The term “novelty iris describes iris that are divergent in pattern, form or habit from the mainstream of iris development.” (Ben Hager) According to the American Iris Society Handbook for Judges – “novelties are broken color, space age, flatties, and variegated foliage irises.” As early as 1922, a French publication from the First International Iris Conference featured a full page illustrating examples of horned and flat iris labeling them ‘monstrosities.’ Later publications described iris with appendages at the end of beards as ‘terrible deformities.’ “Most novelty irises are mutants. Irises can evolve, but most novelties have undergone sudden changes either by chance or as planned by hybridizers.” (Tom Burseen) Because ‘different seedlings’ were not always readily accepted by the American Iris Society, many were discarded by the hybridizer. For an all encompassing view of novelty iris with photos, check out the Iris Encyclopedia.
Broken Color Novelty Iris
Broken Color Iris have splashes and streaks of different colors predominately on the falls. Allen Ensminger and Brad Kasperek were pioneers of this trait in tall bearded iris. “In color breaking, a genetic instability causes the colors and/or patterns of the iris to express irregularly giving a flower that is splish-splashed in a more or less haphazard fashion. No two blooms are ever just alike.” (Mike Unser) This trait can also be found in Japanese and Siberian iris. Mike Unser’s article “Broken Color Terminology” illustrates the evolution of this novelty characteristic. (Example: Broken Color Iris Millennium Falcon)
Flat or Flattie Novelty Iris
Flat Iris have six petals which are actually falls. There are no standards. This trait occurs in bearded as well as the beardless Japanese and Louisiana iris. Although this form appeared in Japanese iris many years ago, it did not become a form that has readily been hybridized in tall bearded iris. Registration of tall bearded flatties did not begin until 1920 and only 50+ have been registered since then. (Example: Flattie Iris Six Pack)
Space Age Novelty Iris
Iris with Beard Appendages (i.e. horns, spoons, flounces and pom poms) are often referred to as “space age” iris. In 1954, hybridizer Lloyd Austin first introduced ‘Unicorn’ a space ager. These “mutants” gained further popularity due to Monty Byers hybridizing program in the 1980s and 90s. Now novelty iris are accepted, not only attractive, but also distinctive, fascinating, intriguing, and for some iris collectors, captivating. “Novelty Iris” by Bonnie Nichols – has great photos and descriptions. Example: Space Age Iris Abby and Me)
Variegated Foliage Novelty Iris
Variegated Leaf Iris with stripes of white or yellow are another class of Novelty Iris. The most commonly seen historic iris with this trait is the species I.Pallida collected in 1789. In the early 1900’s, I. Pallida was used in France and England to produce hybrids with light blue-violet, pale mauve, and blueish-white flowers. Today many classes of iris are hybridized with variegated leaves, including tall bearded, intermediate bearded, arilbred, japanese, siberian, species and species hybrids.
Other Resources about Novelty Iris are:
“Flat Out and Up To Date-Novelty Iris” Clive Russell
“Space Age Iris – After Austin” Jean Richter
“Lloyd Austin, Pioneering Iris Hybridizer”
“Novelty Iris” Ben Hager’s article from the 1978 classic The World of Irises