To Bee Or Not To Bee
That Is The Question
Reprinted from the "Rhodo Rooter", Great Lakes Chapter newsletter, 1987
There are extensive recruiting programs in our country today, but I have yet to hear of anyone recruiting rhododendron hybridists. Help is desperately needed in this field if we intend to keep introducing new and improved rhododendrons in the future. Thus, I'm recruiting YOU. No matter on how small a scale, it is my desire to have everyone, with a love for the plant, become involved in a breeding program. I can, personally, guarantee great rewards and pleasure from your accomplishments, even if you raise only a few seedlings. Each cross you make and plant you bloom, will constitute a first since there will be no other like it in the world. I've made many crosses over a period of thirty years and have never seen a duplication.
The procedure involved in pollinating has been covered many times, but just in case there are still some questions in your mind, I will give my procedure again in detail.
Using at least five flowers from each truss, remove the stamens and petals from the unopened buds. Snip off all remaining flowers on the truss. Make your label (parent first x pollen parent) and attach to branch. Apply ripe pollen to pistil (stigma should be sticky) and cover with a small piece of surgical tape (available at drug stores). This is more effective than bagging or aluminum foil since it permits air circulation and yet protects from rain, wind, and insects.
Watch seed capsules closely in the fall and when they begin to turn from green to yellow or brown, it is time to pick them. Let the capsules air dry until they open. The seed can now be gently shaken out. A few may have to be opened by hand and on these I use a wire strainer to remove any chaff that is mixed with the seed. The seed may be sown anytime after being cleaned.
Collected pollen can be placed in a gelatin capsule and stored in the refrigerator for a period of three days. For longer storage place calcium chloride (desiccant) in bottom of a glass jar with a layer of cotton on top, and put in capsules of pollen last. Seal the jar with a lid and store either on a shelf or in the refrigerator. These will keep for months. However, if you want to keep the pollen for more than this period of time, place the sealed jar in a freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit. When using the pollen taken from a freezer, allow it to reach outside temperature before using. The remainder of the pollen can be refrozen without any damage.
If you want to improve hardiness on a particular species for your area, raise successive generations of the seed from that species and keep selecting for the hardiest plants. To improve seed set, cross the two best of these seedlings.
The first cross between two different species gives the largest percentage of good offsprings.
There are many factors to be considered when selecting plants for cross breeding and I will give you some tips that have helped me most through the years. Many times the good traits in a hybrid are recessive and don't appear until after the second generation of selfing, or by making a cross of the two best seedlings.
Often there will be a first generation hybrid that cannot be interbred nor selfed. Simply solve this problem by using another parent plant that contains the characteristics you desire to introduce in this particular cross.
Excellent hybrids have been realized through back-crossing to the parent with the most desirable characteristics or to some similar plant with the same characteristics.
Much of the ground work has been done for you by your predecessors in the field of rhododendron hybridizing, so great numbers of first crosses have already been made and you are free to continue on from there. All you need to do is select the mates you feel will bring out the very best and most desirable results. IF A BEE CAN DO IT — SO CAN YOU. The time for proving your talents is close at hand for spring is here. HAPPY HYBRIDIZING!