JARS v44n1 - The Vireya Seed Exchange

The Vireya Seed Exchange
Bill Moyles
Oakland, California

For those of you who have not seen the list of the ARS Seed Exchange for the past two years, it may be news that a variety of Vireya seed were included. Though always in short supply - and this year in even shorter supply - some Vireya seed have been available. Because these seed develop throughout the year, an updated list can be requested from me at any time.

Last year we were able to list over 30 selections from both US and overseas contributors; over 200 packets of seed were distributed. Many rare species (e.g., R. leucogigas , R. hellwigii , R. goodenoughii , R. luralense ) and interesting hybrid crosses were included. Seed were received from the Palni Hills (7000 ft.) in South India, from the Pukeiti Trust in New Zealand, from South Africa, and from the wilds of Melbourne, Australia and Ft. Bragg, California - and others. Truly an international band.

Short of acquiring plants from the Rhododendron Species Foundation, seed often represent the only access to the rarer Vireya species. For example, thanks to John Rouse we were able to offer seed of R. leucogigas 'Hunstein's Secret' ( ARS Journal , Vol. 43:4). And, of course, Vireya hybridizing has only scratched the surface particularly with respect to manageable indoor/outdoor pot plants. The potential for developing hanging baskets of fragrant yellow bells is definitely there.

But as many of us have found, growing Vireyas from seed can be both satisfying and frustrating and I think most would agree that Vireya seed do present more problems than other rhododendron seed. Besides exhibiting a rapid loss of viability they are often slow developers. Even after good germination, some will just languish for no apparent reason (look for wet roots!). One can never expect instant success, but the potential rewards of perseverance are evidenced in the color plates appearing in past issues of this Journal: vibrant reds and oranges; bi-colors; large fragrant pinks.

Because these seed do take that extra bit of care and patience, a two page germination guide is available from me upon request. In addition, the "Vireya Vine," a quarterly newsletter edited faithfully by E. White Smith, and sponsored by the Rhododendron Species Foundation, is required reading and the best exchange forum for Vireya growers - new and old. It is based solely on "letters to the editor" and offers a unique, hands on perspective on Vireya growing.

Seed harvest this year, at least on the west coast, has been limited. A very cold winter restricted seed set and has generally played havoc with developing pods and new buds. In addition, we have not as yet received quite the number of contributions we've had in the past. Because of the reduced supply, we anticipate that the Vireya section of the seed list will be a short one. In light of this, I suggest that you write to me at any time for a current listing. Thus you will be assured of receiving an up to date chance at some very rare things.

For those of you who have received or contributed Vireya seed in the past, please note that a current update will not automatically be sent; it must be requested. Seed are $1.50 a packet within the United States and free to overseas members.

Seed contributions to the Vireya Seed Exchange are needed. Ideally, hand pollinated seed is the standard: crossing two forms of the same species, selfing first generation crosses and introducing new species (genes) into crosses is particularly valued and encouraged. We all seek that elusive goal: compactness, fragrance, free flowering, interesting foliage - all in one plant.

There seems to be less margin for error in collecting and storing Vireya seed than with other rhododendrons. Seed should be collected from mature (splitting) capsules and after a brief drying should be popped into the freezer until it can be sent.

After seed are received here they are stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent any further deterioration, otherwise they quickly lose viability. Because all evidence indicates that they hold well if stored at 0°F, seed harvested in 1988 and early 1989 are listed, as well as whatever "fresh" seed are received. Time and space permitting I try a test germination here. Feedback from recipients as to germination and post germination response is greatly appreciated.

After all of the caveats have been stated, I believe the bottom line is that given mature seed and reasonable storage, Vireyas are germinated and grown on much like other rhododendrons.

Vireyas are marvelously varied plants requiring only minimal care once established. Being semitropical and often epiphytic they do have specific temperature needs and attention must always be paid to drainage. But, as Dick Cavender has pointed out ( ARS Journal , Vol. 41:3) "as a group Vireyas will tolerate more rough treatment than any of the others." I think most of us have found this to be true. Try some.