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White and Purple Irises

White and Purple Irises

From “Dalmatica and English Nurserymen” in Classic Irises and the Men and Women Who Created Them by Clarence Mahan:

[Peter] Barr and his sons Peter Rudolph and William were leading breeders of irises. Beginning with the introduction of a reddish-violet iris named Garibaldi in 1873, the Barrs produced scores of new irises. These Barr irises were highly regarded in their day. Mention has already been made of the Pallida Dalmatica look-alike Princess Beatrice. A few of the other popular Barr varieties were brownish-yellow Bronze Beauty, light blue-violet Alice Barr, blue-violet Khedive, and yellow and red-violet ‘Robert Burns’….

“One of Peter Barr’s lasting contributions to the world of garden irises was the gift of a special vocabulary. Garden writer and iris hybridizer Sydney B. Mitchell explained how this came about in his book
Iris for Every Garden:

“‘About 1873 Barr issued a descriptive list of his extensive collection [of irises], arranging the varieties in groups: aphylla (including forms of germanica), amoena (white standards and purple falls), neglecta (lavender standards and dark falls), pallida (lavender, light and dark blue, and rosy-toned purple selfs), squalens (forms with blended, often rather dull, combinations of smoky blue and gray or yellow and red), and variegata (clear yellow standards and falls either veined a dark red or nearly solid ox-blood color). Barr’s classification was adopted and continued in English and American lists into the nineteen-twenties. Even to this day such terms as ‘amoena’ and ‘variegata’ are applied to modern hybrids of these old color patterns.’

“The terms ‘amoena,’ ‘neglecta,’ and ‘variegata’ continue to be used by those who write and talk about irises in the 21st century. These words refer to the color patterns described by Barr and form an enduring element of iris argot. It is, after all, easier to say than an iris cultivar is a ‘neglecta’ than to say that it is a ‘violet or purple iris with standards that are lighter in color than its falls.”


This is the last of my iris posts for 2024 — unless I come across some of the very late bloomers, like the Leopard Lily (Iris domestica), which I can often find in July. The galleries below show those I photographed with white or nearly white standards and contrasting shades of purple in their falls. Toward the middle, you will also see some that have a thin white border around the edges of the purple petals, providing an extra touch of pizazz.

Separate from any scientific or botanical names, descriptions of iris color schemes have their own names — such as amoena and neglecta — which are explained in the quotation at the top of the post. The term “amoena” refers to an iris with white standards and colored (in this case, purple) falls, and “neglecta” is more ambiguously used to describe an iris where the standards and falls show distinct variations (light and dark, typically) of the same color, such as blue, purple, or violet. If you would like to read about some of the other terms used to describe iris colors, see (with pictures!) Iris Flower Patterns from the National Gardening Association.

While I’d heard some of these terms before, I don’t think I realized that they were an important part of understanding iris colors and talking or writing about them. Perhaps they fill the gap I’ve run into frequently, that it’s quite difficult to identify individual iris variants when you come across them in a garden or from photographs (unless you bought them at a garden center and kept their “my name is” tag). Assuming I photograph them again next year (and hunt down some new ones), I think I may try to separate them by these “official” color categories, just for the sake of learning how to apply them to my discoveries.

Thanks for taking a look!


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