Bulletin of the American Iris Society, no. 169: 29-30 (1963)

The Iris Auranitica of Syria

PETER WERCKMEISTER
[Translated by George Hacklaender]


IRIS AURANITICA
A golden brown form of this species of oncocyclus iris from the Tell Jaffna in Syria. Photographed by Peter Werckmeister in his garden at Geisenheim am Rhein, West Germany, June 1962.

Iris auranitica, the golden Iris of the Hauran, was first discovered by Dinsmore on the Tell Quleib in Syria. There, I too had the opportunity of collecting it in 1956 and again in 1961. About 1940, Father Mouterde found it in several other places in the Djebel Druze, and in different color variations. One of these habitats on the Tell Jaffna I was able to reach in August 1961 with the aid of Syrian friends. Although, in August, it was late in the season, we did find the yellowed leaves of this iris. The unexpectedly cold European weather in the spring of 1962 had nearly everywhere in Europe killed the flowers on the oncocyclus species. The only exception, and a unique consolation, was the plants of Iris auranitica from the Tell Jaffna, which gave me much joy with their 32 flowers. They flowered in June, a whole month later than in their habitat on the Tell Jaffna, and I believe it was the first time that they flowered in cultivation in Europe. For some reason they are less tender against late radiation frosts than their fellow irises from other habitats. The Tell Chihane iris was killed by frost; it yellowed and died up very early, although it seemed healthy and full of promise when it started to grow in March. The habitats of both these irises are situated at approximately the same distance from the Syrian Desert.

The range of variation of the Tell Jaffna auranitica proved to be fairly large. At that, it is, at least in color, clearly distinct from any other oncocyclus species. May we call this yellow and brown, or should we say bronze and gold? At any rate, I know of no other iris with this color scale. There are selfs and bitones, light and dark signal patches, and it is said that there is even a pure yellow variety, var. unicolor Mouterde, without any anthocyan. It is a pity that this variation was not among the plants I collected. The flower shape is sometimes perfectly round and waved, a form we aspire to with our cultivated varieties. Sometimes the flowers are narrow and tall, so that the standards allow you to look through between them, and the falls then roll back, as one can observe in a number of oncocyclus species.

The flowers of this Iris auranitica gave me, in 1962, the most vivid impression in my whole garden. Let us hope that, one day, we learn the secret of growing oncocyclus irises. For they belong to the largest and most beautiful wild flowers which nature has given us. It is nearly incomprehensible that up to now no cultivars derived from them are found as a matter of course in all our gardens, although we have known them as long as their immediate neighbors in the natural habitats—the tulips, hyacinths, and cyclames—and these as wild flowers are much less impressive. Not until we saw Iris auranitica here did we realize how rich in color this wild flower really is.

Dr. Werckmeister is professor of botany at the Botanical Institute, Geisenheim am Rhein.