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Odds and Ends

Discussion about different color crosses and expectations

I thought it might be of interest to some to discuss what kind of results might be expected from using two different colored parents so I dug out some old notes I had saved. Today's cultivars frequently have many different colors in the lineage so today's results are probably more variable than these notes suggest.

Typically, when crossing a cultivar of one color with another cultivar of the same color the results will be primarily that color but there can be some variances. Crossing two yellows for example may result in melon colored seedlings as well as yellow.

Crossing two pinks will produce pink seedlings but may also produce a few melon colored seedlings and even an occasional red seedling. Likewise, crossing two reds will result in red seedlings with a possibility for a few pink or melon colored seedlings.

Using more complex colors can result in a wider range of results. A lavender purple / lavender cultivar crossed with another lavender purple / lavender cultivar in addition to lavender purple/lavender seedlings could result in an occasional rosy purple, pink, yellow, peach, or melon seedling because of the genes present from the various cultivars crossed to create the lavender purple / purple. I have even seen a white seedling result from a cross of two lavender purple cultivars. A little research showed that a white cultivar had been used several generations back. Whites were used to widen the petals of purples which typically were fairly narrow originally.

Crossing two different rosy purple cultivars will most likely produce rosy purple seedlings but may produce a few lavender purple seedlings and even the occasional yellow or melon seedling. Even red, pink, or peach/apricot seedlings may rarely show up. Again, this depends on the parent plants' lineage.

When I first started hybridizing I was told there were some colors you just didn't cross because the results would be muddy colors. Purple with yellow, peach, or orange, are a few examples. This was probably good advice for someone who only has the space and time to hybridize on a limited basis. The chances of a decent result are greatly reduced when using non-complimentary colors. While experimenting would have been fun, I preferred to concentrate on creating pleasing seedlings.

Years ago I learned that the result isn't always the obvious. I crossed a bright clear yellow with a nice bright red thinking I would get some nice orange daylilies. What I got was mud colored daylilies and every single seedling was about the same shade of mud.

Which traits do each parent (pod or pollen) pass on to the seedlings

Ah, one of daylilydom's hotly debated questions. The answers depend on who you ask and can vary across the board. Probably the only agreement among hybridizers is that nothing is set in stone. Any trait from either parent can be passed on so the real question is are there any tendencies that can be considered when making crosses.

Probably the most common response to this question is that the pod parent contributes the plant habits (foliage size, robustness, etc...) while the pollen parent provides the traits you see in the blooms themselves. I have heard that there is some scientific reasoning as to why the pod parent contributes to the plant habit but neither this blog nor its writer (me) are scientifically oriented so I'm not going to go there.

I did go back and look at some of my seedlings to see how their growth habits compared to the pod and pollen parents. In a high percentage of cases, the seedlings do seem to take after the pod parent rather than the pollen parent in their growth habits. By growth habits I mean foliage size, scape height, and bud count. The previous four posts of favorite seedlings from the evaluation bed all fit this pattern. Seedling 11-028 (Oct 25th) is a somewhat extreme example. The pod parent has a 28" scape and robust foliage while the pollen parent had about a 20" scape and the plant itself was on the small side. Seedling 11-028 has a 28-30" scape and also inherited the robust foliage from the pod parent.

I could not verify the other side of the equation however (pollen parent contributing to the bloom). In most cases the resulting blooms were a combination of traits from both parents. Based on this, after deciding a cross has potential there may be something said about using the more robust of the two as the pod parent when possible.

Working toward a specific goal

I am sometimes asked how the fancy wide-petaled daylilies of today came to be considering what the old-timey daylilies looked like (thin petals and mostly yellows, oranges, and reds). The answer is that the hybridizers set goals and worked toward reaching these goals. While I don't hybridize at this level, there is something to be said about this type of process.

Years ago, purple daylilies had narrow petals at least by today's standards. Through various hybridizing programs we now have nice wide petals on many purple cultivars. If I were to have developed a program to widen purple petals back when they did not exist, this is how I might have gone about it.

In the first set of crosses, I would have used various dark purples (avoiding the ones with the narrowest petals) crossed with a number of whites that all had wide petals. I would have used whites because there were whites with wide petals and they only tend to lighten the purple color of the cultivar they are crossed with (they don't add much color that would compete with the purple).

