History of SIGNA
(June 7, 2012)
In 1968, under the leadership of Species Robin Chairman Roy Davidson, the members of the eight AIS species robins formed a Species Study Group under the wing of the AIS Scientific Committee. The robins provided sufficient material by April of 1968 for editor Bruce Richardson to publish the first newsletter for this new study group of 87 members. Bruce suggested the title SIGNA (Species Iris Group of North America) as a suitable name as it meant signal in Latin and it was intended to send out a signal far and wide. It also referred to the signal patch on many iris falls. The SIGNA Newsletter was going to be (and still is) the vital link binding the group together, since geography kept the members far apart. The Species Robins were full of timely and interesting iris information. It was felt that this information should be shared and placed in a permanent form where it could become a useful reference. The publication was to be limited to information on species iris and first or second generation crosses only. Hybridizing was not the object, but rather the preservation of the wild species.
Fourty Four years later, after 86 issues, SIGNA has published over 4000 pages of valuable information about all aspects of species irises both in the wild and in cultivation. All back issues of SIGNA are available and are still in demand because most of the information in them is still relevant. Many of the drawings were done for SIGNA specifically and can be found nowhere else. Information in these pages keeps members from making disastrous mistakes in the culture of otherwise easily grown species and encourages us to give supposedly difficult plants a try. It is still the vital link binding this widespread and diverse membership together.
Over the years SIGNA membership has continued to grow under the fine leadership first of Roy Davidson then Jean Witt, Elaine Hulbert, Colin Rigby, Richard Kiyomoto, Carla Lankow and currently William Plotner, and starting in January of 2013 Ken Walkup. SIGNA now has a membership of over 700 in the United States and 30 foreign countries.
In November 1967, six months before the first SIGNA publication, Ruth Hardy put together the first Species Seed Exchange. This was an idea that fitted well with the aims of the group to spread knowledge of iris species by growing them. The first seed list had gone to whomever among the AIS membership had asked for it, and 871 packets of seed had been sent to 80 subscribers. Our seed exchange now regularly includes many donors from all over the United States and several foreign countries contributed over 500 types of iris seed. Many of these seeds are rare in cultivation. The SIGNA seed exchange makes the distribution of unusual and rare species possible. What may be a common garden plant in one part of the world may be very rare elsewhere. SIGNA has also helped sponsor several trips to collect species iris plants and seed. One such trip was Dr. Waddick's 1983 trip to China. The seed exchange then was an instrument to disburse seed from these trips. Ten years ago few people had heard of I. typhifolia now, because of Dr. Waddick's expedition and the seed exchange, it is a fairly common garden plant with some new cultivars on the horizon.
The first SIGNA meeting was at the Berkeley AIS Convention in April 1969. There was little business but plenty of good slides and it ended with a Wild Iris Tour to Santa Cruz on Monterey Bay where the participants saw both redwood trees and wild irises. The aim of SIGNA at that meeting and tour (as it still is today) was to study the range of habitat of the species to gain insight into the culture of the species and toward education on species variation and identification as the basis for judging. In 1972 SIGNA became a Section of the AIS. That same year the initial part of the SIGNA Species Study Manual was distributed to the membership. The main body of loose leaf A-Z pages came the next year followed by additions annually until 1980. Brian Mathew's excellent hook, The iris, contained the information that was needed so no more additions were provided. At the present SIGNA is involved in several protects that continue to stress education and research on the species. Many of these will become books by noted scientists such as George Rodionenko and Maria Colasante and will be available through our SIGNA Publications Chairman. One such publication is the third edition of the SIGNA Checklist that was put together after over 10 years of work by several devoted members of SIGNA.
Awards for species and inter species hybrid irises within the AIS awards system became a reality in l994. As a result SIGNA has designed and cast "The Founders of SIGNA Medal" for species and the "Randolph-Perry Medal" for inter species hybrids. Revisions of the species sections of the AIS Judge's Handbook are being prepared. The Species Checklist has been completed and is on its second edition with a third on its way. This checklist contains an alphabetical listing of all known species iris clones and cultivars. The checklist will also be published in taxonomic form to provide a needed manual of cultivars for hybridizers and collectors as well as the average gardener. SIGNA has major proposals to finance research grants and germplasm collection as major activities. SIGNA has supported three species events, the International Species Symposium in 1995 and the Siberian and Species Convention in 1996 in Massachusetts, the 2003 Siberian/Species Convention in Ontario Canada, the 2006 Siberian/Species Convention in Portland JSC, and the upcoming 2013 Siberian/Species Convention in Lansing Michigan. Through these things SIGNA continues towards the goals of education on species variation and identification and the preservation of all iris species.