by M. D. Faith*
Henry Rowlan 1920-1999), two-time winner of the Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal and a past president of SLI, passed away September 4, 1999, in Little Rock, Arkansas. A celebrated hybridizer and a friend to iris lovers everywhere, Henry also served his country well and with honor. Born November 17, 1920, he was in the prime age bracket to serve in World War II and the Korean War, which he did with distinction in the Army Air Force. He won the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters while accumulating more than 13,000 flying hours as an aerial engineer, the European Theater Medal with two bronze stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.
He continued to serve his countrymen in civilian life, working 37 years for the U.S. Postal Service. He spent 25 years as a railway postal clerk and seven years as a rural mail carrier before retiring in 1980.
With the gift of four different colors of bearded irises from a friend in 1952, Henry was bitten by the iris bug. That gift led him into a 47-year hybridizing career. Henry was a member of the American Iris Society for 35 years, sharing a dual membership with his wife of 49 years, Frances. They began attending AIS Conventions in 1971. He was a past president of SLI, and a past president of the Central Arkansas Iris Society. He helped organize the White County Iris Society in Arkansas.
At his death Henry was a Retired Master Judge who had served 29 active years. He spent many hours judging iris shows and tutoring new judges, including this author. He worked tirelessly.
Space Age tall bearded irises grabbed his attention first, and he introduced several of these beginning in 1978. Being new to hybridizing and thinking those horns looked crazy, I once asked Henry why he wanted to mess around breeding that kind of iris. He said, "That is where the money is, and they are the irises of the future." Time has proved Henry right. Then it was horns, now it is spoons and flounces.
Frank Chowning introduced Henry to the Louisiana iris when they met in the late 1970s. What a fortunate and timely meeting that was for the iris world. SLI and all of us who love and grow Louisiana irises have been richly rewarded because these two gentlemen's paths crossed.
Frank gave Henry his first Louisiana iris. After Frank's death in 1981, his un-introduced seedlings, notes, and records came into Henry's hands. Continuing the Chowning legacy, he registered and introduced Frank's remaining better seedlings. Even more important, Henry began to breed irises in the Chowning tradition.
Marie Caillet said it best in a profile she wrote of the then SLI vice president for a 1989 Newsletter: "Much of Rowlan's hybridizing has been based on Chowning irises, such as ANN CHOWNING, MISS ARKANSAS, MISSEY REVELEY, BRYCE LEIGH, BLACK GAMECOCK and some Chowning seedlings never registered. One of his goals has been to continue in the Chowning hybridizing tradition of developing hardy plants, shorter stalks and improved bud count and placement. He also uses other irises as parents, DR. DORMON to give the large sunburst pattern and CHARLIE'S MICHELE to give the halo effect. He is working with some as old as PEGGY MAC and as new as JERI and OLD SOUTH, but also uses many of his own seedlings and
introductions for crosses."
Henry's accomplishments are no less important than Frank's, and indeed have resulted in many fine plants. He won the DeBaillon Medal for FRANK CHOWNING in 1993 and for VOODOO MAGIC in 1997. VOODOO MAGIC is a great iris that will be enjoyed into the future. FRANK CHOWNING is a red out of ANN CHOWNING by MISS ARKANSAS. It has the added distinction of being among the first Louisiana irises offered by the premiere iris grower and retailer Schreiner's in a six-iris collection this year.
Working with tall bearded, miniature tall bearded and Louisiana irises, Henry registered and introduced or had introduced a total of 107 cultivars. Louisiana irises comprised a majority of 54. This reveals that Henry spent more than half of his time working with Louisiana irises.
The first time I met Henry was at an iris show. He had seedlings in the show. He pointed out all the good qualities of his seedlings and answered every question, in depth, that I posed concerning hybridizing. Henry tutored me in the ways of hybridizing, showing, and growing irises. This has been extremely valuable to me. His generosity with his time, and his more than generous sharing of his irises has been a great boon in my own hybridizing efforts.
Our national and local societies are better because of Henry Rowlan' s work. All of us who grow irises and who have been friends and associates of Henry's are the richer for the experience. Henry left the iris world a better place, and more cannot be said of anyone.
*M.D. Faith expressed his gratitude to Marie Caillet for much of the biographical information on Henry Rowlan, which was contained in a 1989 issue of the SLI Newsletter in 1989.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the SLI Newsletter in the Fall 1999 edition.