners' Chronicle, vol. xxiii., 1885), and making use of the term subspecies, with the sign s, or, better, s.-s. I suggest, therefore, that the Cengialto Iris should be called I. pallida, sub-species cengialti, and written shortly I. s.-s. cengialti.

The Iris from Monte Baldo might then be called I. s.-s. cengialti var. Porta. It will be convenient to say var. Porta, and not var. Portae, as indicating that we are dealing with a distinction of the third degree with a variety of a subspecies of a species. This would enable us, if it became necessary, to use the term var. Portae when we had to deal with a satiety of a typical species. And I have already distributed this Iris to some of my friends under this name, or under the unnecessarily longer one, I. s.-s. cengialti Don Pedro Porta. But for reasons which I will urge presently, I desire to withdraw this and substitute for it the geographical name, "Loppio," since it was near the little lake of that name that I found it.

BUT my difficulties are not yet at an end.

1. My friend Mrs. Horace Darwin gathered for me, on the east side of the Lago di Guarda, low down on the slopes of Monte Baldo, an Iris, which I at first thought might be I. cengialti again; but which, on cultivation, turned out to be intermediate between I. pallida and what I have just described as the typical I. cengialti. It is a dwarf I. pallida, and it dies down nearly completely in winter, but the flowers are larger than those of I. cengialti, and more closely resemble those of the typical I. pallida, and the inflorescence though curtailed is more abundant than that of I. cengialti, six or seven flowers being produced. It has not ripened seed with me as yet, and, therefore, I cannot apply this test as to its cengialti nature. Pending knowledge on this point, I should describe it as closely allied to I. cengialti, but differing from that form by features marked enough to make it in the eyes of a gardener a distinct plant, the differences being in the direction of the typical I. pallida. I will call it for the present A.

2. I found on the hills to the west of Riva, and on Monte Brione to the east of Riva, an Iris, which on cultivation turns out to be a dwarf, or rather a small-flowered, low growing I. pallidaa true I. pallida, with the foliage perishing during winter, and yet by reason of its size and stature very distinct as a plant from the ordinary typical pallida. I will call this B.

3. Messrs. Backhouse have kindly given me plants of two forms of what they have been led to consider as I. cengialti, one a light blue, the other a deeper blue, both gathered I understand by Mr. Potter in the neighbourhood of Riva. I have not seen these in flower as yet, but I am confident that they are both of them different from the typical I. cengialti, for the foliage of both is quite persistent through the winter. I will call them C and D.

4. Lastly, I have a plant from Mr. Ware, called by him formerly I. pallida minor, and now, I believe, appearing in his catalogue as I. cengialti. This resembles I. cengialti in so far as it may be described as an I. pallida, with dwarf foliage, abbreviated inflorescence and smaller flowers; it also dies down completely in winter. But the foliage is of blue-green, not yellowish-green hue, the rhizome is less compact, the perianth segments are narrower, as well as of a deeper blue; the spathe valves are more distinctly flushed with purple, and the plant flowers with great regularity a second time in autumn. This I have never known I. cengialti to do during the five or six years it has been under my observation; it has a faint distinct, alliaceous odour which is wholly absent from cengialti, and while I. cengialti seeds freely, Mr. Ware's plant has never once seeded with me during the four or five years I have had it; I can say nothing therefore about the characters of its seeds. I will call this E.

Now, the question which I wish to consider, and which I dwell on because it is an example of a difficulty which must always occur to almost every one attempting to study closely any group of plants is. Supposing all these forms, which I have called A, B, C, D, E, are for botanical or gardening purposes worthy of preservation, what names are to be given to them? For, if they are to be preserved, names must be given to them, otherwise confusion, worry, and disappointment are sure to arise. For my own part, I think that A, B, and E, ought certainly to be preserved. I say nothing at present about C and D, not having as yet seen them in flower, and thinking it possible that one of them may be identical with B. They are worthy, I venture to think, of being preserved for botanical reasons, since to such an one as myself, desirous of getting hold of "the whole story" of the nature of the plant form we call "Iris," these smaller variations are no less instructive than the larger differences which we formulate as species. Nor should I like to lose them from my garden, for they are all pleasant to my eyes and each possesses something which the others have not. For example, I should regret the loss of E, whose second flowers, wringing with dew on a cool September morn, awake afresh the memories of the bright May that is gone, and besides, by furnishing a link where the chain is weakest, help one to the boast that I am rarely three weeks in the whole year without an Iris bloom to look at.

In urging, however, that these forms should receive names I do not mean that these names should be brought out on every occasion just as for some purposes the larger tokens which mark a genus is all that need be made known, the smaller tokens which denote species being passed over in silence; so for some purposes the specific token is alone needed, and all the smaller differences may be ignored. Moreover there must be a limit to every human catalogue, and should increased knowledge extend my list from A to Z, and beyond, want of space and of time, and indeed of names, might put a stop to such continued naming. Lastly, it seems to me important that the name, white giving some indication of the nature of the plant, should be of such a kind that it should be at once recognised as not declarative of the possession of those strongly marked differences which are indicated by the term species. The name ought to tell us at once that the plant is not a distinct species, but simply a variation on a species, and that not a large variation, but a variation slighter than such as is indicated by the technical term "variety."

