Conference on Plant Breeding and Hybridization, pp. 111-116 (1902)
ON BREEDING FLORISTS' FLOWERS
E. G. Hill,
I have seldom taken up a subject with more reluctance than the one assigned me for this paper—not that I am unwilling to contribute to the interest of this meeting and to further the purpose of this congress, which is a most praiseworthy one; but my data are so meagre, and the results obtained so different from those aimed at, that I shrink from detailing them. I have had a good deal of experience and have persevered in spite of many disappointments in cross-fertilizing roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, geraniums and begonias, as well as other plants; but it is no exaggeration to state that out of many thousands of carefully fertilized seedlings in the classes named the percentage showing advancement over the seed parents has been very small indeed.
The hybridizer tries before effecting a cross to picture in his mind the result of a union between the varieties that he selects; for the seed parent he chooses perhaps a variety with a flower of ideal form for florists' purposes the color also is fine, but it has the defects, it may be, of a weak constitution or an ungainly habit, or other fault; he is so desirous of perpetuating the fine form and lovely color while securing vigor of growth that he selects a strong, shapely grower with as many other good qualities as possible for the pollen parent, hoping to secure progeny as near perfection as possible; he has reason to expect an approximate realization of his pictured seedling. What are the results? Not one in a thousand, probably, shows traces of the ideal that he had in mind. Occasionally, however, a seedling plant approaching the ideal will appear among the multitude germinated, and if this fittest progeny be again selected and persistently crossed back upon the original varieties used, the chances are that the end aimed at will be realized in course of time.
I would not discourage any one who is enthusiastically expecting early results; on the contrary, I would urge him to persevere; it is not impossible that among his first efforts he may secure the ideal that he has in mind. I am inclined to think that it will be a rare stroke of good fortune, however, should this occur.
Among the rose hybridizers—and they are legion—the results realized are far from what we might seem to have the right to expect. It is some twenty-eight years since the noted variety, Catherine Mermet, was raised, and, aside from its two sports, there is certainly no tea rose to dispute its reign so far as form, finish, growth and freedom are concerned, and yet unceasing effort has been made to procure a duplicate tea variety in either yellow or red. In the effort to breed such a variety we have been made the possessors of some fine roses, but we are still seeking for the red and yellow Mermets; and one day, I feel sure, a scarlet tea rose with the good qualities of Bridesmaid is destined to appear, and that before many years, I verily believe.
It has been my pleasure to see several thousand seedling roses peep through the soil from seed fertilized and ripened on our place, but out of this whole quantity the varieties selected as of permanent value number less than two dozen, and these are to have still further tests; a few have made their entry into commerce and have strong points of excellence.
It is quite a simple operation to fertilize a rose, and many are inclined to think this the larger part of the work; but in my own experience the thorough ripening of the seed is the difficult part of the task—maturing the seed so that the germination shall produce a perfectly healthy plant. I am inclined to the belief that imperfect germination of immature seed produces sickly or delicate plants, which shows in their liability to mildew, black-spot and kindred maladies—not that it is an hereditary trait, as many suppose and as is generally claimed; but I am led to believe that the unripeness of the seed entails vital defects upon the seedlings.
The ease with which the H. T. varieties set their pods has led hybridizers of the rose to use them largely, being almost sure of quick results so far as setting seed pods is concerned. The most noted acquisitions to this class have been the magnificent varieties of La France, Kaiserine Augusta Victoria, President Carnot, Baldwin, Prince of Bulgaria, Liberty, Mme. Jules Grolez and Mme. C. Testout.
Out of a large number of Liberty-bred seedlings the tendency is to duplicate the parent even when pollinated with so double a variety as Marquis Litta, the exception being, however, in two or three of the progeny of this celebrated rose crossed with Grus an Teplitz.
No one need feel discouraged, however, for through persistent effort on the part of many hybridizers some most excellent varieties are being given to commerce, none more marked, perhaps, than the variety Soleil d'Or, raised by M. Pernet, of Lyons; W. C. Egan is a most beautiful new climber originating with Mr. Jackson Dawson. I mention these two varieties to illustrate the point that results are being obtained here and there by persistent, enthusiastic workers.
Carnations—In the effort to improve the winter-flowering carnation through cross-fertilization the results have been very gratifying; it is safe to say that fully a thousand florists of the United States have made an effort in this line, with the result that thousands of seedling carnations have been raised in the past few years; the writer knows of one gentleman who annually germinates from six to eight thousand seedlings. Besides the large operators in this line, nearly every grower of carnations is testing his own seedlings, trying to demonstrate the hidden excellences which he is sure are only waiting development; in consequence, a marked advance in the quality, color and size of the carnation is being secured.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Frederick Dorner for having led the way into this most interesting path of floricultural advancement; the efforts made by intelligent—and fortunate—workers in this particular field have given to the public strong, long-stemmed flowers with perfect calyces, while the size has been nearly doubled in the past ten years, not to speak of the widened range of color and the free-blooming qualities. Out of the thousands of crosses made last season it would not be surprising to find one or two real additions forthcoming.
