Almost ten years ago, in 1985, I was corresponding with Professor Wang Dajun, the Director of the Shanghai Botanical Gardens. Professor Wang has traveled to the US on various occasions and visited numerous American botanical gardens. In one of his letters, he asked me about Louisiana irises. At the time I grew only a handful about equally divided between collected forms, species and named cultivars. Many of my plants came from my friend Mr. Bob Ward of Little
Rock, Arkansas. Professor Wang had seen Louisiana irises and wanted to try some in Shanghai.
Shanghai is located in the southeast part of China. It is not only one of the most European of Chinese cities, but it is an important world port. The temperatures could be called mild temperate. It is at 32° N. latitude about the same as Savannah, Georgia. I am sure it experiences some frost and a rare snow, but the overall temperatures are quite mild. It is located on the delta at the mouth of the Yangtze River, one of the world's mightiest rivers. Most soils are waterlogged and the water table is said to be within a foot of the soil level anywhere in Shanghai. On my visits to the city, I have rarely seen a dry drainage ditch anywhere. In short, the climate and water availability seems quite similar to southern Louisiana. Louisiana Iris should thrive there.
I consulted with Bob Ward and together we made up a packet of some 15 different Louisiana iris cultivars including such favorites as THIS I LOVE,
CLYDE REDMOND, BRYCE LEIGH and similar vintage goodies. They were sent by Air Mail in late 1985. As is typical of Chinese response, I heard nothing about the arrival and survival of the irises until May, 1989 when I visited the Shanghai Botanical Gardens myself.
In that year I traveled to China in what would prove to be the first-ever expedition to China devoted to research on Chinese native iris species. The accounts of this trip is given in the American Iris Society Bulletin (Jan. 1990, # 71 (1) pp. 63-79) and resulted in the book Iris of China (Waddick, J. & Zhao Y-t, Timber Press, 1992). After getting a tour of the public gardens, fed and generally well treated, my host, Mr. Lu Bo, asked me if I'd "like to see my irises". The question simply didn't register because I couldn't imagine what were MY irises in Shanghai. When I realized what irises were involved I was even more curious. We went to a propagation area away from public areas and there was a fifty foot (+) row of five foot tall Louisiana irises in full bloom and gorgeous. The cultivars were mixed in a wide row perhaps four or five feet wide and they were obviously thriving. They were proud of the display and equally proud to show me how well they grow. Rather as a side comment, they said how well they did. It is characteristic of the Chinese not to show excessive thanks or eagerness. I was very pleased to see how our small efforts had made such good progress.
After the visit and over the course of the next couple of years, my Shanghai friends asked if I could send more and newer cultivars. I tended to put it at the back of my mind while sending large numbers of day lilies, bearded irises and various other requested plants to specific locations. By this time I had developed contacts all across China with emphasis on public gardens in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing as well as more growers in Sichuan and Jilin Provinces.
I returned to China in 1993 for an exploration trip to Western China with my friend and associate Professor Zhao Yu-tang. After nearly six weeks of difficult travel over rugged landscapes in Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu Provinces I stopped in Nanjing and Shanghai to visit and renew old contacts. During my first day at the Shanghai Botanical Garden, my friend Lu Bo once again asked if I would "like to see my irises". I knew then what I expected to see and agreed readily. I was not expecting to see nearly half of the entire propagation area devoted to Louisiana irises with each cultivar separated into beds and intensive propagation being conducted. Single fan divisions were lined out and larger clumps were carefully tended.
I was told that since my last visit, the interest in Louisiana irises had increased as the plants settled down and prospered. Divisions had been given to other botanical gardens (excellent trading goods between gardens where new plants, especially from western countries, are sometimes hard to come by). On one visit to the gardens another friend from the Hangzhou Botanical Garden accompanied me and eagerly accepted shopping bags full of divisions of these Louisiana irises to bring back to Hangzhou. As I usually did when visiting my Chinese hosts, I asked various staff members what I might send to them, or
how I could help them. Surely the staff at Shanghai was primed as everyone quickly asked if only I could send more Louisiana irises!
I told them of the improvements in newer cultivars larger flowers, better colors, new patterns, etc. They politely agreed with my every word and reassured me of their interest. On return from this trip I wrote to a few people in SLI with my needs. Immediate responses nearly overwhelmed me. I was given more irises than I could cope with (almost!) of nearly fifty different cultivars for gardens in five different locations in China. Plants were generously donated from Marie Caillet, Perry Dyer, Bob Ward, Joseph Mertzweiller and the Greater Kansas City Iris Society.
The prime selection of newest and best cultivars went to Shanghai with smaller but excellent selections on to five other gardens. The costs of shipping these rhizomes exceeded $200 with funds coming from miscellaneous donations for improving Chinese iris relationships and from Jim Murrain of Kansas City. As is typical and expected, I got brief and un-exuberant notes that the plants arrived in China and were appreciated. It will only be in time, as season after season of new bloom comes forth, that the Chinese recipients will actually thank me and all the donors again.
I can't speak for each garden to get Louisiana irises, but I can hope that the Chinese appreciation of Louisiana irises will only help to improve Chinese
understanding of Americans and a reminder of our generosity and interest in having them appreciate our finer flowers as much as we do. I invite any 'of our
iris travelers to go to any of the city botanical gardens mentioned in China and ask to see the Louisiana irises. In the coming year I hope to send smaller collections of the newest introductions to public gardens in China. I was unable to send any of the John Taylor introductions as these were in too short supply. I sent only two or three tetraploids. So I'd welcome some specific donations of these irises or help in paying for these expensive mailing costs. Spreading these irises to China is helping to spread the word about Louisiana irises and American helpfulness.
*Dr. James W Waddick of Kansas City, MO is a member of the Society for Louisiana Irises and the Species Iris Society of North America. He is the Feature Editor for the SIGNA Bulletins and has an article in the Autumn 1993 issue on his trip to China. This trip was sponsored and partially funded by the American Iris Society and various other iris groups and botanical gardens. Dr. Waddick is co-author of the book "Irises of China" (Waddick, J. & Zhao Y-t, Timber Press, 1992). He is an AIS Judge and has attended judging schools on Louisiana irises. He is also an active member of Region 18 and of the Greater
Kansas City Iris Society.
Editor's Note: This article appeared in the SLI Newsletter in the March 1994 edition.