Most of the seedlings from this first generation would be carrying both the purple and the wide petal genes even though the bloom may not show it. I would not have expected to have reached my goal at this point. In fact, I would have expected the results from the first generation to certainly be less than spectacular. I would then have made crosses using the first generation seedlings that best showed signs of the traits I am looking for (wider petals or dark purple color) and of course, good plant habits.

From the second generation of seedlings it might have been possible to start seeing some results. Because each parent plant could be carrying both the wide and narrow petal genes as well as the purple genes there should have been some that exhibit both the wide petal and purple color. But I wouldn't necessarily have expected a real wide petal at this point.

I would again have selected the best of those that showed signs of the traits that I was looking for and make crosses using these second generation seedlings. The process could have continued through multiple generations selecting only the best from each generation. With a little luck, the goal could have been reached.

Of course, I'm not nearly dedicated enough nor do I have the time and space required to hybridize at this level. I will always just be a backyard hybridizer looking for a pretty flower but this type of work has been responsible for many of the unique daylily traits we have in commerce today.

Crossing similar cultivars.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard that as a rule, it's not a good idea to cross two similar looking cultivars because the results will be a seedling that looks about the same as the parents. On the surface, this is true as you do get mostly similar looking cultivars but there are other factors to consider which can make crossing two similar cultivars a good idea.

When I evaluate a daylily for breeding I look at its traits such as bud count, branching, scape height, how well the blooms open, the average 'bloom days' each season, the robustness of the plant, how well the foliage holds up in the summer heat, is the bloom color 'clean' or does it have any 'muddy-ness'. I'm looking for both where the cultivar excells as well as what its faults might be.

I usually don't cross two similar cultivars if they both have some of the same faults. If both parents have the same faults a good portion of the resulting seedlings will probably have the faults too. Low bud count is a prime example of this. Two low bud count parents usually don't produce high bud count seedlings.

Similarly, if both parents have the same positive traits a good percentage of the seedlings will probably have the same positive traits. It's when you have cultivars with offsetting positive and negative traits that you have the possibility of a seedling that is better than both parents - as long as you don't have too many matching negative traits.

For example, one cultivar may have nice large blooms (a positive trait) on too short scapes (a negative trait) while the other parent has smaller blooms (a negative trait) on tall, well branched scapes (a positive trait). A good percentage of the seedlings will probably be like one or the other parent but you could get some with the taller, well branched scapes and the larger blooms (a combination of the positive traits from both parents). Similarly, you could also get some seedlings with too short scapes and smaller blooms (a combination of the negative traits from both parents). This variety of results is one of the things that makes hybridizing so much fun.

Bottom line is that I do make crosses from similar cultivars if I can justify the cross based on a specific goal.

The evolution of the hybridizer addiction

Most daylily hybridizers will admit that our hobby is like an addiction in some ways. Just for fun I thought I'd take a few minutes to describe how my addiction has developed over the years (smile).

When I first started, I thought it would be fun and interesting to see what seedlings I could create by spreading pollen from different cultivars. I knew nothing about hybridizing and my daylily purchases showed it. I purchased only the least expensive daylilies as that was all I could afford. I made crosses based only on what was blooming each day that looked nice. I had a blast doing it and was pleased with the results.

Then I began wondering how I could get better seedlings. Fortunately, about that time the AHS Email Robin came into existance. The Robin is a group of daylily enthusiasts that communicate via an email mailing list. It was through this group that I learned about the importance of having good parent plants. I realized that this would take more money than I could afford to spend so I started my annual yard sale to get the money for better parent plants. Better parent plants resulted in better seedlings and I was once again happy. But the improvement in my seedlings only made me want to do even better. I was now addicted!

The Robin membership increased dramatically over time and it included some well known hybridizers who shared some of their knowledge. One of these knowledge tid-bits was the importance of having a hybridizing plan and sticking to it. The plan should be put together with as much knowledge as possible about the parent plants. This will help in selecting good crosses for the plan. Once I started following this my seedlings improved not only individually, but there are more keepers in each crop.

Am I addicted to daylily hybridizing? Anyone who goes through this much effort in persuit of his hobby must be addicted but I'm enjoying every minute of it!