Chrysanthemums. Perhaps in no other flower has the same ratio of progress been made in the same length of time as with this particular subject. The results attained have been more than gratifying, due in great measure to the systematic and intelligent procedure of those devoting their time to its improvement. Experience has systematized the knowledge obtained in this interesting family, and we have more data from which to work than with either the rose or the carnation; the semi-double forms are no longer used as formerly, the hybridizer confining himself to the larger and perfectly double forms of flowers. The change in method secures a minimum of seed, but of the small number of seeds obtained, the greater part being large, full flowers. This law does not seem to hold in anything like the same degree with the rose and the carnation, for even when both parents are full-petalled a large proportion of singles and semi-doubles are produced. It may be that when different lines of procedure are used in these two classes we may be able to eliminate a good portion of the singles, but thus far we are unable to do this.
Begonias. Here is an unlimited field for the hybridist; the several strains and types of begonias are all—or nearly all—capable of being crossed; there seems to be no reason why we should not have beautiful flowering varieties with the ornamental foliage of the Rex section.
The writer's first attempt with begonias secured the variety Bertha McGregor, which was the result of crossing a Rex with the ornamental shrubby variety argentea compacta. Later on the writer secured a most interesting lot of the whorled-leaved variety of Rex by crossing the ordinary Rex with the whorled variety Countess L. Erdödy. We have always regretted the loss of this lot of seedlings, from an imported fungus growth, just when they were showing some very interesting characteristics, as many as twenty-five or thirty showing beautiful Rex markings and colorings, with the distinct single or double whorl of the leaf.
We are deeply indebted to Victor Lemoine, of Nancy, for giving us that finest of all winter decorative plants, Begonia Gloire de Lorraine; to M. Lemoine more than to any other one man are we debtors for the multitude of magnificent new varieties of plants which have come to us through his patient, persevering efforts. We believe that lie has earned the right to be recognized as the most skilful hybridist that the world has yet produced.
The Chair: This is a very interesting field. We are all interested in the subject. Does any one wish to follow this paper with remarks?
G. Nicholson: Our begonias have furnished a very interesting series of hybrids with the ordinary petaled and tuberous begonias; but I believe the whole lot was entirely sterile. You simply have to start with a new tuberous begonia every time. You can't use the product of such a flower. But I saw flowers of begonias recently in a London nursery as large as a rose; magnificent thing they are. Comparatively few of them have yet been distributed. They are of very great value indeed from the horticultural standpoint. In Southern France recently I was noticing the gardens of some horticulturists. It is frequently stated that the rose La France produces hybrids, but I was assured that that was not the case; that La France is quite barren. The great rose raisers say that they have tried for years and years, and that La France is quite sterile, although it is stated in many catalogues that new varieties have resulted from La France.
W. J. Spillman: There is one very interesting consideration connected with plants of some of the kinds mentioned in this paper. The most interesting example of what I wish to speak about is perhaps the apple, but on account of the long time required to get seed of the apple, it is almost impracticable to work out the suggestion with the apple. But I will use the apple because I am more familiar with it than I am with some other plants. It is generally conceded, I think, that with almost all apples that are grown under ordinary conditions, the seed may he called hybrid seed, many times hybridized possibly. Now, if Mendel's law applies to seedling apples; if we should segregate an apple tree in order that it should be certainly close-fertilized and save the seed from that tree and plant it, it would split up into distinct types according to Mendel's law. It would be exceedingly interesting to see what types occur in the apple, and we might find something of a great deal more value in the way of new apples by that means, and perhaps fix a type even that would be propagated true to type if self-fertilized. In this paper there was nothing to indicate whether the gentleman who had performed this large number of hybridizations was working with the first generation, which no man on earth can predict, or was working with the second and third generations, which we can all predict. I would like very much to know whether or not the plants vere first generation plants or second or third generation plants from close-fertilized hybrids. I believe that there is a field of work there, particularly for florists, to take these plants that are multi-hybrids, whose parents were hybrids, whose grandparents were hybrids, segregate some of them, and see what comes of them, see what types they split up into. If Mendel's law is true, they certainly will split up into types that can be definitely predicted.
The Chair: Does Mr. O'Mara know whether these roses or carnations were first or second or third generation plants that Mr. Hill describes? Presumably the first generation.
P. O'Mara: I am not quite certain that I quite catch the point. That is, were the crosses made from unnamed seedlings or from varieties already in commerce?
W. J. Spillman: No; perhaps I might explain a little more fully. If you take two distinct varieties, two varieties that propagate true to seed, and cross them, nobody can predict what the result will be in the first generation; but if you will take the seed of that hybrid and grow it, it is possible to tell what it will produce: that is the point I wanted to make. Now, here is a breeder trying to produce a given plant. He crosses two plants, and the plant which comes from that disappoints him; it is not what he wants. But if he should take the seed of that plant and plant it and grow plants from the seed of that plant, the next generation will probably greatly surprise him and not disappoint him.
