Arils, Aril-Hybrids and Arilbreds

by Dorothy Howard, TAIS Member and Judge Emeritus

Arils are not the easiest of irises to grow, but learning how is a fascinating challenge. Note the first word. Given sunlight and good drainage, most arilbreds are as easily grown as any other iris. Note the seventh word. “Arils” and “Arilbreds” are two quite different varieties. The average iris grower needs to learn to use the terms correctly–and to differentiate.

The aril family is composed of three species. One specie, the Pseudoregelias, is obscure and for the most part unobtainable. There seems to be no recorded examples of using them in hybridizing. That leaves Regelias and Oncocycylii, and hybrids of these two. An aril hybrid can be a cross of two regelias, two oncocyclii, or a regalia and an oncocyclus. The product is still aril.

Regelias grow from 12 to 20 inches high, and have two blooms per stalk, sometimes three. Their flowers are elongated with standards and falls usually pointed. They have six beards. Each standard has a beard as well as each fall. They are native to higher elevations of the middle east and can take intense winter cold. They are more nearly certain to survive and increase from year to year when transplanted to other countries than oncos. In addition to hardiness., brilliance and contrast of color are outstanding characteristics of regelias. TURKISH TOPAS in shades of blue, yellow and brown bloomed for me its first year and subsequently formed a garden bouquet with eight bloomstalks. If it will do that for me it will for anyone. I recommend it.

“Onco” is a short term for the word oncocyclus and means precisely and only that one aril species. They also originate in the middle east and are known as the flower of the Holy Land. They are catalogued from 3 to 30 inches high, usually average 10 to 20 inches. Oncos produce but one bloom per stalk-no branching, no second bud. The blooms axe exquisitely rounded and large; in fact, overly large for the height of their stalks. The falls are noticeably shorter than the Standards and often tucked under. The beards can be sparse to heavy-always broad. SUSIANA is a white onco beautifully peppered and veined black, giving an overall appearance of black and silver. “Doubtless God could have created a more beautiful flower, but doubtless God never did.” Unfortunately, it is not the easiest to bloom and keep growing, but well worth the try.

Crosses of ragelias and oncos seem to give the best of the aril hybrids, gaining improved form and substance from the onco and growth habits from the regelia. DREAM STEP grows about 18 inches high, has a lovely rounded form accented by strong midribs. It is olive-cream with chartreuse highlights and a brown beard. DREAM STEP is an unusual aril (hybrid) in that its fans do not die down but stay green all summer.

All arils have two requirements without which they will not perform, full sun and well drained soil. With the gully-washing rains we get in this area, it’s good insurance to prepare raised beds for our arils. Regelias and hybrids can be planted as early as September 15. Oncos later. Thanksgiving week is not too late for oncos in Region 22, the goal being root formation but a minimum of fan growth before severe weather starts. I plant arils 3 inches deep into a 6 inch layer of sand spread ever a 24 inch high bed made of good garden loam, vermiculite, complete fertilizer, gypsum, magnesium sulphate (Epsom Salts) and lots of compost and bonemeal. One week after planting, water. Use mulch. If the aril bed is high and porous enough to insure rapid drainage, regelias and aril hybrids can remain undisturbed until time to divide. But, unless pro-vision can be made to keep oncos completely water-free for a five month period, they must be lifted when their fans die down. Sawdust is a good storing medium.

When an aril (regelia, onco, or hybrid) is crossed with any other variety of Iris, it becomes an arilBRED. The goal of hybridizers to to combine the distinctive characteristics of arils with the ease of growth of other varieties. Almost 20 years ago C. G. White produced some fantastic “1/2-breds” that still take honors at shows and sire present champions. JALLAH EFFENDI is always a good competitor in its division in any iris show. Breeding the C.G. Whites back to TBs produced the “1/4-breds”. Most of the first were Mohr-types with large, lovely blooms but negigible aril appearance. Those that were further bred back to just 1/8 aril blood have since been reclassified TB. On the other side of the spectrum 1/2 breds crossed back to arils produce 3/4 breds. Regardless of blood lines involved in any cross the product must show definite aril traits to qualify for arilbred classification.