The Iris Database Demystified

Posted by @KentPfeiffer on
Many sources for information about Iris varieties are available online. But, once you understand a few aspects to how the search engine works, you will find that the Iris Database here at All Things Plants stands above the crowd.

The first step to unlocking its potential is clicking on "Search by characteristics" on the front page of the Iris Database
Thumb of 2014-09-18/KentPfeiffer/351bb8

which takes you to this page:

You will see a list of fields (Cultivar name, Hybridizer, etc.), all of which can be searched, either alone or in combination. There are over 50 fields, but the ones of most interest when searching the Iris Database are the first 19 ("Cultivar name" through "Awards") plus "Parentage", which is at the very end. This section, the "Data specific to Irises," was built from information taken directly (with a couple of exceptions we'll get to later) from the American Iris Society's Checklist, which serves as the International Cultivar Registration Authority for all non-bulbous varieties of Iris. There's an entry in the ATP Iris Database for every iris variety listed on AIS's online Checklist.

This information has always been publicly available, but until Dave worked his magic with the Iris Database, it often wasn't very easy to access. Let's say, for example, you wanted to know which irises were awarded Honorable Mention by AIS in 1990. That information could be found, IF you had access to the Bulletin of the American Iris Society no. 279 from October 1990, but it took a lot of digging to find it (don't ask me how I know lol). Now, with the Iris Database, it's merely a couple of key strokes away. Just go to, check the box next to Honorable Mention in the Awards field, type 1990 in the write box that appears, click Search, and voila! There they are:

Here's another example. What if you want to see all of the irises Keith Keppel has registered? Search by Keith Keppel in the Hybridizer field and there they all are:

Keith is famous for producing irises in the plicata pattern, so let's say you just want to see his plicatas. Search by Keith Keppel in the Hybridizer field again, but also check the box for Plicata in the Flower Patterns field and you'll get a list of his irises, but limited to his plicatas:

What if you just want to see which of Keith's plicatas have won the Award of Merit? Do the same search as above, but also check the box for Award of Merit in the Awards field:

Maybe you want to see which of Keith's plicatas have won the Award of Merit, but limited to those that have won it since the turn of the century. Do the same search as above, but when you check the Award of Merit box, type 20 in the write box that appears and there they are:

The possibilities with these types of searches are almost endless!

However, there are a couple of caveats about searching the database.

1. The one piece of information we weren't able to import from the AIS Checklist was the descriptions of the flowers. Consequently, the Bloom Color Description field (along with the Beard Color and Style Arm Color fields, if applicable) had to be filled in manually. As of the spring of 2015, I'd guess we are about 25% done, so searching on those fields may not show everything you'd expect.

2. We added five fields to the Iris Database for information that is not, or at least not consistently, listed in the Checklist. They are the Rebloom by Zone, Flower Form, Bloom Color Classification, Flower Patterns, and the Foliage fields. We added theses fields because they make nice search aids, but there is a lot of room for interpretation around some of the included terms. This is particularly true for the Flower Form and Flower Pattern fields. I can't tell you, for example, where the line is between a "ruffled" iris and a "bubble ruffled" iris. But, if you like irises with really ruffled flowers (or the luminata flower pattern, or purple-based foliage, etc.), being able to search for that trait is a nice feature, so long as you understand it can be somewhat subjective.

One last note: You might wonder why there are two fields for the description of flower color, the Bloom Color Description field and the Bloom Color Classification field? The Bloom Color Description field represents the color of an iris flower as the hybridizer described it. We may make some minor edits, such as writing out "standards" and "falls" instead of using the abbreviations "S." and "F." But, for the most part, the information in this field is exactly as the flower was described when it was registered.

Searching this field can be problematic, though. For example, if you search for a yellow iris, but the hybridizer described her flower as "lemon" or one of the many other synonyms for yellow, it won't show up in your search.

That's one of the reasons we added the Bloom Color Classification field. It takes all of the potential colors in the rainbow and condenses them down to twenty classes, which is infinitely easier to search by (although with an obvious loss of precision). To put it simply, you can search for yellow irises by checking the box for Yellow in the Bloom Color Classification field and find all of the yellow irises, including the lemon, goldenrod, etc. shaded ones.

The other reason for the Bloom Color Classification field is that, prior to 1950, hybridizers rarely described the color of their irises. At the time, AIS had a color classification system and hybridizers simply noted the appropriate code (e.g. Y4D was the code for a dark yellow self). So, if we wanted to be able to search for pre-1950 irises by color, we were faced with either making up our own descriptions of the flowers (an idea I loathe) or adding the Bloom Color Classification field, which is what we did.

If you love irises, give the Iris Database a look. I think you will be amazed at the information it contains and how easy it is to use.

Comments and discussion:
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Use this database at iris shows! by CindiKS May 10, 2015 7:42 PM 0

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