PLANT LIFE (1962) 73-76

2005 Palm Boulevard, Brownsville, Texas

The lack of regular and recurrent blooming of Sprekelia formosissima is a problem common to many of us. Although much has been written on the subject it is hoped that this report will offer a slightly different approach to the situation. That we have found success in our venture is due primarily to the kindness of friends who so generously shared their bulbs with us, for I believe that the clue lies in the behavior of different forms rather than solely in the limiting factors of climate and culture. Our experience has shown that by selective breeding of adaptable forms further improvement may be realized.

Sprekelia formosissima has an extremely wide range—from Mexico to South America—so it is understandable that many forms and variations occur within this range. Since it is known that bulbs grow under varied conditions of climate and environment in their native habitats, it is to be expected that their cultural requirements, adaptability and blooming performance will also vary. Comparatively few of these forms have found their way into cultivation and fewer still into the trade. We have secured bulbs at intervals from several commercial sources, variously listed as Sprekelia formosissima or Sprekelia formosissima var. superba. All of these appeared to be of the same general type which blooms sparingly or not at all for us. Dr. Traub sent us bulbs of Sprekelia formosissima var. superba which were indeed different, but they are not too happy here.

In 1952, Mrs. Chester Wheelock, of Brownsville, Texas, gave us some glaucous-leaved bulbs collected near Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. These were later identified as Sprekelia by the collector. Deciduous, with a long dormant period, this form has steadily refused to bloom. However, growth has been phenomenal this year in tile-drained beds, so it is hoped that the increased size of the bulbs apparently needed here in the Valley will soon be reached. Larger bulbs of this same form may have been collected in early June of this year in the state of Michoacan when we were accompanied on an extensive trip through Mexico by Dr. Walter S. Flory and Dr. Raymond O. Flagg, of the University of Virginia.

In 1953, we were given a few bulbs by Fred B. Jones, of Corpus Christi, Texas, who had received them from Dr. Cesar Vargas of Peru. Much to our surprise, these bulbs not only flowered well soon after planting but gave a repeat bloom in the late fall. Moreover, they continue to flower profusely under ordinary garden care. Unlike the bulbs in the trade, leaf growth of this Sprekelia is neat and attractive and the flowers, though smaller, are a dark velvety red and very lovely. One may imagine that the performance of this Peruvian form gave a real boost to our interest in Sprekelia. Dr. Flory reports that this form is very sulky in Virginia, where it not only refuses to bloom but remains dormant most of the year, which seems to indicate that it will not be successful everywhere.

In the fall of 1956, Len Woelfle, of Cincinnati, Ohio, sent us 3 different forms of Sprekelia: a small-flowered red with yellow markings, obtained from the late D. J. W. Chandler, of Australia, a large dark red and a large light red, both of the latter secured from Rex Pearce. The light red bloomed well and we found the flowers enchantingly different. In our garden the color was near pink with a sparkling glisten of gold, and the form quite unlike any we had ever seen.

In 1954, Dr. Flory reported seeing an odd little Sprekelia near the home of Mrs. Pedro A. Chapa, of Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. Mrs. Chapa is a native of Brownsville and an old friend. She has brought us many fine plants and seeds from Mexico so when I mentioned the Sprekelia in 1956, she obligingly sent us a few bulbs and many seed. These bloomed well (in several distinct shades of red) in the spring of 1957 and 1958 but soon afterwards went into a decline due to poor drainage and salt seepage. They are now making a come-back in tile-drained beds and should soon recover sufficiently for their performance to be evaluated.

In January 1957, we received from Frank Harrison, of Rancho del Cielo in the mountains of the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, two more clones of Sprekelia. One of these he had obtained from a nursery in Cuidad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The other, raised from seed secured from Rex Pearce, turned out to be a real find. The flower is large and well formed, brilliant red with white stripes down the center of the segments, the amount of white varying with the season. Blooming habit equals or perhaps excels that of the Peruvian Sprekelia. Dr. Traub (1959) has named this form 'Harrison's Orientred'. Later, we received this same clone from Sydney Wiedermann and Dr. Thad Howard, of San Antonio, Texas, each of whom reported that the bulbs gave excellent blooming results in that city.

