the cheap weed

Got this iris as seed from DBG ages ago. It was labeled as Iris lactea. Iris aficionados apparently look down on this species, even calling it a “cheap weed”. The flowers smell like lighter fluid, which is an added attraction.

Being used to having a garden filled with cheap weeds, it didn’t bother me, until a few years later I obtained seed, “ex Beijing Botanical Garden”, labeled as Iris songarica var. bicolor, which I germinated and when they flowered turned out to be the same cheap weed.

Botanic gardens have been known to be mistaken, so I asked an iris person about this, and was told that Iris songarica was a really rare plant in cultivation and I couldn’t possibly have it in my garden. It seeds around rather exuberantly, which is unusual for a plant that’s rare in cultivation.

According to Brian Mathew, in The Iris, “a distinctive feature” of species in Subgenus Limniris, Section Limniris, Series Tenuifoliae “is the way in which the bases and fibres of the old leaves persist as a neck at the apex of the rhizomes”. Check. Iris loczyi, which I have in the garden from wild-collected seed, is in the same series and has the same feature.

In Iris lactea, same section but series Ensatae, the flowers are described as “fragrant”, a word which always connotes a pleasant smell (I suppose some people could find the smell of lighter fluid pleasant), and the essential distinction in the series is “the long narrow beaked ovary which is separated from the perianth segments by a tube only 2-3mm long, so that the falls and standards appear almost free from each other.” Not in my iris.

So I’ll go out on a limb, or maybe just a fall, and suggest that this is, in fact, Iris songarica. I’m inured to the fact that the universe is not particularly interested in my various plights, complaints, quandaries, puzzles, and so on, but if anyone wants to make a trek out to Central Asia (where I. songarica is common), I’ll spring for rental fees for the yaks.

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3 Responses to the cheap weed

  1. Diana says:

    It looks a little like Iris spuria that you gave me.

    • paridevita says:

      Similar, but the spuria is Iris carthaliniae, aka I. spuria ssp. carthaliniae. Picture of carthaliniae here.
      Unless you got Iris songarica instead. The leaves look alike. In fact, I can’t tell them apart unless they flower.

    • paridevita says:

      I thought you got Iris spuria ssp. carthaliniae.
      Oh well, the leaves look the same, except that with carthaliniae they’re about three feet tall, when happy. If the flower smells like lighter fluid, it’s Iris songarica.

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