Make crosses using your own registrations and seedlings

For years I never used my own seedlings when making crosses. I guess I always thought that other hybridizer's introductions were better than my own seedlings and that's probably true in many cases. The point I was missing was that using my own seedlings provided a good chance of having a unique set of genes because few if any hybridizers had made the same crosses that I had made to create the seedling.

I don't like to intentionally make the same crosses that I know any of the major hybridizers have already made even those that have yielded registered daylilies. If I make the same crosses, chances are good that at best I'll get similar results. Why would I want to create a daylily that looks just like something that someone else has already registered. That doesn't mean however that I go out of my way to make sure I don't duplicate a cross another hybridizer has made. That's too much work (smile).

Crossing my registrations and seedlings with known good parents from other hybridizers gives me better odds of getting a unique seedling. Furthermore, using my registrations and seedlings for both parents increases the uniqueness factor even more.

So how do I know if a registered cultivar is a known good parent? One way to is by the number of daylilies that have been introduced with the cultivar as one of the parents. This is easy enought to determine using the AHS Online Cultivar Database. From the main search page click on 'Advanced Search'. Down near the bottom of the search form is Parentage. Enter a cultivar name, make sure 'exact' is selected and then click search. All the cultivars with that daylily as a parent will be listed.

For example, at this writing Victorian Lace shows that it is one of the parents of 128 different introductions and J.T. Davis shows 280. They're both good parents and the numbers agree. Of course the length of time the cultivar has been on the market effects the number of registered cultivars but this can still be a good indicator.

Evaluating foliage

While the foliage quality is not always at the top of a hybridizer's list when evaluating a seedling, it does need to be considered. A good daylily should have reasonably attractive foliage throughout the growing season.

Most daylilies foliage looks pretty good in the spring. There are exceptions of course. There are a few daylilies that seem to have a perpetual 'bad hair day'. They are fairly rare but I do 'take off points' when I have a seedling with bad spring foliage.

The good looking spring foliage usually continues at least until the primary flush of blooms have concluded. Because it takes a fair amout of energy to produce blooms the foliage may suffer. How much it suffers is the issue. For me, it's ok for the foliage to be reduced in size and vigor as long as it is still reasonably attractive. However if there is a drastic reduction in the foliage or if a significant number of the leaves lay down or break I consider that to be a fault.

The other issue I evaluate here in my gulf coast garden is how well the plants handle the 4 months of 90+ degree days. Moisture naturally transpires through the foliage. The higher the temperatures the more moisture that is given off by the leaves. At some point the plant cannot take up as much moisture through its roots as it's transpiring through its foliage. When that happens the plant will allow its outer leaves to die off. This reduces the amount of the plant's leaf surface which reduces the amount of moisture the plant will give off. The leaf die off continues until the amount of moisture taken up by the roots balances the amount given off by the leaves. The result is a reduction in the foliage during summer. This is normal but if the plants get too small I consider it a fault.

There is something called 'summer dormancy'. It's when a plant under certain summer conditions actually goes dormant, similar to the way dormant daylilies do in the north during winter. Then after a while they start growing normally again. I have only seen this in one of my seedlings and it only happened once (a particularly hot and dry summer). With such limited exposure to summer dormancy, I don't yet have an opinion as to whether it's a fault or not but I suspect if it happened every year, I probably would consider it a fault.

About taking pictures

For me pictures are an integral part of daylily hybridizing. They record the reality of the bloom so it can be reviewed later. During the peak bloom season frenzy, it's difficult to find time to properly evaluate a new seedling in the garden. Sometimes I see things in the pictures that I completely missed when I took the picture.

That doesn't mean I rely completely on the pictures when evaluating new seedlings. Some seedlings are very photogenic and the picture may look better than the reality while for others it can be difficult to capture the true beauty of the bloom. I always try and compare the actual picture with my memory of the bloom when evaluating a seedling.

I am certainly not a professional photographer - far from it. I use a 'point and shoot' digital camera and the only adjustments I make on my camera are those designed for the novice. When someone starts talking about f-stops, depth of field, etc... my eyes start glazing over. While my pictures could probably be better if I wanted to learn all this stuff, I find the quality of my pictures satisfies my needs. What I do know about photography has come from my taking pictures using different basic camera settings under different light conditions and figuring out what works best to give me the desired result - accurate color reproduction.