Early in the summer of 1957, Luciano Guerra, of Mission, Texas, brought us a quantity of bulbs collected near San Vicente, Hidalgo, Mexico. This group is interesting from many angles. Virtually evergreen, growth habit is intermediate with only a short above-ground neck. The blossoms are extremely variable in size, form and color and seem to be much more than moderately self-fertile. In the wild, very small bulbs produce two scapes, but under culture here in south Texas (as with most Sprekelia and many other bulbs) must attain a good size before flowering. Once this size has been reached, the San Vicente Sprekelia will blossom at intervals throughout the entire year.

Late in 1956, Dr. Traub had suggested that attempts should be made to cross the various forms of Sprekelia for a full range of color. Spring rains gave us heavy bloom during March and April of 1957 so, even though we had repeatedly failed to set seed on Sprekelia in the past, a number of crosses and their reciprocals were made. Much to our surprise, six large capsules ripened seed representing the following crosses: Peruvian form x Woelfle's light red and the reciprocal; two crosses (involving different clones) of the Peruvian x 'Harrison's Orientred' and two crosses (again using different bulbs) of the reciprocal. During this same season, Frank Harrison sent us a few seeds from his 'Orientred'. He wrote that this was the first seed to form on any of his bulbs and that he was not aware whether it was a "self" or a chance cross with his ''Victoria'' form. We can now report that evidence is clear that the seeds came from a chance cross of the two forms.

Germination was good and in the spring of 1958 the seedlings were set a few inches or so apart in close rows in the ground under lath. We had planned to move them as they grew but space was not available so the bulbs were forced to remain in this crowded condition for three years. Very little care was given to them during this period. Despite all of these difficulties, the first few flowers appeared in the fall of 1959. Blooming continued through the winter, spring and early summer of 1960 and began again in the fall. Though very few seedlings were at that time involved and very sketchy records were kept, it began to look as if we had the start of a free-blooming hybrid race of Sprekelia.

Late in March of 1961, 290 of the surviving seedlings were transferred to a new raised bed. Very few had been lost but a great many were very small due to the crowding of the larger bulbs. Complete records were set up so that each seedling could be evaluated for form, color and blooming rate. Results from April 1 to August 15 have been more than gratifying. Our records show that most of the mature bulbs have already produced 3 flowers and many have given 4, which includes bulbs blooming for the first time this season. Individual flowers have been consistently good to fine and a rewarding number can be called superior. One of the biggest improvements has been a marked broadening of the segments even in the smaller blooms of the very young seedlings. Much to our disappointment, none of the offspring seem to have inherited the neat growth habit of their Peruvian parent and, so far, the near pink of Woelfle's light red has not appeared. Perhaps either or both of these characters will show up in the F2 generation. Though hybrid vigor is apparent, the seedlings do not form offsets as freely as their parents. They seem to be about 99% to 100% self-sterile but cross readily among themselves and with any other clone. This is in contrast to their parents, which refuse to seed within their own group in this area. In fact, among the 12-15 clonal variations we are now growing, only Clint #835, the San Vicente Sprekelia, is self-fertile. At the same time, all will set seed when pollen from a different group is used.

Though it is too early for a complete analysis, we feel certain that a comprehensive breeding program will be most rewarding. This spring and summer our enthusiasm almost ran away with us, resulting in 18 new lots of seedlings. These include many crosses for F2, a few cross-backs and the addition of new blood with the use of some of the finer clones of the San Vicente collection and a pert little Sprekelia from Ludwig which was sent to us by Claude W. Davis, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Flowers of this are a light brick red, held at such an upturned angle that they are almost horizontal.

Our Sprekelia seedlings are still untried in other sections of the country. Considering the waywardness of the genus, it may be necessary for those who live in the north to breed their own race of hybrids, using clones which are adaptable to their area.