The Double Cone Quarterly
Window to the Wilderness
Spring Equinox 2001 || Volume IV, Number 1

Feature Flower

An illustration of Iris longipetala from William Dykes' "The Irises," 1912.

The Native Irises (Flags or Fleur-de-lis)
of the Santa Lucia Mountains

by David Rogers, © 2001

"Iris" is a Greek name for a rainbow, and here refers to the "iridescent" colors produced by the flowers of the namesake genus of Iridaceae, the Iris Family. The genus Iris is comprised of about 150 species, most of which are native to northern temperate regions, and is represented in the Santa Lucia Mountains by two coastal species, I. douglasiana and I. longipetala. Both of these species were named and described from specimens that were probably collected at or near Monterey in the early 1830s by David Douglas, and each represents one of the two western North American subsections or series of the genus Iris.

Iris douglasiana and Iris longipetala were named and described by William Herbert (1778-1841) in the "California Supplement" to Sir William Hooker and Walker Arnott's "The Botany of Captain Beechey's Voyage," which was published in 1841. According to Keck (in Munz, 1959), Herbert was an English politician and later a churchman, dean of Manchester, and an authority on Amaryllidaceae (the umbellate lilies). The reason given by Hooker and Arnott for the inclusion of the California Supplement was that the remaining (unlisted) specimens from the Beechey expedition were "so small" in number and in a "very wretched condition." They went on to state:

We shall further the cause of science much more by occupying the remaining pages our work with a Supplement to the California Collection, which we are enabled to from that made, chiefly at Monterey and San Francisco (at no great distance from the coast), by the unfortunate Douglas.
David Douglas is the well known botanical explorer of western North America and the Hawaiian Islands during 1820s and 1830s; he was "unfortunate" due to his untimely death. While in Hawaii in 1834 he accidentally fell into a pit-trap for feral cattle, and was killed by a bull.

Each of the local species represents one of the two western North American subsections or series of the genus: the Californicae and the Longipetalae. Most of the species of these groups are restricted to a variety of habitats within higher montane (mountain) coniferous forests, exceptions being the two species presented here. The Californicae, to which I. douglasiana belongs, is comprised eleven species and five subspecies, and with the exception of I. tenax (which ranges northward to the Olympic Mountains of Washington), all are endemic to the California Floristic Province (which includes southwestern Oregon). The Longipetalae consists of two species, I. longipetala and I. missouriensis (Western Blue Flag or Rocky Mountain Iris); the former is a coastal species (of California) and the later is a highly variable species that is widespread in the higher mountains of western North America (inclusive of California). Both series belong to the Apogon or "beardless" irises.

Iris douglasiana. A, general habit. B, inflorescence. C, petal-like style branch with two lobes or "crests." D, petal or "standard." E, sepal or "fall." F and G, spathe valves. H, mature inflorescence with ripening capsules. J, seed capsule in cross section. Reproduced from Lenz, 1958.
Irises are perennial herbs with creeping or tuber-like rhizomes, i.e., generally horizontal root-stalks which produce leaves and flowering stems upward and roots downward. The leaves are blade or sword like and mostly basal, and the cauline (stem) leaves are remote, alternate and reduced in size. The upper most leaf-like structures, which are known as spathe valves, are opposite or alternate and subtend the first flower of a one to many-flowered inflorescence. The flower parts are produced in threes: three spreading or drooping petal-like sepals or "falls," three erect to ascending petals or "standards," and three petal-like style branches which lay close to the upper side of the lower portion of the sepals. The style branches, which cover the three stamens, terminate in two lobes or "crests," and the scale-like stigmas are located on the lower side at or near the point where the lobes diverge. The ovaries are inferior (i.e., positioned below the sepals and petals), and the fruit is a many seeded three-celled capsule. The seeds are vertically compressed and pitted.

KEY

Plants not of constantly wet habitats. Rhizomes (rootstalks) less than 1 cm thick. Leaves typically pinkish to purplish at the base and up to 20 mm. wide. Spathe valves opposite or nearly so. Flowering stems commonly branched. Inflorescence two to three flowered. Perianth tube (between the ovary and the sepals and petals) slender and 10 to 28 mm. long. Stigmas triangular. Fresh ovary walls thicků

Iris douglasiana.
Plants of constantly wet or at least seasonally wet habitats. Rhizomes 2 to 2.5 cm. thick. Leaves dark green throughout and 4 to 9 mm. wide. Spathe valves alternate by a distance of about one to ten cm. Flowering stems usually simple. Inflorescence three to six flowered. Perianth tube funnel-shaped and 5 to 13 mm. long. Stigmas two lobed. Fresh ovary walls paper-thinů
Iris longipetala.
An illustration of Iris douglasiana from William Dykes' "The Genus Iris" (1913).
Douglas Iris
Multicolored Coast Iris
Iris douglasiana Herbert

Iris douglasiana is a fairly common species in undeveloped areas along the Pacific Coast from the Coos Bay region of southwestern Oregon to the vicinity of Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County. Although this species occurs in a number of habitats, it is open grasslands that it reaches its greatest development, where it can form large and very dense colonies. This species, which is named for David Douglas (mentioned above), is highly variable, so much so that over the years two additional species and eight lesser taxa have proposed within the complex (none of which gained acceptance). Herbert himself proposed two varieties of I. douglasiana, and he named a specimen collected by the Beechey voyage at Monterey in November of 1827 I. beecheyana.

