New National Plant Collection of Iris Louisiana spp. and hybrids for Plant Heritage

Leading plant conservation charity, Plant Heritage, is delighted to welcome a National Collection of Iris Louisiana spp. and hybrids to its scheme.
 
The Collection, which is the largest of its kind in Europe, is held by Mark Haslett of Thundersley, Essex, and was started in 2006 when Mark was researching plants found growing in the swamps of America. He was dazzled by the wonderful colours of the species and the huge blooms of the modern hybrids.
 
The Iris, which can grow up to 5ft tall and has flowers which span 5 inches is currently under threat in its native habitat from habitat loss and climate change, and has a reputation for poor flowering in the UK. There are currently only five species of Louisiana Irises left and the most endangered is the Iris nelsonii, found growing in a rapidly decreasing area of Louisiana.
 
In the UK, the iris has been overlooked in favour of other more reliable bloomers, thus many cultivars brought to the UK are now lost. Mark decided to try and reverse this decline and took up what he calls the ‘Louisiana’ challenge.
 
Speaking on the project Mark said: “My first Louisiana Irises grew well and rewarded me with blooms, I was hooked and decided to try to build a future National Plant Collection.”
 
“I’m passionate about showing how well these plants can be grown in the UK. There are so many wonderful variations, many of which are disappearing,” he added.
 
Mark works closely with growers and collectors around the world and hopes to hold as many natural variations of the species as possible so that if future material is required plant material or seed can be used to help save the wild Louisiana Iris in its natural habitat. He currently grows plants from seed and taking rhizome cuttings and has grown the Collection to now include 60 varieties, including Iris ‘Fulvala’ which was one of the first Louisiana hybrids to be registered by early hybridisers and was bred in the UK by William Dykes and registered in 1910. 

The plants are grown in his back garden, in ponds and large containers filled with nutrient rich compost and kept very moist all year. But while Mark has made this Collection unique, propagating some material no one else has to date, there are still some cultivars that he fears my have been lost and is keen to find. These include Iris ‘Fulvala violacea’, bred by William Dykes in 1910 and ‘Dorthea K Williamson’, by EB Williamson in 1918, ‘Golden Oldie’ and ‘Cotton Plantation’.

 Speaking on the announcement of this new collection, Plant Heritage Plant Conservation officer Mercy Morris said: “I know that Mark is a dedicated and meticulous Collection Holder, and I am sure that he is the right person to protect and conserve these beautiful plants for future generations”
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