Leaf Strip

Dr. Currier McEwen of South Harpswell, Maine celebrates his 100th birthday on April 1, 2002.

Butter And Sugar, 1977 (siberian)
Butter And Sugar, 1977 (siberian iris)
Butter And Cream, 1999 (siberian)
Butter And Cream, 1999 (siberian iris)

Region 1 of the American Iris Society congratulates Currier McEwen! Currier became interested in iris in the 1950's while he was at the height of his medical career as a rheumatologist and Dean at the New York University School of Medicine. He joined the American Iris Society in 1956. In 1960 he began applying the drug colchicine to seeds of diploid siberian iris to create tetraploids. By 1970 he had developed new tetraploid siberian iris cultivars which had no possibility of reverting to diploids, and he introduced to the gardening public the first two tetraploid siberians Orville Fay and Fourfold White. Compared to diploids the tetraploid siberians show deeper and more velvety flower color, larger flowers, stronger stems, and wider leaves. Currier's tetraploids Orville Fay, Silver Edge, and Ruffled Velvet have won the highest award for siberian iris varieties, the Morgan-Wood. Some other McEwen siberian tetraploids which are beloved in New England gardens and gardens worldwide are Hubbard, Golden Edge, Lady Lilac, Harpswell Snowburst, Tiffany Lass, Pride in Blue, and Butter and Cream.

Currier worked to hybridize diploid siberian iris as well. He introduced the first yellow siberian in 1977, Butter and Sugar, recipient of both the Morgan Award and the Morgan-Wood Medal. He has worked to produce smaller yet proportionate siberians like the 6" tall Baby Sister, and the 18" tall Sassy Kooma. His 1979 diploid introduction Shirley Pope is an outstanding garden siberian which forms a dramatic clump of dark velvety purple flowers with a contrasting white blaze. In 1996 he published through Timber Press the definitive book The Siberian Iris, which he wrote to benefit both the beginner and the experienced grower.

Maine Chance (japanese)
Maine Chance, 1984 (japanese iris)
Returning Tide (japanese)
Returning Tide, 1976 (japanese iris)

The colchicine treatments to create tetraploidy were begun in the early 1960's on Japanese iris. Progress was slower than with the siberian iris and the first fully tetraploid japanese iris, Raspberry Rimmed, was introduced in 1978. Raspberry Rimmed went on to win the highest award for japanese iris cultivars, the Payne Medal in 1983. Other outstanding McEwen tetraploid japanese iris include the 3 fall pure white Maine Chance, the 6 Fall whites Double First and Oriental Classic, and Blueberry Rimmed (Payne Award, 1989). The deep red-violet 3 Fall tetraploid with a narrow white edge, Japanese Pinwheel, won the Payne Medal in 1992 and ranks among the most popular japanese iris ever created. Currier's 1999 introduction, Thoroughbred, is exceptionally beautiful and imposing, showing exceptional substance, ruffling, and unique coloration combining white, dark purple, blue and yellow.

Dr. McEwen also introduced many diploid japanese iris, some like Katy Mendez, as wistful and dainty as his tetraploids are stately and strong. Some of his diploid varieties, like Returning Tide (Payne Award, 1982), Ol' Man River and Continuing Pleasure, send up repeat bloomstalks to extend the length of the japanese iris bloom season. Dr. McEwen's book, The Japanese Iris, was published in 1990 through the Society for Japanese Iris and the New England University Press. Dr. McEwen continues his iris hybridizing programs and worldwide scientific studies around developent of exceptionally cold hardy japanese Iris varieties and japanese iris which grow well in alkaline soils.

Katy Mendez (japanese)
Katy Mendez, 1989 (japanese iris)
Continuing Pleasure (japanese)
Continuing Pleasure, 1982 (japanese iris)

Photos of Maine Chance, Continuing Pleasure and Returning Tide courtesy of Ensata Gardens

Gardening Tools: Watering Can
Happy 100th Birthday to Dr. Currier McEwen!

Mail to kaneonapua@yahoo.com
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