Orleans Iris - Iris tenax klamathensis

Photos by Ron Parsons

In 1958, Lee Lenz identified an isolated California population of toughleaf iris far to the south of the rest of the species. It lives on shaded hillsides and clearings along the Klamath River, in a small area around the town of Orleans, in Humboldt County. Victor Cohen described his own experience in his A Guide to the Pacific Coast Irises: "This is a charming and graceful little iris and I was immediately captivated by its beauty."

How closely related the Orleans Iris actually is to the more northern populations of Iris tenax deserves further study. In most features it seems to differ very little, but the differences are clear enough that Lenz named it as an unique subspecies - Iris tenax klamathensis.

The most obvious physical difference is a longer (though still short) floral tube. In most toughleaf iris the tube measures only about ¼ inch; in the Orleans iris it's usually ½ to ¾ inch, narrowing as it nears the ovary. Style crests are generally narrower and slightly longer. Flower color ranges between shades of light cream to pale or golden yellow, with distinct reddish-brown or maroon veins on the falls and sometimes the standards, and a brighter yellow eyespot. The leaves are very narrow, like long blades of grass.

Pictures of the Orleans Iris have only recently become accessible, after photographer Ron Parsons visited the region on May 7, 2011. His online album includes 31 photos of Iris tenax klamathensis, plus six of Iris tenuissima from the same general area. Below are copies of some of Ron's photos. Click on the photos, or on Ron's name in the tagline above to see the entire series.

Orleans Iris, I. tenax klamathensis by Ron Parsons

Orleans Iris, Iris tenax klamathensis. Ishi Pishi Road, along the Klamath River near Orleans, Humboldt County, California. Photographs by Ron Parsons. May 7, 2011.