The Q&A Archives: Hybridizing Irises

Question: Although there is an abundancy of information with regard to dividing irises and growing them from seed, there is not, however, any that I can find, on how to cross pollinate irises. I'm unsure of the proper procedure because of the difficulty at identifying the flower's reproductive parts, i.e. stigma, stamens, it because irises have inferior ovaries, etc.? Do you have to peel back the petals to reveal the inner bits to place the pollen from the other flower? Any information and help would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: Making crosses can be fun and takes little equipment, but much patience. Just remember that genetics plays a large part in the resulting flower. Irises today tend to be highly ruffled, whereas irises of forty years ago were very tailored in appearance. It stands to reason that the end result will be similar to what two flowers you begin with.
It's difficult to show you where the different parts of the flower are located, but I can try to explain:

When the irises bloom, select two freshly opened flowers. Best time to hybridize is in early morning or early evening. Using tweezers, pick the pollen-bearing anther (located under the style arm in the very center of the iris) from bloom number 1. Rub the anther, pollen side down, on the sticky stigmatic lip (at the end of the style arm) of bloom number 2. You may pick all three of the anthers and you may rub pollen on all three stigmatic lips, but it is usually not necessary. Tag your pollinated flower with a weatherproof paper tag, identifying both parents.
There is no need to cover the flower with a protective covering. The flowers are not usually random pollinated by birds or bees. If the pollination is successful, in about a week you will see the ovary of the female flower begin to swell. The ovary is located just below the base of the flower, and the flower will have wilted and died by this time. The swelling eventually looks like a miniature football. Let it stay on the stalk until it fully ripens. In about six weeks or so, it will begin to yellow a bit and show signs of cracking open. Pick the pods and crack them open. Put seeds in a paper cup, hold over the summer and plant in early November. Keep damp if it doesn't rain. Seeds will germinate in early February. Transplant in May/June. Plants will grow and should flower the following spring. It is two years from time of pollination to flower. Just as siblings are similar, but different, so will be all the flowers from one pod. Enjoy!

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