In the 1830s, David Douglas first identified the wild iris grown in the Central Coast of California, hence the name Iris douglasiana .
But where could they have come from? And how did they get here? Asia and Europe have almost all of the nearly 300 recognized wild iris species. Only a couple dozen, all members of the “beardless iris” group, somehow reached and still flourish in North America. Botanists classify the wild beardless irises into “series”. Those growing along the Pacific Coast are members of the series Californicae.
Ancestors of today’s Pacific Coast irises probably came across the Bering Strait during the Ice Ages when lowered sea levels left a land bridge between the two continents. Since glaciers periodically blanketed much of the northern hemisphere surviving iris populations must have spent thousands of years isolated in favorable places where they were able to grow and survive.
Sometimes the glaciers retreated and some of the plants came into contact. But over time they had adapted and changed and had a new distinctive appearance and choice of habitat. This story was repeated many times during successive Glacial / Interglacial cycles.
The isolation lasted long enough for irises from different areas to look and grow differently, but not so long they became mutually infertile. When the ice retreated and iris ranges once again overlapped, many were still able to cross and form hybrids.
This iris is happiest within sight of the ocean, but at Quicksilver Farm we have enough of the Monterey Bay marine influence for them to thrive. Ironically, many ranchers don’t like it because livestock find it unpalatable. They consider it an intrusive weed! We love it because our sheep don’t eat it and because it is so lovely. With shiny green leaves and branching stems having two or three blooms, it is a delight in the garden. We hope this year to separate ours out and begin cultivating them in other areas of our farm. We also hope to obtain other wild Pacific Coast iris types and add those to the beautiful selection of plants at Quicksilver Farm.