Iris douglasiana has prominently ribbed basal leaves that are up to 1 m. long and 2 cm. (?) wide. They are yellow green to very deep green in color, and typically have pinkish to purplish bases (dead leaves turn reddish brown). The one to three cauline (stem) leaves are alternate and reduced in size, and the spathe valves are usually opposite and can be as much as 12 mm. wide and 12 cm. long. The flowering stalks range from about 1.5 to 8 dm. tall, and often have one to four side branches, each producing an inflorescence comprised of two to three flowers. The pedicels are 2 to more than 5 cm long, and the ovaries are elliptic-ovoid. The sepals (falls) are oblanceolate to obovate, 5 to 9 cm. long and up to 3 cm wide, and the oblanceolate petals are up to 7 cm. long and 1.8 cm wide. The style branches are up to 3.5 cm. long, and the lobes or crests are about one to two cm. long. The seed capsules are about 2.5 to 5 cm. long and sharply triangular in cross section. The peak flowering season is from about February to June.

A colony of Iris douglasiana near Cape Mendocino, Humboldt County. Photograph by Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, Saint Mary's College.

The most noteworthy characteristic of Iris douglasiana is the great multitude of colors and patterns exhibited by its flowers, and in this regard it represents one of the most "rainbow-like" members of its genus. In general, the basic color of the sepals, petals and the style branches of this species ranges from deep dark purple to white, and the lower central part of the sepals have a yellow or white (or both yellow and white) patch that is patterned with dark to light veins. As a complete description of the wide variety of floral colors and patterns of this species is impossible, and, as the saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words," I have included the following photographs of Iris douglasiana, most of which are from the CalPhotos website:


Iris douglasiana on the Salmon Creek Trail, Monterey County. Boon Hughey. Copyright 2000.


Iris douglasiana at the Presidio of San Francisco. Gladys Lucile Smith. Copyright 1999, California Academy of Sciences.


Iris douglasiana near Cape Mendocino, Humboldt County. Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, St. Mary's College.


Iris douglasiana. Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, St. Mary's College.


Iris douglasiana near Fort Ross, Sonoma County. Gerald and Buff Corsi. Copyright 2000, California Academy of Sciences.


Iris douglasiana in Del Norte County. Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, St. Mary's College.


Iris douglasiana on Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County. Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, St. Mary's College.


Iris douglasiana in Humboldt County. Frithjot Holmboe. Copyright 2000, California Academy of Sciences.


Iris douglasiana. Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, St. Mary's College.


Iris douglasiana near Fort Ross, Sonoma County. Gerald and Buff Corsi. Copyright 2000, California Academy of Sciences.


Iris longipetala, general habit. This illustration, from William Dykes' "The Genus Iris" (1913), depicts the very closely related I. missouriensis (as I. montana). The characteristics of the flowers of both species are essentially the same, but they differ in a number of structural features. For instance, Iris longipetala is a more robust species with broader leaves that often equal and sometimes exceed the length of the flowering stems.
Long Petaled Coast Iris
Iris longipetala Herbert

This is a robust species of wet or seasonally wet habitats along the coast from southwestern Humboldt County to northwestern Monterey County. The slender basal leaves are dark green and about 4 to 9 mm. wide and up to 7 dm. long, and the one or two alternate cauline leaves are reduced in size. The spathe valves are alternate by a distance of 1 to 10 cm. The flowering stems, which are usually simple, range from about 3 to 6 dm. tall, and terminate in an inflorescence consisting of three to six flowers. The pedicels are about 3 to 9 cm. long. The spreading or drooping sepals (falls) are about 6 to 10 cm. long and up to 5 cm. wide, while the generally erect petals (standards) are about 5 to 9 cm. long and 1.5 to 2 cm. wide. The style branches are up to 4 cm. long, and terminate in two crests that are up to 1.5 cm. long. The oblong-ovoid and six-ribbed capsules are about 5 to 9 cm. long. The peak flowering period is from March to June.

In general the basic colors of Iris longipetala flowers range from reddish lavender to light blue or dark purple, with the lower central portion of the sepals exhibiting a patch that is lined with white and/or yellow. Sometimes the sepals are entirely white or light colored and darker veined throughout (as exemplified in the illustration at the top of this article and the first of the following photographs). Although the floral colors of Iris longipetala are less varied in comparison to Iris douglasiana, they are still very considerable, as evidenced by the following photographs from the CalPhotos website:


Iris longipetala at Carmel. Beatrice F. Howitt. Copyright 1999, California Academy of Sciences.


Iris longipetala. Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, Saint Mary's College.


Iris longipetala. Brother Alfred Brousseau. Copyright 1995, Saint Mary's College.

REFERENCES

DYKES, WILLIAM R.
1913. The Genus Iris. Cambridge, the University Press. Reprinted in 1974 by Dover Publications, New York.
1912. The Irises. London: T. C. & E. C. Jack. 67 Long Aeve, w. e., & Edinburgh.

HENDERSON, DOUGLAS M., and ANITA F. CHOLEWA.
1993. Iris in The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London.

HOOKER, WILLIAM J., and G. A. WALKER ARNOTT.
1841. The Botany of Captain Beechey's Voyage; Comprising an Account of the Plants Collected by Messrs Lay and Coolie, and other Officers of the Expedition, During the Voyage to the Pacific and Bering Strait, Performed by His Majesty's Ship Blossom, under the Command of Captain F. W. Beechey, R.N., F.R., & A.S., in the Years 1825, 26, 27 and 28. Henry J. Bohn, no. 4, York Street, Convent Garden, London.

LENZ, LEE W.
1958. A Revision of the Pacific Coast [Californicae] Irises. Aliso 4 (1): 1-72.

MUNZ, PHILIP A., with DAVID D. KECK.
1959. A California Flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London. Reprinted, with a supplement, in 1968.

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