This end, I venture to think, may be gained by adding to the specific or subspecific or varietal name some trivial word, written in English, and chosen, according to pleasure, from the names either of personal friends, distinguished statesmen, ancient heroes, celebrated generals, or of places. I am aware that the Narcissus Committee proposed to limit the use of such words to new forms appearing under cultivation, in ordre to distinguish these from forms occurring wild. But such a proposal seems to me unphilosophical and, indeed, misleading. The new name is rendered necessary by the appearance of certain new features, the outcome of certain conditions, seminal or other, and those new features have the same differential magnitude, whether the agency concerned in their production is an insect, or the wind, or a man. When a flower which usually is blue is found as a white form, it does not matter two straws in respect to the magnitude of the change from blue to white, whether the white flower is found on the mountain side or in a nurseryman's garden. It is the magnitude of the change, of the difference developed, which necessitates, and which alone necessitates the new name. I am therefore in favour of applying these trivial names both to wild and garden plants, in order to denote differences less even than those which constitute a variety technically so-called, and for which Latin names may be fitly used. Conversely, where a garden product exhibits permanent differences of adequate magnitude, such as would put it, differentially, on a level with a natural species or variety, I should have no hesitation in applying to such a plant a Latin name. I fully acknowledge the advantage in the name indicating whether the new form which bears the name is of wild or garden origin. But this, I think, may easily be gained by always using a geographical term for a wild plant (and this will have the further advantage in the name itself indicating the habitat) and a personal term for the stranger appearing in a garden. I may add that it would be of advantage if Latin geographical terms were more largely employed for species, subspecies, and varieties, reserving the Latinised form of distinguished botanists and others for genera, or other larger groups, and honouring the zealous friend who sends home a new plant in some other way than by attaching his name to it.

I may here diverge for a moment to suggest that such trivial names should be (1) short, (2) if possible capable either of being easily pronounced in different tongues, or of being easily translated from English into other languages, and (3) if possible suggestive. It should be short, because, though the discoverer or raiser of a new form may wish to name it after his friend, "John Henry James Charles William Smith," the world will be distinctly the better if he is content to call it "John" or "Smith." That it should be such as different mouths can pronounce will be admitted by every one who reflects that such words as Bloughborough or Chronschkrewski are respectively "hard sayings" to different peoples. And that it should be suggestive is involved in the very essence of a name.

In my own garden catalogue I have labelled A, "Baldo," and B "Riva," and have provisionally called E "Ware," though I should like to exchange this for a geographical name if I could learn exactly from whence the plant came. These names, or rather the two first, satisfy the above conditions, and I venture to think that they are such as might fully become permanent.

But now comes the further difficult question, To what specific, subspecific, or varietal title are these trivial names to serve as respective additions? They all belong to the group I. pallida, but E is distinctly much nearer to I. cengialti than to the typical pallida; and I have no hesitation in labelling it I. s.-s. cengialti, Ware. Similarly B seems to me beyond doubt nearer to pallida than to cengialti, and I should therefore propose to call it I. pallida, Riva. I should of course desire that the name should indicate its proclivity towards cengialti, but I do not see how that could be accomplished, unless further study of the pallida group should render it necessary or desirable to institute a new subspecies, with a new subspecific name, intermediate between the typical pallida and cengialti. With regard to I. A I am at present in doubt, but see no reason why in the end, upon fuller knowledge, I shall not be able to make up my mind. I shall in all probability be largely guided by the characters of the seed. If the seed is like that of cengialti I shall call it I. s.-s. cengialti, Baldo; if not, the plant will remain on my list as I. pallida, Baldo. I. pallida and I. cengialti thus become to me two centres of two circles whose circumferences possibly, or probably, cut each other, but whose areas can be kept apart, except perhaps just where the circles kiss; and, in all probability, these kissing points will be rare and not cause any practical confusion.

As to C and D, I hope to be able to make up my mind when I have seen them in flower, and have gained fuller knowledge of them. Nor do I despair of being able, after this fashion, to label and pigeonhole any Iris belonging to these groups which I may come across. And of course the same principles may be applied not only to other groups of Irises, but to all other plants. The terms genus, species, sub. species, varieties (I keep all these words because they are in use) indicate to my mind tokens of differences of diminishing magnitude, and thus centres of groups of decreasing complexity for all these I should propose to employ the Latin names. In the case of plants exhibiting differences of lesser magnitude I should propose to ascertain to which centre they were nearest, and to add to the Latin name of that centre a trivial English name. Or these plants, with trivial names may be regarded as satellites of some larger body—of a sun, of a planet, or of some moon itself. I have incidentally given above instances of a satellite to species, and to a subspecies, but it would not be difficult to find the necessity of giving a name to a satellite of a varietas. Thus, I have argued that I. cengialti should be regarded as a subspecies, not as a varietas. But if the differences it exhibits were deemed sufficient only to justify its being called I. pallida varietas cengialti, we could still append the words "Loppio," "Baldo," &c., to designate the plants spoken of above. We might simply in such a case add "Loppio," &c., after cengialti, without any intervening word (in which case part of my argument concerning the Loppio Iris would fall to the ground) or, if we pleased, we could make a distinction between varietas in Latin and variety in English, corresponding to the distinction urged above between the Latin and English names. Thus, in general, while varietas Smithiana denoted differences only less in magnitude than those proper to a subspecies, variety Smith would mean much smaller differences. It may seem awkward—as, indeed, I wrote above—to write varietas cengialti, variety Loppio, but we undoubtedly do stand not only in need of three terms, like those of species, subspecies, and varietas, to denote differences of decreasing, but still considerable magnitude, but also a fourth term to denote still smaller differences. If we cannot use variety in English, as distinct from varietas in Latin, we ought to invent and to use some new term.

A plant which lies near the circumferences of two circles, will have to be studied sufficiently closely in order that its distance from the respective centres may be adequately judged before it is finally named. It may be difficult sometimes to make up one's mind, but in this, as in other things, the difficulty may be met by increased pains.

A short name will of course never tell everything about a plant, but with the above plan it will tell a good deal.