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The lovely Louisiana Irises

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

Visitors to the Arboretum often assume that the beautiful Iris they will see growing in the Arboretum’s Aquatic Exhibit in the spring are the “Louisiana Iris.” However, the most common species along the Piney Woods Pond and other waterways in our exhibits are southern blue flag Iris (Iris virginica). About a decade ago, we could point to a few still-surviving Louisiana Iris hybrids in our Slough Exhibit, but they are rarely evident.

Now and then we still catch sight of a lovely copper Iris (Iris fulva), one of the five native North American species bred to produce the spectacular array of named Louisiana Iris cultivars. A spectacular stand of giant blue Iris (Iris giganticaerulea) blooms in the spring across from the slough in front of the Visitor Center. This is also one of the “famous five” Iris, and true to its name, grows over six feet tall!

Several hundred of the giant blue Iris were planted in winter 2019 at the edge of the Arboretum’s gum pond in the north end of the site. These plants were a generous donation from the Greater New Orleans Iris Society, an organization whose mission is to collect wild Louisiana species iris and prepare them for planting projects that increase opportunities for the public to learn about these beautiful native perennials.

The common southern blue flag Iris is a low-care garden favorite common in the rich, moist soils of coastal wetlands from Virginia to Texas, where water stands year-round. The purple or blue flowers are found in various hues. The plant typically grows two to three feet in height, although they can attain four feet or more. Southern blue flag blooms most abundantly in full sun in wet locations but also will grow in shifting shade. It is very easy to propagate either by division or from seed.

How can you tell if an Iris in your garden or that you have just purchased is (really) a Louisiana Iris or another native species, or a non-native (and potentially invasive) species? This is just one of many tips you’ll learn from Iris expert Eileen Hollander, who is leading a program this Saturday, March 13 on Louisiana Iris. A native New Orleanian with a home and garden in New Orleans and in Poplarville, Ms. Hollander has been a volunteer at Crosby Arboretum for over 20 years and a Pearl River County Master Gardener for over 15 years.

In addition to being past president of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society Inc., Ms. Hollander is also an American Iris Society (AIS) Judge, the Past AIS Regional Vice President, and a past Society for Louisiana Iris and Greater New Orleans Iris Society Board Member. She has published in the Fleur de Lis, The Journal of the Society for Louisiana Irises, and in “A Guide to Louisiana Irises in and Around New Orleans”.

Additional accolades of Ms. Hollander include being the past president of the Mississippi Master Gardeners Association. She is one of only two Advanced Louisiana Master Gardeners in this region, has served on the Board of the Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans, and has been a Master Gardener in both Louisiana and Mississippi for over 15 years.

Come learn from a true expert! Don’t miss Ms. Hollander’s program on Louisiana Iris this Saturday, March 13 from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Learn secrets to growing these beautiful perennials, how to choose the best Iris based on American Iris Society judging criteria and tips on propagation and hybridizing. Space is limited. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up and reserve your seat as soon as possible. Cost is $5 for members and $8 for non-members.

For more information to guide your spring gardening projects, visit the MSU Extension “Smart Landscapes” webpage for research-based information you can trust specific to Mississippi that will help you create low-maintenance gardens (http://extension.msstate.edu/smartlandscapes).

The Arboretum’s upcoming Spring Native Plant Sale is Friday and Saturday, March 19 and 20 (Friday / Saturday) from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Sunday, March 21 from noon to 3:00 p.m. Come browse the variety of hard-to-find native trees, shrubs and spring-blooming perennials. Plant professionals including the Arboretum’s Green Team volunteers and the Pearl River County Master Gardeners will help you make selections.

If your membership has lapsed, you may renew (or join) online at our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Members may enter the sale an hour earlier Friday and Saturday.

Crosby Arboretum also has a Facebook page. We’re located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are always welcome on our three miles of trails!