A Look Into The Future
Dick Murcott, East Norwich, New York
Reprinted from the New York Chapter Newsletter
I am taking the opportunity of writing this article as there are a lot of things I'd like to get off my chest - things that should be said that seem not to have been approached by other hybridizers, as far as I know. To start off, I'd like to write about where I've been and a few of the experiences I've had that have caused me to change my course in hybridizing.
I started in 1964, the year Don Hardgrove stopped. In fact, it was Don, at a talk he gave to the NY Chapter in February 1964, who initially interested me in hybridizing rhododendrons.
My first hybrids were basically a continuation of the sort of thing that he and Nearing had been doing with the large growing elepidote rhododendrons. In fact, I used pollen from Don's garden in 1964 and some of the most important of Don's plants were acquired by a very close friend of mine, Sid Burns, and have since been readily available to me for hybridizing.
A few of my early hybrids turned out all right, but only through dumb luck. The first lesson I learned, quite by accident and reinforced many times since, is the fact that 'Scintillation' is a wonderful parent. Its progeny are tough, have beautiful, glossy foliage, and are robust. In fact, someone on Long Island has grown open-pollinated 'Scintillation' seeds, selected the best, and grown on open-pollinated seeds of it. The results are amazing. The plants can compete well with the best of what we have now. And this is with open-pollinated seed!
But, my second 'Scintillation' lesson is perhaps more important. Unless you have a lot of resources in the way of space and help, you had best cross it with dwarfs, because the seedlings will outgrow you and your space very rapidly. But, when you cross it with a dwarf, you get seedlings that are slower growing, yet they still grow rapidly and quickly, and lose the daintiness and attractiveness of the dwarf parent.
This brings to mind my first point; if you're tempted to enter into competition with Mr. Dexter or Mr. Phipps, you should have their resources or feel you are a lot smarter than they. Quite frankly, the random crossing of one Dexter with another, or a Dexter with an ironclad, is doomed to failure. So often I see seed offered in the seed exchange of this sort of cross that I get distressed thinking of all the effort someone is going to expend to grow all this seed and get nothing for it. It would have been so much better to acquire a named cultivar and grow it well.
Let me just say here that if you asked me whether a cross of 'Champagne' x campylocarpum would be useful, I would have replied that it would be a complete waste of time. Well this cross produced 'Bobbie's Butter', probably the best yellow developed in the East or West. So I'm shooting off my mouth here, but I am wrong lots of the time, if not most of the time.
Mr. Dexter won the contest! To attempt to develop better plants along that line is a waste of resources that would be much better used in other quests.
It was in the late 1960's that I decided to use indumented plants in hybridizing. These had many advantages: dwarfness, hardiness, and attractiveness due to the indumentum characteristics. Of course, R. yakushimanum had become very popular as a parent by then, so I decided to use something else, just to be different. There is a dwarf form of R. degronianum, the West Coast AE form that is dwarf, indumented, is a very nice pink, and has glossy foliage. The deep pink color was especially attractive to me because I had wanted to develop reds, and of course, yakushimanum crossed with red gives a fading pink. I thought this AE form, since it already was pink, crossed with reds would have a better chance of giving red in the off-spring.
I made several crosses with it, but have not seen too many flowers. Those I have seen are terrible and I don't hold out too much hope for anything good among the un-bloomed plants. The problem is that the progeny have inherited the small floret size from the degronianum AE and, when crossed with 'Gee Gee', have mauve flowers. This color might come from the 'Gee Gee' but I was disappointed enough to stop using it. The plant habit of the seedlings is super, but without indumentum when the other partner in the cross is non-indumented.
Forgoing yakushimanum was an error. It was not until a few years ago that I realized this. I had read and heard the reports of sour results of crosses of it with the tender and hardy reds. Pink, fading to white, seemed to be the universal result, no matter how deep the red color of the other parent. But, the other parent was always 'Vulcan', 'Mars', 'Vulcan's Flame', or 'Noyo Chief' - all tall growing plants. It was never repens, sanguineum, didymum, or haematodes, or any of the other Neriiflorum Series reds. I couldn't believe that these low growing, dense red, indumented (in some cases) species had not been crossed with yak. They were such obvious crosses. Correspondence with West Coast hybridizers confirmed that indeed the Neriiflorums had been neglected.
