Iris bulleyana is a classic species Iris from western China. It belongs to a small group of oriental species which are entirely hardy and are of great value to the gardener.
The plant grows from a slender rhizome, which produces tufts of grass-like foliage to just 36 to 40cm (14 to 16in) tall with the slender flower stems standing a little taller. The graceful foliage makes a nice appearance in the border even when there are no blooms.
Flowering from June to July, the blooms open on long stems, the mid purple flowers have darker purple veins on the standards and on the falls and a light yellow zone.
Iris bulleyana is native to western China where it can be found on damp hillsides, meadows, and near to streams. The plants are successful in any moist garden soil and look especially well when planted upon the shores of streams and ponds, but not in such positions as would be covered with water in the winter, for, although the plant is winter hardy in the extreme, it cannot survive freezing in saturated soil.
The beauty and grace of irises add a special dimension to any garden bed or border. When they are in bloom, the delicate-looking flowers float like butterflies above the slim grass-like leaves. When they are not in bloom, the foliage adds a handsome linear quality to the texture of the garden. Distinct and lovely in the garden or the vase, they are easy to grow in any moist soil, in sun or part shade.
Sowing: Sow from Autumn to Spring
Keep the seeds in packaging in a fridge until they are planted. Seeds need cold in order to be able to germinate. There are two methods that can be used to break the dormancy of the seeds. Before planting soak the seeds in water. Take one cup of hot (not boiling) tap water, add the seed, let it cool and let soak for 24 hours.
The Natural Method.
One way is to “Winter Sow” the seeds. Sow seeds in moisture retentive compost 6mm (1/8th) inch deep, before winter, and place it in a sheltered part of the garden exposed to the elements, in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. The seed trays then have the benefits of the repeated chill and thaw that it would naturally. Grit can be used to protect the seed and surface of the soil.
The alternative method is to subject them to a period of cold “stratification” for two to three months prior to planting. To do this, place the seeds either in a dampened piece of kitchen roll, in a small plastic bag or in a small container filled with slightly moist soil, moss or sand
Place them in the fridge (not freezer) Check seeds periodically as germination may occur while in the fridge. Plant out into 7cm (3in) pots as they germinate. Seeds may take from 30 to 180 days to germinate, so let the pot sit for at least one year.
The seedlings look a little like grass spikes, they must be kept moist at all times: check them regularly and pot on once they are large enough to handle. Grow seedlings in a cool environment after germination. Plant outside after seedlings have been hardened off.
Iris plants are easily cultivated, they enjoy moist growing conditions. Plant Iris versicolor in wet mud in a stream edge/bog garden or with up to 5cm (2in) of water over the top of the basket in a sunny pond or container pond.
For best blooming plant in moist fertile soil if in full sun, otherwise they can be planted in shade.
Once established these are very hardy perennials and require little maintenance.
Plants require two years before they will produce flowers but they are well worth the wait. Established plants should be divided after every three years. Before and after planting and flowering, cut the leaves to 15cm (6in) to prevent the rhizome being dislodged by wind-rock.
Beds and Borders, Water Features, Ponds and Streams, Bog Gardens.
This Iris is one of the easiest, and showiest, of native aquatics for the home gardener.
The roots of Iris are used to make natural dyes. The green dye obtained from the leaves of species was used in the Harris tweed industry. Modern dyers report that iris leaves produce a pale yellow dye if alum is used as a mordant, bright green if copper is used and dark, grey-green if iron is the mordant. A yellow dye is obtained from the flowers.
According to older references a good black dye is obtained from the root if it is mixed with iron sulphate. It is brown otherwise. Modern dyers report that iris roots produce a 'greeny brown' dye (with alum and iron as mordants), 'orangey-brown', if alum is the sole mordant.
The root is a source of tannin and has been used in making ink boiled with copperas (green sulphate of iron).
A delicately scented essential oil is obtained from the roots, it has been used to adulterate the oil of Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus.
Iris bulleyana is native to the Shicuan, Yunnan, and Tibet provinces, Myanmar, western China. It can be found growing in damp hillsides, meadows and streamside’s at heights of 2300 to 4300 metres.
This species was originally discovered and described in 1910. The plant was collected by A. K. Bulley and named for him, according to the book "Iris of China" by Zhao Yu-tang. It is a close relative of Iris chrysographes but differs in that its flowers are a paler bluish to violet. White-flowered forms, which are restricted to Yunnan, have been recognised as Iris bulleyana f. alba.
The iris's history is rich, dating back to Ancient Greek times. Iris was a Greek messenger-goddess who rode rainbows between heaven and earth to deliver messages from Olympus. With over 200 varieties in a wide spectrum of colours, the iris fittingly takes its name from the Greek word for ‘rainbow’.
The species name bulleyana was named for Arthur K. Bulley (1861-1942), a Liverpool cotton broker, colourful eccentric and visionary with a passion for new and rare alpine and hardy plants. He employed intrepid plant hunters, such as Frank Kingdon-Ward to scour the mountains of China and the Himalayas for alpines and hardy plants. He created Ness Gardens from fields and established a famous nursery firm Messrs Bees Ltd to show and promote new flowers.
Arthur K. Bulley is commemorated with many species from China named for him. (Primula bulleyana, Salvia bullyana and Adenophora bullyana)
This species is commonly called Bulley's Iris, it is also referred to as a Sino-Siberian Iris, or a Beardless Iris.
The Iris belongs to a huge group of rhizomatous plants. These are more often wrongly situated in a water garden than any other plant. Broadly, there are two groups of water loving Iris:
The true water irises, including Iris laevigata, Iris pseudacorus and its cultivars, our native yellow flag, Iris versicolor, the blue American Iris and the Louisiana irises. These are all happy to grow with water over the crown year round, though they are almost equally happy in damp soil.
Then there are the damp loving irises such as Iris ensata, of which there are hundreds of varieties, Iris sibirica, Iris setosa, Iris virginica and the Siberian and Sino-Siberian Iris species. These do not like being permanently wet, although they will tolerate it while they are growing strongly in summer. However, they will rot if wet in winter, preferring simply damp soil conditions. These are more correctly referred to as moisture loving plants.
Siberian and Sino-Siberian Iris species:
Iris sibirica and I. sanguinea, the two species that botanists accept as major species of the Siberian series of beardless irises, undoubtedly have been cultivated for over two centuries. In addition to these two species, botanists recognise eight other species in the series Sibiricae, all from central and eastern Asia.
These were discovered and named between 1875 and 1933. The plants of all ten species of this series thrive in the damp soil of mountain meadows and thin woodlands. It is hard to beat this group of iris species for their exquisite and graceful blooms.
The Sino-siberian iris are not particularly common and some are extremely rare in cultivation. They are:
Iris bulleyana, Iris chrysographes, Iris clarkei, Iris delavayi, Iris dykesii, Iris forrestii, Iris typhifolia and Iris wilsonii.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 Seeds Family Iridaceae Genus Iris Species bulleyana Common Name Bulley's Iris, Sino-Siberian Iris, Beardless Iris. Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Mid purple flowers with darker purple veins Natural Flower Time Late spring to early summer. Foliage Slender grass-like foliage Height 60 to 75cm (24 to 28in) Position Full sun or partial shade Time to Sow Sow from Autumn to Spring