"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.
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
|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|
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.
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 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:
DYKES, WILLIAM R.
HENDERSON, DOUGLAS M., and ANITA F. CHOLEWA.
HOOKER, WILLIAM J., and G. A. WALKER ARNOTT.
LENZ, LEE W.
MUNZ, PHILIP A., with DAVID D. KECK.