JARS v58n4 - Let's Talk Hybridizing: Raising the Bar

Let's Talk Hybridizing: Raising the Bar
Gerald Heriot
Mission, British Columbia

I enjoyed Mr. Knight's article on "Back Yard Hybridizing - How To Improve Success" (Winter 2003 and Spring 2003 issues). It seemed to be very thorough for most amateur hybridizers. Hybridizing is a very rewarding hobby that demands a lot of time and effort. For goals and objectives the sky is the limit. In the spring of 2003 I was at a plant sale/truss show in the Fraser Valley, and because of the cool spring I did not have very much to offer in the way of trusses, so I went into my greenhouse and decided to bring in a new hybrid for display purposes only. It was the second year this plant had bloomed and I did not get overly excited with it in its first year of bloom, which is usually the norm. Well, to say the least, it caused quite a stir. Even the judges said it would have been the best truss in the show by far! I will get into this cross later on in this article.

('Yaku Sunrise' x 'Noyo Brave') #6
('Yaku Sunrise' x 'Noyo Brave') #6.
Photo by Gerald Heriot

When I was going to leave the show, some of my friends and I were talking about hybridizing goals and programs, which brings me to my point of this article. I have a friend and fellow hybridizer who believes that the offspring of a cross should be better than both of its parents or it is not worthy of keeping. I have to admit that I am not as brutal with my discards as he is. But this is also one of my objectives because I believe there is already too much marginal stuff out there now. Having said that, there are always exceptions to the rule.
Let's examine a few old and newer hybrids and see how it pertains to this objective. Let's take 'Lem's Cameo', for instance. This plant won an ARS Superior Plant Award in 1971. It is a cross of Dido Group x Anna Group. Is it better than Dido Group? Yes. Is it better than Anna Group? Yes. Although 'Anna' is very nice, it does not compare with 'Lem's Cameo'. So now if you use 'Lem's Cameo' as a parent, how do you end up with something better? You don't, but hopefully it will pass on some of its genes when using it as a seed or pollen parent. I should qualify that statement by saying that it would be hard to improve on the truss itself, but you can certainly improve on the plant. I have used 'Lem's Cameo' quite a bit in the past and have been very disappointed with some of the results I achieved. My main goal when using this plant as a parent was to pass on its marvelous truss, which I think is its best trait. Sure, I have got some nice things, but nothing close to what I was looking for. I have yet to get a 'Lem's Cameo' type truss.
In some cases it may be impossible to produce something better than both of the parents, especially if you are using good or superior plants to start with. Let's look at another example, 'Nancy Evans'. It is a cross between 'Hotei' and 'Lem's Cameo'. Is 'Nancy Evans' better than 'Hotei'? Yes. Is 'Nancy Evans' better than 'Lem's Cameo'? In my opinion, no, but 'Nancy Evans' is no doubt one of the best yellows out there. I have probably worked 'Nancy Evans' to death. I think it is a great seed parent that passes on many outstanding traits, although it is not the greatest plant in my garden. It will even almost defoliate in the winter, but this does not stop me from using this plant because I think its good qualities far outweigh the bad.
Now let's take this one step further. Dr. Ned Brockenbrough, who also introduced 'Nancy Evans', crossed 'Nancy Evans' with 'Point Defiance' and came up with 'Horizon Monarch'. Outstanding! Talk about raising the bar! I think this is one of the best plants to come out in years. Let's examine our objective. Is 'Horizon Monarch' better than 'Nancy Evans'? Yes, although it is not a better yellow it is a far superior plant and truss. The flowers have tremendous substance, possibly a triploid. Is 'Horizon Monarch' better than 'Point Defiance'? That's debatable. They both have beautiful flowers, trusses and foliage. We'll call it a wash. You can now see how hard it is to improve on both parents if you are using good parents to start with. Just one more thing. What do 'Lem's Cameo', 'Nancy Evans', 'Point Defiance' and 'Horizon Monarch' have in common? They all have Anna Group in their blood lines. Just food for thought!
Now all this brings me back to my new hybrid. When I plan my crosses, I believe that if I use good to excellent parents to start with I should be able to get some very good results. I crossed 'Yaku Sunrise' with 'Noyo Brave', two very good plants. The main reason I made this cross was because Frank Fujioka, a well-known hybridizer from the Seattle area, used 'Yaku Sunrise' and came up with some very interesting results. The problem is he says there are two plants on the market called 'Yaku Sunrise', and I believe my plant is not the same as Frank's. I did not get the results I was looking for, but what I did get, without going into detail, is a plant that I think is superior to both parents. With Rhododendron degronianum ssp. yakushimanum in its blood lines twice, it should be fairly hardy. The flower size and color are superior to both parents and the foliage is also superior to both parents - dark green, fairly flat leaves to 6 inches (15 cm), heavily indumented. The truss is a perfect ball shape to 6 inches (15 cm) and the plant is dense growing. It appears that I have met the criteria of the cross. Does this mean that I am going out to register the name right away? No. The plant will go into the ground for further evaluation and time will tell. Hopefully I have something good here. This is the most satisfaction you can have - when your time and effort finally pay off. For all of the disappointments, there are always some rewards.

Gerald Heriot is a member of the Fraser Valley Chapter.