What's On A Label
A Lesson for the New Collector
Richard W. Chaikin
Recently, a customer of Cape Cod Vireyas called me to report that he had a particularly desirable named and registered Australian vireya cultivar. Since at Cape Code Vireyas we have a collection of Australian and New Zealand named hybrids, of which we are most proud, and since we have been trying to obtain that particular clone for some time, we jumped at the opportunity of getting a cutting. I had spoken with this customer at one of the ARS functions at which I gave a slide presentation, and he seemed very genuine in the desire to become a knowledgeable collector of rhododendrons, and vireyas in particular.
We continued our phone conversation, and I can tell you, it was most fortunate that we did! I asked how it was that he, a beginner, had happened to be able to get such a rare and newly registered plant. That is when the nightmare started!
He replied that he had been looking through a recently published list of plant registrations and he saw a plant with the cross "A" by "B". Now, the label on his plant was "B" by "A" and so he knew that the registrar or the publisher has simply gotten the cross mixed up. Since he had the "B" by "A", he just connected the name on his plant, for they preferred to have the plant by name rather than a label merely listing the parentage. He did not think that he had made any mistake. If any mistake was made, it was the plant registrar for having the "wrong" cross listed for that name.
When a rhodoholic enters his or her terminal stage, that of hybridizing, there are certain rules one must follow. Of course, there are the obvious things such as selecting the best seedlings to grow on. The not-so-good ones are usually destroyed, or left to wither. There are those hybridizers who are looking for "perfect ones", which will match their goals in every respect.
They register very few. There are also those who must for one reason or another, register as many hybrids as possible. I have seen a 16-foot long wall absolutely completely covered with registration certificates of rhododendrons, none of which were available to anyone except himself. I have seen hybridizers who must register at least one seedling out of each and every seed lot, even when the plant has flowered for only one time previous to the registration. Some register under the "publish or perish" principle of higher education. Then there are those who name a plant without bothering to register it.
Very rarely, do hybridizers find more than one gem in a seed lot. Dexter, in all his hybridizing, I think, only found one cross which yielded many plants worthy of being named. And these were selected and registered by a group of ARS members very knowledgeable in what makes a plant worthy of being named. The Australian vireya hybridizers seem to be a lot luckier than Dexter, for they frequently name multiples, as well as unnamed imported cuttings and seedlings.
However, throughout all these areas, there are principles that are inviolate! One is, that the name should be correct. If ever there is any doubt, then the registrar is the Law. There can be no law and order if the governing body, the registrar, is not taken very, very seriously. Another important principle is that the first name cited in the parentage listing is always, repeat always, cited as the seed parent. The second listing is always the pollen parent: A x B. If one of the parents is a hybrid, then that cross is listed, if not named, and is enclosed in parentheses: (A x A') x B. Further, if the hybrid parent is a cross of three or four, then that parent is enclosed with a bracket: [(A x A') x AA] x [(B x B') x (BB x BBB)].
These parentage listings must be absolutely exact. There must be no possibility of confusion. Thus, one can see that the vireya R. zoelleri is different from R. zoelleri #10. Each has to be listed and properly identified by the registrar. It should be considered poor taste, unethical, improper, against the law, plus whatever else, for me to have a R. zoelleri, cross it, and then label it as a #8 on my own, when that plant has already been identified and registered.
Although I formerly marketed an unnamed cultivar: [(R. javanicum x 'Triumphans') x R. zoelleri] x (R. aurigeranum x R. zoelleri) as 'Clone 4', I listed the hybridizer for proper identification, so as to make no mistake exactly which plant it was. On the other hand, 'Cape Cod Sunshine', a recent introduction, is a cross of two species, R. aurigeranum by R. laetum. It is presumed that species are all the same within a certain name. Thus, each R. laetum is considered the same. However, sometimes there are some variations. In that case, I could have called it R. laetum var. 'Jones Rd' to further identify and register that particular plant. This means, again, that each parent has to be identified as much as possible.
Having said all this, I hope to have conveyed everything that was wrong with that simple act of attaching an already registered name to what was actually a reverse cross. Even if the cross was not reversed, there is nothing that says that his plant was similar to that registered. I have a brilliant bright yellow vireya next to a fantastic yellow/orange bicolor in my Boston area apartment. They are from the same seed pod! They are very very different in flower as well as growth habit. How can they each bear the same registered name, when they are so different? That would be contrary to the entire logic of the registration system.
Now, what would have happened if I had taken my friend's offer, propagated that plant, and sold it to the public as that particular named plant? Don't think that selling a wrongly labeled plant hasn't happened before, for it has. There are even some incidents of a group propagating various plants, mixing up the labels (not on purpose), and then selling them. It is always a surprise when that beautiful pink tricolor you bought turns out to be white with a green blotch. Years ago, one nursery started selling plants of a named cultivar, which were all produced by seed. When the obvious variations in the plants were noticed, that nursery stopped propagating it by seed, and turned to cutting propagation. When tissue culture became useful, the propagation swiftly changed to that method. Yet, again, variation occurred and propagation was returned once more to that of cuttings. All this, to get the plant to be exactly as labeled.
Hybridizers, serious collectors, nurseries, all have to be very exact about the names and parentages. The casual collector, who may never get closer to the plant than 20 yards, does not have to be so exact. Labels are important. Parentage is important. Most of all, getting the proper parents listed on the proper label is more important. Think about that.
Richard Chaiken is owner of Cape Code Vireyas.
Editor's Note: The author mentions naming a selected clone of a species. The procedure for doing this is governed by the same rules as those for registering the name of a hybrid clone. The term "var." may not be included in a clonal name.