That is about where I am now. Generally, I'm not using yakushimanum itself as the seed parent, rather yak x 'Mars' or yak x 'Vulcan's Flame' as these are already half-red, dense-growing, and slightly indumented. I always use pollen from tender reds: 'Ibex', pocophorum, mallotum, 'Grosclaude', chaetomallum, repens, sanguineum, etc. As you can see, some are dwarfs and others tall growing, but they are all very red.
The results of these crosses have not flowered. But I don't care since some of the seedlings are so beautiful. The crosses with the dwarfs from the Neriiflorum Series have the very best foliage and growth characteristics. The population of seedlings that shows the most outstanding foliage characteristics is a cross of yakushimanum Exbury x sanguineum. Each is nicer than the next. Yak Exbury x 'Ruby Hart' produced beautiful seedlings. None of these two crosses has yet bloomed.
I haven't yet mentioned any of the lepidotes, the scaly-leaved rhododendrons. I have made only one or two successful crosses among these. By successful, I mean crosses that have produced seed. Without a cool house, it is difficult to make the cross take. I would strongly recommend that you use a cool house with potted plants if you wish to pursue these.
I crossed a pink carolinianum with 'Paul's Pink', a mucronulatum selection, and had a raft of seedlings that looked just like carolinianum. I almost dumped them because I thought they were just another case of carolinianum selfing itself. I noticed one or two with flower buds three years after the cross was done, so I thought I'd hold them over the winter just to see, before I got rid of them. They bloomed a full five weeks before carolinianum and two to three weeks after mucronulatum and were a very deep pink. Needless to say, it must be the cross. I saved all of the other plants; most have buds for next spring.
But, I do not recommend carolinianum, and if you are contemplating the lepidotes, there are several facts you should consider.
First, as I indicated earlier, a cool house is required. There are no frost, insects, wind, or cool nights to prevent the pollen from growing and fertilizing the ovules. Using pots enables you to have the plants at eye level. This is very convenient when you have to do the tedious emasculation.
Second, some hybrids, thought to be sterile, aren't. For example, 'Dora Amateis' has been successfully crossed with mucronulatum and 'Lady Alice Fitzwilliam'. These are very important crosses (not done by me), that are only one year old now but they look very vigorous.
Third, forget carolinianum. Instead use racemosum. Racemosum crosses with everything, including evergreen azaleas.
Lastly, there is a hybrid, 'Carolina Rose', which is a cross of carolinianum x roseum. Yes, roseum, a deciduous American azalea. 'Carolina Rose' is very fertile. Why not cross it with the orange and red American deciduous azaleas. This might be the opening everyone is looking for to get red lepidote rhododendrons.
One of the complaints people have about hybridizers is that they won't tell you what they have done this year, and especially will not say what they are going to do next year. I have already indicated some of the crosses I made last year and I would like to give you some of my plans for this spring. I might add that plans change rapidly with the availability of pollen and seed parents. The plans are changed when all of the flowers on an intended seed parent winter kill!
I will make more crosses than those listed depending on what budded seedlings actually bloom. I know in some cases you wouldn't have the same seed parent as I have listed. But at least you have an idea of what I am thinking about.
Pollen of 'Vulcan x sanguineum onto: Lepidotes: haematodes 'Carolina Rose' x red deciduous American azaleas yak x 'Vulcan's Flame' AKA 'Yaku Dawn' racemosum x red deciduous American azaleas 'Anne Hardgrove' racemosum x Malaysian haematodes x 'Vulcan' haematodes x 'Anne Hardgrove' 'Meadowbrook' x 'Vulcan' 'Meadowbrook' x Neriiflorum Series red ('Dido' x chlorops x lacteum) x aureum ('Dido' x chlorops x lacteum) x 'Donna Hardgrove' ('Dido' x chlorops x lacteum) x 'Golden Star' 'Golden Star' x 'Donna Hardgrove'