Monday, April 29, 2013

My Infatuation with PCIs (Pacific Coast Iris Hybrids)

Pacific Northwest gardeners are able to brag about a lot of plants that most of the rest of the country could only see and admire in photographs and Pacific Coast Irises seem to be one of those that are such workhorses in the garden, but they're rarely seen outside of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Pacific Coast Iris x 'Native Warrior'
Iris x 'Native Warrior' offered by Xera Plants
Now why is that? As you'll see with the mouth-watering color forms that I've obtained and grown for several years now, they've been highly praised for their shade and drought tolerance and a few select forms have excellent evergreen foliage!

To start, let's look at what's comprised as a PCI:

There are about 11 wild, native, species that make up the PCI's. They are considered a "beardless" type of iris that grow as rhizomatous clumps and thrive in our wet winters, dry summers and moderate temperatures.
Some species hybridize on their own and, of course, selections are made and numerous crosses are done to enhance the size of bloom, improve habit and vigor and diversify the color range that exists.

Often you'll see them offered as seed-grown plants in local garden centers, but specialty nurseries will carry named selections that can be quite extraordinary.

My first exposure to them was when I was in college and doing a planting plan for a design/build project I was involved in. I did some research and found that these irises would be perfect for curbside plantings and the specs emphasized the use of natives. Naturally wanting something more extravagant and more memorable thanks just sword ferns or salal, I found 5 plants at a local garden center with the full intent of using them for this project, but we were over budget and knowing that they probably wouldn't reimburse me if I used them in the garden, I decided to keep them and plunk them in my garden. The result were 4 vigorous plants (one just died randomly), three of which I donated to use at the Center for Urban Horticulture and one that simply took my breath away so I decided to keep and propagate.

Iris x 'Ami Royale'
An unregistered selection named 'Ami Royale' offered by Far Reaches Farm

With a handful of named selections, PCI hybrids are still difficult to come by. I still find that a lot of Northwest gardeners really don't know them so the push to really propagate and offer them in large quantities just isn't there. The plants are also somewhat temperamental about WHEN they're divided. I've been taught that once new roots are beginning to form at the base of the rhizome, they're ready for division.

Pacific Coast Iris hybrid 1
A hybrid with unique coloration - could possibly already be named

Ideally, they start putting down new roots before winter sets in allowing the roots to reestablish so the plants are immediately replanted in the beds or potted up and overwintered in a cool, unheated polyhouse over the winter.

Iris PCI Drip Drop
Iris x 'Drip Drop' was offered by Cistus Nursery

So why aren't these stunning plants found in other parts of the USA? According to Iris growers in the mid-west and east coast, hardiness seem to be the downfall of these extravagant blooms. While they easily withstand frosts a deep freeze in the single digits may do some of these varieties in.

Pacific Coast Iris x 'Baby Blanket'
The unique coloration of Iris x 'Baby Blanket' I got from Dancing Oaks Nursery

PC Iris with Golden Ribes 1
Check out the stunning contrast with a gold leaf red-flowering currant at the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's Spring Plant Sale!

Iris x Pacific Coast Hybrid Blue with Gold
This one was just labeled as "blue-violet", but looks stunning enough to be a named selection.

Iris x Pacific Coast Hybrid Violet Purple
Again, another unnamed selection that caught my eye so I grabbed it

So, what did happen to that one that was left from the original 5 plants I first got:

Iris x Pacific Coast unknown

Iris PC hybrid with Heuchera

Pacific Coast Iris hybrid

Pacific Coast Iris hybrid 1c habit

I've observed it, divided it, and shared starts with various friends and colleagues, who, I hope will keep it going.




  1. I love them too, Riz, not sure why it took me so long to actually buy some!

  2. I've had the brown one for about 10 years, along with some blue ones. The person who gave me the brown plant said it was called 'Shall We Dance'. I let them seed about and now I have yellow and white and mixes of brown and blue and purple. Love love love these irises.

  3. What stunningly beautiful irises! I think it's time they got a little more press. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Oh my, these are gorgeous! I hope they become more popular and more widely available soon!