Probably the most important thing in getting good color is having the proper lighting. I find that early morning sunlight is good while direct sun later in the day doesn't give accurate results with many daylily colors. Excellent results can be had when photographing in light shade. An example of light shade is under the shade of a tall tree with sunlight in surrounding areas but not directly on the bloom. Temporary shade can also be provided by passing clouds if thick enough.

The sky itself can also be a factor. A purple bloom taken in light shade with a blue sky will usually be very purple. The blue spectrum from the blue sky reaches the bloom and intensifies the blue in the purple. The same bloom taken when there's a light overcast will be much more 'rosy' in appearance. This may be because the light overcast tends to scatter the red spectrum in the sunlight allowing more of it to reach the bloom intensifying the red in the purple. But that's just a supposition on my part.

Overcast skies are supposed to be good for picture taking. I find that to be true depending on the type of overcast. A fairly thick overcast seems to be ok but a thinner overcast frequently intensifies the red in any bloom that contains red. For example, a very pale clear pink will often show up with a darker muddy pink cast under a thin overcast sky. At least this is the way it seems to work here along the humid gulf coast.

I take many pictures during the bloom season (1600+ this season). That's one of the advantages of using a digital camera. In most cases I'll take multiple pictures of each seedling. It allows me to see the bloom in various stages during the bloom cycle. Usually a seedling's bloom will be fairly consistent and I'll keep only one or two of the best pictures while at other times the bloom will appear different from day to day. I like to keep several of these pictures for reference. This year I kept about a third of the images I took.

I do use a photo editing program on my computer but not to 'manipulate' the images. That would defeat the purpose of taking the pictures. All I do is make minor adjustments to compensate for the things that point-and-shoot doesn't always handle properly such as the contrast. I also use the software to crop and resize my pictures.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the best part of taking the pictures. I have them to enjoy when the garden is not blooming!

Freezing and using frozen pollen

I used to freeze pollen one year for use the next. It was nice to have an ample supply of the best cultivars' pollen available whenever I needed it. I no longer had to wait for both the pod and pollen plants to blooming on the same day.

I stopped freezing pollen for a couple of reasons. First is finding the additional time needed to gather and properly preserve the pollen. It was just one more thing that I was trying to squeeze into an extremely busy schedule. The second reason was because my success rate setting pods with frozen pollen was not as good as I had expected. It turns out however, that the poor results were my own fault.

Hybridizers have successfully frozen pollen in may different ways. Empty gel caps was one of the first I tried. I do NOT recommend this if your climate is hot and humid like Houston's is. The gel caps get sticky and very hard to handle. I also tried using Q-tips stored in small pill bottles. That worked fairly well but my wife was not willing to give up that much space in our freezer.

I had several of the old style hard contact cases - the cheap disposable kind that the hard contacts come in. The are about the right size to hold 3 stamens (just the pollen parts) and are small so they don't take up much room in the freezer. After a little testing I decided this was the way to go.

I was able to talk my optician into ordering some for me. I ordered 144 pair and I was in business. I trimmed the case to make it small enough to fit into the compartments in a plastic storage box. Each compartment contained only pollen from one cultivar so I was able to save pollen for up to 18 different cultivars. The result was the ability to freeze a substantial amount of pollen organized in a relatively small amount of freezer space. Here are images of the lens case and the storage box I used.

Hard contact lense case Storage box

To save the pollen, I removed the pollen laden stamens and placed 3 of them on each lens case cup. The lens cases (still open) are then placed where the air conditioner can blow on them to dry out the pollen. It's important that the pollen be dry before freezing as moisture reduces the effectiveness of the pollen and can even render it useless. After 24 hours the lens case is closed and then frozen.

To use the pollen, remove only enough lens cases for the day's crosses. The remainder should stay in the freezer. Place the lense cases in a shady spot outdoors to thaw BEFORE you open the cases. This is where I went wrong when I used pollen. Opening the cases while still cold caused the humidity to condense on the pollen and as I said, moisture reduces the pollen's effectiveness.

Once the cases are warmed to the outside air temperature, they can be opened and the pollen used. I found that a pair of reciprocating tweezers was particularly useful for this process. Don't refreeze any unused pollen.