Taped Remarks, Annual Meeting, 1965
A number of the papers in this issue and in the July issue were presented at the Annual meeting and were sent to the Editor in manuscript form. This paper by Guy Nearing was transcribed from a tape recording by Mrs. Hager. It was given as part of a panel discussion moderated by David Leach, and the introduction of the speaker by Mr. Leach should be of interest to our readers. - Ed.
Guy Nearing, our next speaker, is one of the really phenomenal personalities in the world of horticulture, or any other world for that matter. I wrote a magazine article about Guy Nearing one time and the editor subsequently told me it produced more letters than any article that has ever been published in this periodical. It was due to the subject and not to the writer. In his youth Guy Nearing was an Olympic athlete, a poet, and a Shakespearean actor. He was a highly successful Madison Avenue advertising executive in the early twenties, and he was a magazine editor. He is a craftsman, an artist, a painter, and the author of a book on mycology. He is a chess master, a folk dancer, a composer of music, some of which is used all over the country, and a well known naturalist. Most of us know him for his work with rhododendrons but he is far more than that. He is the embodiment in his intellect of the Renaissance ideal of the complete man. Ladies and gentlemen, Guy Nearing, of Ramsey, N.J., speaking on "Breeding for Hardy Species Forms."
I'm afraid that exaggerates me a little bit, but I have one little thing to say about rhododendrons. We have only recently come to the selection of rhododendron species, that is the selection of the best individual of the species. We must inevitably come to that, and we'll hear more about that today. But there's one feature I want to emphasize particularly -a thing that can be helped along by many of us just by thinking in a somewhat new vein. It is the desire above all things to have the best individual of a species in order to make better hybrids.
However, there are many characters in a plant which must be included when you pick the best, and one which has been neglected the most is hardiness. Out on the West Coast and in England, they don't have to think so much about that, but in this area, we do have to think about hardiness. So I have been engaged in the last forty years in trying to select hardier strains of species and continually increasing the hardiness.
This is the way it is done-I'll illustrate with R. fortunei . Many years ago I got seeds from Joe Gable's hardiest fortunei and raised a crop of them, maybe 150 or so, and out of these I selected half a dozen which were hardier than the rest. Now some forms of fortunei are not hardy at all-some forms are fairly hardy. So here was a chance to increase the hardiness of a strain of the species. So of those half dozen, one went over to Long Island after I was flooded out at Ridgewood, and was used extensively in hybridizing, and some went out to Mountain Lakes where they are still magnificent plants. I got seeds from one of those at Mt. Lakes and raised another generation. All the individuals of that 3rd generation were hardy as to the plant. Every one lived, and most of them were able to open their flowers quite freely so that was a very distinct increase in hardiness in three generations. So I have taken the hardiest of the 3rd generation, cross pollinated them, and am raising a 4th generation. If I live to be 200 years old, I'll be able to get an even hardier strain of fortunei .
Now I'm doing this with many other species and perhaps many of you are raising species from seed and could do something in that direction which would in the long run help all of us. I raised Rhododendron racemosum from seed and long ago established a fairly hardy strain. Some racemosum are hardy, some are not. I took the hardiest forms available, crossed them together and raised seedlings. I raised seedlings only from seeds collected in the open from unprotected plants, so I feel my strain of racemosum is fairly uniformly hardy. I'm doing the same thing with Rhododendron keiskei and about 20 or 30 other species. Some of them haven't come along very far yet.
Whenever I raise seedlings of a species, I raise seedlings of many species which are not definitely known to be hardy - I am always hoping by raising a great many, to get a couple of individuals capable of flowering when grown in the open. If I can accomplish that I cross pollinate those plants and raise another generation of that species. If we pursue this course, we may eventually arrive at a number of hardy strains of non-hardy species. At any rate, it's worth a try.
After you have a superbly hardy and superbly beautiful individual of any species, of course it's worth while to propagate it vegetatively, to grow cuttings of it, and use those as the species. But, until you get one that is very superior to the average, it's better to go on growing species from seeds, because seedlings are more vigorous than cuttings. They're not much more vigorous, but they are some more vigorous. And vigor is an element in hardiness, and the thing that we all desire.
Something that is little known about propagation is this - if you go on growing a cutting from a cutting, from a cutting, from a cutting, eventually the clone will run out - you have to go back and use individuals of the clone which have not been many generations from the original plant, or you are in danger of getting weaklings that are not capable of surviving - and that is little known - and many nurseries are using their cutting grown plants to get cuttings for the next generation with the idea that in taking the cuttings they are helping to shape the plant. Well, so they are - but if they keep on with that, after a while the whole clone will degenerate and they'll have to find plants farther back toward the original and propagate from those. That is not generally known, but it is definitely true. It was generally known a century ago, but we forget the things that people learned a long time ago. We are so overwhelmed with new scientific findings that we are inclined to get a little way from the truth.