Anyone’s wish list of plants with wild, wonderful or weird coloration should definitely include the type of iris known as ‘broken color.’ Although I love irises, it wasn’t until about six years ago that I discovered these unique variants. The broken color iris have petals that are variously splashed, spotted and/or streaked with color. The cause of the color breaking is a genetic instability which prevents the plant from producing its normal coloration in a uniform manner. A genetically normal iris cultivar will look the same from plant to plant; but each individual broken color iris is unique in its color patterning even within its own cultivar. Thus, every broken color iris is literally one of a kind.
Surprisingly, broken color iris have been around a long time… in fact, the first one was recognized as early as the 1840s. It was a French variety originally named ‘Victoire Lemon’ after the mother of the man who introduced it, but over time the name became accidentally transmuted to ‘Victorine’ which is how it is known today. The falls are rich purple randomly veined, striped and edged in white; the standards are white but their interiors are splashed with the same deep purple as the falls.
In the very early 1900s a German hybridizer introduced the cultivar ‘Loreley’ which although it cannot boast a classic bearded-iris form is one tough cookie as far as thriving in difficult growing conditions. This pretty iris displays classic “Eastertime” colors in its purple and white falls with a bright yellow edge, combined with bright yellow standards speckled and flecked with purple.
Also from the first half of the 1900s is the Miniature Tall Bearded iris ‘Kaleidoscope’ whose golden yellow standards rise above paler yellow falls that are splashed and spotted with rusty red and sparkling white. Also in the yellow family is ‘Corsage’ from 1956; both the falls and the standards combine snow white and sunshine yellow in a wild profusion of broad brush-stroke splashes and narrow streaks.
The Border Bearded category joined the broken color community in the early 1970s with the appearance of a cream, yellow and purple confection with the charming name of ‘Minnesota Mixed-up Kid’. Although it was developed 30 years earlier, it was not actually registered until 2003.
One of the modern pioneers (and who many regard as the hybridizer who has perfected the art of the broken color iris) is Brad Kasperek of Zebra Gardens. Since the 1990s his Utah nursery has produced some of the best and most whimsically named broken color varieties. One of the best known is ‘Bewilderbeast’ which displays white, yellow, and mauve shades in an extravaganza of flecks and stripes. For the science fiction lovers among us, 1998 saw the introduction of ‘Millennium Falcon ’ – a striking white and purple explosion of which Han Solo would surely approve.
Many of these fascinating iris have found a home in my own beds and borders, as can be seen in the photos below. I have always had a weakness for flowers displaying wild, weird and wonderful coloration!
Definitely a bit weird, but undoubtedly wonderful! 🙂