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Gardens Focus: Cemetery Whites

Spring is arriving in Oakland’s gardens. The daffodils are
fading and being replaced by a symphony of spring blooms
including our very early white iris. Many other irises will soon
follow but these irises are the first to announce spring’s arrival.
Commonly referred to as Cemetery Whites, this iris is actually
Iris albican and is believed to be one of the oldest irises in
cultivation. Probably a natural hybrid, Cemetery Whites
originated in Saudi Arabia from where they were taken to
Spain by the Moors. The Spanish are credited with bringing it
to the New World as they established colonies. This long
journey to our shores spread it throughout the North African
and Mediterranean regions where it is still found in abundance,
sometimes even in meadows or roadsides but always in
cemeteries.
Today this tough little iris can be seen in cemeteries and home
sites throughout the southeast. It thrives in hot, dry conditions
and multiplies freely. In fact it multiplies so frequently that it has
a reputation for turning purple iris white. There’s no way this
actually happens, however this delicate looking plant is quite
capable of choking out other iris planted too close.
Here at Oakland we constantly propagate our Cemetery
Whites so that we can spread them around as new areas are
restored. We also always have them for sale during Sunday in
the Park and other times by request. It is a wonderful iris that
deserves a place in everyone’s garden.

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