Two moments of iridaceous naming

Moment one, the name game: this photograph of a plant in bloom, presented as an identification quiz by Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky on Facebook yesterday:

(#1) EDZ’s hint: “neither roses nor daffodils”. Guesses from readers: jonquils, tulips, crocuses, and, finally bingo!

Moment two, today’s morning name: montbretia, which turns out to be a name for Crocosmia hybrids, like this one:

(#2) Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

What unites these two plants? They’re both hybrids, but more important, they’re from the family Iridaceae, in two different subfamilies. The plants in #1 are what EDZ calls “California irises”; their taxonomic name is Iris douglasiana, common name Douglas iris, from the subfamily Iroidideae. The montbretias in #2 are from the subfamily Crocoideae (with the crocuses and much, much more). (There are two other, smaller, subfamilies in the family.)

(On the Iridaceae (family #68 in my running inventory of plant families), see my 6/14/17 posting “Three garden ornamentals and two trees”.)

Douglas irises. From Wikipedia:

(#3) Douglas iris colony on Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin Co. CA. (Wikipedia photo of 4/3/04 by Stephen Lea)

Iris douglasiana (Douglas iris [also mountain iris, western iris, Pacific coast iris]) is a common wildflower of the coastal regions of Northern and Central California and southern Oregon in the United States. The Douglas Iris was first described by 19th century botanist David Douglas in Monterey, California. It grows mainly at lower elevations, below 100 meters (330 ft) … It is most common in grasslands near the coast; it is regarded as a noxious weed in pastures, because it forms clumps that inhibit other vegetation, and its leaves are bitter and unpalatable to cattle.

This is a typical beardless Iris of subgenus Limniris, series Californicae

Douglas irises are mosly blue, but they come naturally in a number of other colors, and they hybridize in the wild. And then plant breeders have produced quite an array of hybrids. From Matilija Nursery (California native plants and irises) in Moorpark CA (Ventura Co., near Simi Valley): three named hybrids:

(#4) Canyon Snow

(#5) Ocean Blue

(#6) Bonnie Rose

Plus two spontaneous mixes that the company hasn’t named or cloned:

(#7) A yellow mix, very similar to #1

(#8) A light yellow mix with purple throat

Crocosmia (montbretia) and other Crocoids. First from NOAD:

noun montbretia: a plant of the iris family with bright orange-yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. Crocosmia× crocosmiflora, family Iridaceae. ORIGIN late 19th century: modern Latin, named after A. F. E. Coquebert de Montbret (1780–1801), French botanist

And then from Wikipedia:

Crocosmia… is a small genus of flowering plants in the iris family, Iridaceae. It is native to the grasslands of southern and eastern Africa, ranging from South Africa to Sudan. One species is endemic to Madagascar.

They can be evergreen or deciduous perennials that grow from basal underground corms.

… The alternative name montbretia is still widely used. The genus name is derived from the Greek words krokos, meaning “saffron”, and osme, meaning “odor” – from the dried leaves emitting a strong smell like that of saffron (a spice derived from Crocus – another genus belonging to the Iridaceae) – when immersed in hot water.

And from Wikipedia on the Iridaceae, with a section on the place of the crocoids:

Iridaceae is a family of plants in order Asparagales, taking its name from the irises, meaning rainbow, referring to its many colours. … It includes a number of other well known cultivated plants, such as freesias, gladioli and crocuses.

Members of this family are perennial plants, with a bulb, corm or rhizome. The plants grow erect, and have leaves that are generally grass-like, with a sharp central fold.

… Subfamily Crocoideae is one of the major subfamilies in the Iridaceae family, it contains many genera, including Afrocrocus, Babiana, Chasmanthe, Crocosmia, Crocus, Cyanixia, Devia, Dierama, Duthieastrum, Freesia, Geissorhiza, Gladiolus, Hesperantha, [Hesperoxiphon], Ixia, Lapeirousia, Melasphaerula, Micranthus, Pillansia, Romulea, Sparaxis, Savannosiphon, Syringodea, Thereianthus, Tritonia, Tritoniopsis, Xenoscapa and Watsonia.

The underlined names are those of genera treated in my 10/27/17 posting “The X-Bulbs, plus Greek Sword”:

It started a while back with a pair of morning names: Ixia and Sparaxis. Two showy bulbs, united by the letter X. They led to (in alphabetical order) ChionodoxaCyanixia, Hesperoxiphon, Ixiolirion, Oxalis, Xenoscapa. And from Hesperoxiphon, through its sword-bearing component (Gk. xiphos ‘sword’), to Xiphion, which we know now in its Latin version Gladiolus.

… (#6) I couldn’t find a good image of the modest Cyanixia plant, so here’s its showy cousin Babiana stricta instead

The list of crocoids also includes the familiar crocuses (of course), plus the very crocus-like Afrocrocus and Syngodea. And one familiar plant I haven’t discussed before on this blog, freesias. Briefly from Wikipedia:

Freesia is a genus of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Iridaceae, first described as a genus in 1866 by Chr. Fr. Ekhlon (1886) and named after German botanist and doctor Friedrich Freese (1795-1876). It is native to the eastern side of southern Africa, from Kenya south to South Africa, most species being found in Cape Provinces.

And from the Longfield Gardens site:

(#9) An assortment of hybrid freesias en masse

(#10) Individual freesia stems

Freesias are one of the world’s most popular cut flowers. They are loved for their pure colors, long vase life and sweet perfume. Freesias may be grown at home in containers or in a garden for spring or summer blooms.

Each of the graceful 12”-15” stems bears six to twelve trumpet-shaped blossoms. The flowers may be single or double and are available in many beautiful colors including white, cream, yellow, orange, red, pink, mauve, lavender and purple. Freesias will fill a room with their fresh, baby powder fragrance.

Also on the list of crocoids above:Tritonia or flame freesia, very similar to Freesia and closely related to Ixia; and Tritoniopsis, similar to Tritonia (hence the name ‘Tritonia-looking’).


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