P. O'Mara: I think I would be safe in saying that Mr. Hill experimented exclusively with named varieties of roses which have been so crossed and recrossed that it would take a very long tracing to find out where they started from. But it is a new line to me; I don't profess to know anything particular about the subject of hybridization; but it is a new idea to say that saving the seed of the variety so produced would be certain to produce an accurate result which could be gauged in advance. I am inclined to think that the seed saved from that variety would be just as apt to disappoint the raiser as the cross obtained by this fertilization. That is as far as 1 know on the subject.
The Chair: That was all definitely settled yesterday, Mr. O'Mara.
P. O'Mara: Well, it is a good thing to have something settled, to settle an old question that way. The question that Mr. Nicholson brings up is a very interesting one to me, and that is the question whether or not La France is sterile. I know that we introduced several roses, two or three, I think, raised by Mr. Hill, and he gives the parent as La France in two cases. I didn't question it. I assumed that he knew just exactly what he was saying, but it is a very interesting point, and the first time I see
Mr. Hill I certainly shall speak to him, and I will write to him and ask him if he has found that to be true. It may be that variations of climate would produce result different from what has been the experience in another place. I am sorry that Mr. Hill is not here to answer interrogations. In reading the paper over I tried to read it and get the sense of it; I think I remember one statement in it to the effect that the carnation hybridizers had succeeded in producing flowers nearly twice the size of what they were some years ago, I think ten or fifteen or twenty years ago. I am almost inclined to challenge that statement. I think that the size which we see in the carnation to-day is partly attributable to cross breeding, and also to cultivation. Now I have in my mind the recent Thomas W. Lawson; we saw flowers of it on exhibition, and we saw flowers of it in a store window grown in the same greenhouse by the same man. Some of the flowers were probably 3 1/2 inches in diameter—a great many of the prize flowers exhibited, I think, were 3 1/2 inches in diameter; a great many of the flowers sold in the store were probably 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches. If the character of size was fixed by the hybridizer, I fail to see why they would not all come to that size grown under the same conditions. So that 1 think the statement made that the hybridizer had succeeded in doing that is attaching too much importance to the work of the hybridizer and not enough to the man who cultivates them. I doubt if you go into a flower store or into any of the stores in the city to-day where consignments are received from the various growers of the same varieties, but that you could pick out a dozen samples of Bride and Bridesmaid and American Beauty and all those and lay them side by side, and to the uninitiated they might appear to be different varieties, showing what culture will do for any particular subject. I had more to do with cut flowers twenty years ago than I have to-day. At that time I was in daily association with cut flowers, roses, carnations and others, and in looking back 1 think that I am safe in saying that the old Edwardsii carnation, which at that time was perhaps the biggest white on the market, would compare favorably with the largest whites now on the market in point of size, and I think that President De Graw at the time that it was at its best and well grown would compare favorably in size and productiveness with the Lizzie McGowan, which for a time was the best carnation in the field. So that I should much prefer, if Mr. Hill was here, to interrogate him on these points. Some of the older florists who were in the field twenty years ago would perhaps be better able to speak on this point than I am.
W. J. Spillman: I want to enforce the suggestion I made. I did not know whether the ordinary roses are what you might call multi-hybrids or not. Since I learn that they are, I want to just make this suggestion now, that somebody save the seed of a rose and see that this rose is close fertilized; that would be necessary to accomplish what I had in mind; then see what comes of it, and save each plant separately each year and keep a record and see what comes of it, and you will be surprised at the result. You can take my word for it if you want to.
T. V. Munson: I have one fact that may be of value to those experimenting in roses in reference to the Catharine Mermet. The expectation has been that they can get something more from Catharine Mermet than what has already come about by sporting. In passing through my grounds one day, where are a number of the Catharine Mermet plants, I came upon one upon which there was one branch producing fine pure yellow roses, as fine as Marechal Niel almost, while all the other branches upon the plant were producing the ordinary flower. I intended to mark the branch and propagate from it; I was not permitted to mark the plant, I was in a hurry at the time, and before I reached it again the flower was gone and I lost the opportunity. But the fact may incite some one yet to observe this variety and possibly get the yellow rose, which would be, I think, the best thing that could be done with that flower.
The Chair: A very interesting statement, Mr. Munson, as to bud variation from that variety. It has given us two very remarkable bud variations already. I saw Mr. Ward come in a few moments ago. Could he state whether the carnations grown, for instance, these hybrids, the beautiful collection he has here, are from the first generation of seeds after the cross was made or the second or the third?
C. W. Ward Well, I don't think that my records are quite clear enough to enable me to state. I think some of them there would probably come under Mendel's law. Years ago I commenced hybridizing carnations, twelve years ago, and I went at it free and easy for about six years. I never knew that any such person as Mendel had been in existence until I came on the floor yesterday. I found, though, that I had gradually evolved something similar to what I believe his theory to be. That is, I have been dividing the carnations into about twelve sections, or eight sections I think, taking the crimsons and inbreeding those, and the whites, and so on, and I have got to the point where I get reproductions; that is, in crossing pinks I get pinks, and in crossing yellows I get yellows. I suppose that I have been doing something somewhat near what Mendel was doing, although I don't think that I have saved the seed from one particular plant and repeatedly planted that seed. I haven't done that yet; I am going to try it soon, though.