Responsibilities Of The Rhododendron Breeder
R. L. Ticknor, Aurora, OR
A breeder of rhododendrons assumes certain responsibilities when he names and introduces any new rhododendron. The neglect of these obligations is in part responsible for the situation of thousands of named cultivars but only a relatively few are good doers.
The first duty of a breeder is to distribute only cultivars tolerant of the climate and average growing conditions of the area in which they work. Plants particularly susceptible to insects, foliage, diseases, root rots, chlorotic foliage and cold injury should not be named even though they have beautiful flowers. Plant habit is a matter of preference but compact plants are more popular than leggy ones.
Hybrid rhododendrons offered for sale should be vegetatively propagated only from quality plants. Only one clone should be distributed under a name and if sister seedlings are distributed each should have a distinct cultivar name. It takes longer to work up a stock from a single plant, but at least the buyer knows what he is getting.
Simple horticultural names should be used in preference to the hybrid Latin names which were used by some rhododendron breeders. If you want your plant to be popular, choose a name that is descriptive if possible but at least it should be easy to spell. The name should not have been used for an azalea or rhododendron before. Check "The International Rhododendron Register" or "Rhododendrons of The World" by Leach for names registered before 1958. A list of names registered from 1958 to the present can be obtained from our Registrar Edwin C. Parker at cost. Lists of names of Iris, Roses, or other plants are good sources of names. An easy way out is to name a plant for your wife or husband but if the plant does not become popular this might not be an honor to them.
As soon as a plant is identified as promising it should be propagated and grown at more than one location to prevent accidental loss. Too many plants have been named then lost leaving the literature cluttered up with names and descriptions for which no plants exist. Of course, if the plant proves difficult to propagate, it is no longer a promising hybrid so that propagation should take place before naming.
Remember that every hybrid that survives to bloom is not worth naming and introducing. High standards of excellence must be met and only rhododendrons that are superior and distinct from present cultivars should be named. Maintaining a good collection of current cultivars, or at least observing present hybrids similar to your new hybrid, is necessary for a breeder. When possible, submit the new cultivar to the chapter rating committee before you consider naming. Plants should not be named unless they are intended for introduction.
The late E. H. M. Cox (1) wrote about lilies but it applies to rhododendrons also: "Let us only hope when these lily hybrids now in process of manufacture come to flowering size they are judged by the most competent and dour set of critics that can be found before they are passed as an advance on anything that we already possess, and that all which do not pass are consigned to the fire".
1. Cox, E. H. M., 1933, Quarterly Notes, New Flora and Silva, 5:218