The Louisiana Iris Suite
Images and reflections by Dick Sloan

The Arkansas Hybridizers

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'Bryce Leigh', above, is a Chowning iris registered in 1973. Frank Chowning was a Little Rock, AR, lawyer, whose wealth came from buying large tracts of cut-over land and planting pine trees to be harvested. His passion was irises and he bred for increased hardiness, using the species which grow naturally farther north along the Mississippi river basin. The results tend to shorter statured plants with blooms that are more reliable. Some Louisianas seem to be plant hardy, but some years bloom is affected by late spring cold weather. I have found this a problem in my area with just a very few hybrids, but it may be more evident farther north. Frank registered irises from the 1940's through into the 1980's, most from 1950 to 1980. His most famous is 'Ann Chowning', a 30" red with brilliant gold signals. It is grown widely by wholesalers and offered far and wide, frequently unnamed. Bryce Leigh was Frank Chowning's second wife.

'Finders Keepers' is unique. No other Lousiana has this color pattern. It is a small statured Chowning iris from 1961, showing the I. brevicaulis breeding he used in many of his introductions. Here, I had to tear away daylily foliage to show the picture, and it will be moved to my ditch this fall, a more favorable growing location. Here is Frank's discussion of the name, from the March, 1981 issue of the SLI newsletter:

"There is a story 'going the rounds' that my registered hybrid FINDERS KEEPERS was collected by me in the wild; and that it acquired its name when I, with some friends, were on a hunt for wild iris, and, being the first to see the plant in bloom, I rushed ahead of the others shouting, 'Finders Keepers'! A good story, but it didn't happen that way. This iris - a sport -- first bloomed in the spring of 1958 in a bed of sister seedlings which were the result of a cross I had made of very dark blackish purple seedlings in an effort to produce a 'black' iris. It increased rapidly and I gave rhizomes to several friends, including Caroline Dorman. When it bloomed for her the next spring she rushed off a postcard to me saying 'Frank Chowing, you didn't originate FINDERS KEEPERS, the fairies made it.' I have wished many times the fairies would make me another, substituting pink for the indigo markings on the present hybrid."

Blooms don't last as long as modern hybrids, but who cares?


'Gold Reserve', at the right, is a Frank Chowning iris from 1973. It has no ruffles but is a great color and shorter statured like many from Frank.

'Upbeat' is a Rowlan 1988 registration. Henry Rowlan, now dead, was one of the Little Rock area men who carried on during Frank Chowning's later years and after. He was a former president of our society. I believe my favorite of his registrations is this, with its tints of green. We seem to always want the colors in flowers that don't come naturally. 'Upbeat' and Mary Dunn's 'Sorbet' have tints/hints of green, 'Upbeat' on more of a white background with some yellow veining, 'Sorbet' more a cream green. The green appears different in different lights and at different flower stages. There has been continued interest in green flowers and Dr. Betts in Australia is working toward this goal with a recent registration. His cultivars haven't received much distribution yet in this country.

'Red Echo' looks like a larger statured species plant with larger, more flaring flowers. It was registered by Rowlan in 1983, and shows there is interest in all flower forms as it is very widely grown. Being a Rowlan iris, it will be as hardy as any of the Louisianas. 'Red Echo' is not far removed from the species I. fulva and I. nelsonii, crossed with the work of Frank Chowning mixed in to produce hardy irises. We see the vigor of species crosses, which wouldn't mean anything if the results weren't attractive in their own right.

'My Friend Dick' was a seedling of Richard Butler's which he registered in 1998. After his death, it was named by M.D. Faith and introduced in 2000. It is from Frank Chowning's 'Ann Chowing' selfed, both irises great reds. Mr Faith, of Searcy, AR, is the only current hybridizer still registering irises in the Little Rock area of the group that began with Frank Chowning. This beauty is a fitting memorial to both Richard Butler and Frank.


Richard Butler was a lawyer and philanthropist, a true VIP in Little Rock and Arkansas affairs. He was also interested in Louisiana irises and registered three in the early 1980's. A few years ago, suffering terrible pain from a spinal disease, he threw himself off a bridge in Little Rock into the Arkansas River. His suicide was a shock to his family, friends, those of us who are involved in irises, as well as to the power elite of the state. Gertie carries on, in her 90's. At last report, she still drives and lives almost independently. 'Gertie Butler', left, was named for her, registered in 1989 by Charles Arny. My picture is of one of the last blooms this season and does not really do it justice.

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