Plant Collector – Higo Iris

Remarkable seedling variation in the Higo Iris

Remarkable seedling variation in the Higo Iris

We are particularly delighted with the Higo irises at the moment, all 700 of them which are in small pots in the nursery awaiting planting out. These are often called the Japanese water iris because they are happy to live in pretty soggy situations.

Unravelling the family tree of Higo is not straightforward. Japanese water iris all descend from I.ensata but around 500 years of breeding has seen different strains developed – Edo, Higo and Ise. Many of these hybrids resulted from a search for perfection in a single bloom, to be brought indoors and contemplated as a transient thing of beauty. This does not necessarily make for garden plants. Mark had tried some large flowered Higos in the past and not had success with them. Not only did the blooms weather damage too readily for our climate, the plants could not cope with anything other than optimal conditions in very well cultivated soil.

Wanting a strain which is closer to the original species and therefore likely to have smaller flowers and maybe a more robust nature, Mark was delighted when Auckland plantsman, Terry Hatch, offered him a tray of plants reputedly derived from wild collected seed. It has taken a little effort to pot on the plants and grow them to flowering size but this spring it has all been worth it. There is a huge range of flower size, markings and colourings coming through in the plants though we doubt that they are anywhere close to the original species which grew in the marshes near Tokyo 500 years ago.

Most of the 700 are destined for planting in swathes on the margins of our ponds and stream though I shall get down on a few and experiment with growing them in garden borders. The critical issue appears to be ensuring that they never dry out completely.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.