Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bob Selman - Breeding For Dormancy

A Window Into Breeding Strategies:
Breeding For Dormant Descendants From Evergreen Cultivars

Profile: Bob Selman of Blue Ridge Daylilies

Example: Family line descending from Destined To See and Julie Newmar

One aspect of daylily culture that we often discuss and think about is foliage type. For those of us not in the deep south, evergreen foliage can be troublesome. For those in the far north, evergreen foliage can be a disaster, though that is not to say that all evergreen cultivars are tender or unable to survive a very cold winter. However, many are tender and even more do not flourish in the north and may never increase or even decrease until they vanish over a number of years. While many of us north of the deep south would prefer dormant foliage, those in the far north are very dependent on dormant foliage in order to have daylilies that really flourish in their chilly locations.

This can create a certain set of unique problems, as many of the most unique and lovely advances in flower phenotype occur in breeding programs in the deep south and on evergreen foliage. Many of these breakthrough plants are very desirable for northern growers and breeders, but they may not flourish and often do not even survive. I know of people using greenhouses to keep these tropical beauties for use in their breeding programs or who spend the exorbitant prices these cultivars usually cost only to use them as pollen parents for one season knowing they may well succumb to a real northern winter - in other words, they are treated as extremely expensive annuals just to get their advanced genes into a breeding program. 

I understand both of these practices and that they have their uses at times, but there are instances where people who are in areas that are not as extreme as the far north for cold, but cold enough to not be in any way "warm-wintered", are able to take advantage of their ability to maintain some of these tender evergreens for a few years in order to bring their advanced genes into dormant offspring and therefore create plants that can be of much greater use to northern breeders and growers. What can be surprising is that because these breeders may not have the big name recognition of some of the deep south hybridizers, often their cultivars may not be extensively grown in the north. That is a shame and many northern growers keep buying expensive, tender evergreens when they could be buying dormant or cold tested semi-evergreen plants from advanced breeding programs, which could be of much greater use to their breeding program and more permanent in their gardens.

One such breeder is Bob Selman. I am growing many of Bob's introductions and have found them remarkably good plants with many advanced traits combined on dormant or hardy semi-evergreen foliage. His introductions tend to have medium to tall scapes with multiple branching and good bud count. In addition to being cold hardy, they tend to have beautiful foliage and multiple nicely. Yet, for all this, I am often surprised that so many northern growers and breeders are not aware of many of Bob's introductions and are not growing them extensively. I have to say that is their loss and they are missing out on an opportunity to both take advantage of Bob's hard work in breeding up hardiness and dormancy and to more quickly advance their own programs.

As Bob is located in Alexander, North Carolina, which is near Asheville, I suspect that most northerners just hear the words 'North Carolina' and think, "Oh, he is in the south - his plants can't be too hardy", but that is not the case. In fact, Bob, though further south than my garden is located in Kentucky, is in a very cold microclimate and his garden is always a few degrees colder than mine. It is important to understand that while Bob is technically in zone 6/7, his microclimate, due to being at a very high elevation in the Blue Ridge mountains is really more of a zone 5 microclimate and is often still having snow and frost weeks after frost has ended in my garden. 

For this reason, Bob's plants should be considered "northern bred" as his microclimate is in many ways closer to mid-Ohio than it is to "southern and warm" North Carolina. For that reason, I have to say that any northern grower not considering Bob's cultivars is missing out on some great cultivars as well as some northern adapted and cold hardy genes involving many advanced traits that I often hear Northern breeders say they want more of in their own programs.

One excellent example of Bob's work with breeding up cold hardy and vigorous daylilies from evergreen cultivars that can be tender or difficult in the north is the family line of cultivars he has developed and introduced from crossing Destined To See with Julie Newmar. For the balance of this post we will look at some of these wonderful introductions.

I have been told by many growers and breeders that both of these evergreen cultivars, while extremely beautiful, can be difficult growers in northern gardens. I know that even in my zone 6 garden, neither are standouts in terms of growth or performance. Even though neither are standouts for performance in cold regions, the flowers show many desirable traits and so Bob decided to see what he could get from them in terms of improved plant quality combined with their lovely flowers. Click on the purple highlighted names of any of the cultivars in this post to go to the AHS database for the registration data for that cultivar.

The first introduction from this line came in 2010 with the lovely STRIKING DISTANCE, which is a cold hardy semi-evergreen.

Striking Distance - 2010
32" height - 6.5" bloom - Midseason - Semi-evergreen

Then in 2011, the next introduction from this cross came in the form of MASTER OF DISGUISE, which is also a cold hardy semi-evergreen. As you can see from the pictures below, MASTER OF DISGUISE can show a very variable face from day to day, thus the name. 

Master of Disguise - 2011
28" height - 6.5" bloom - Midseason - Semi-evergreen

Above three pictures - A remarkable range of faces on Master of Disguise...

After the introductions of 2010 and 2011, 2012 saw three more important introductions from this breeding - SUSAN OKRASINSKI, LAND OF THE SKY, and ASHEVILLE SKYLINE. SUSAN OKRASINSKI is the first dormant Bob introduced from this lineage, while LAND OF THE SKY and ASHEVILLE SKYLINE are both cold hardy semi-evergreens.

Susan Okrasinski - 2012
28" height - 6.5" bloom - Midseason - Dormant

Land Of The Sky - 2012
29" height - 6" bloom - Midseason - Semi-evergreen

Asheville Skyline - 2012 - 
 28" height - 6.5" bloom - midseason - Semi-evergreen 

While Bob didn't introduce any more of this line in 2013, for 2014 there are some very exciting cultivars coming from this line. To me, the most exciting new introduction is JENNIE SIVYER, named for one of Bob's friends, as it is a second generation offspring from the original cross of Destined To See x Julie Newmar. JENNIE SIVYER is an offspring of STRIKING DISTANCE  x LAND OF THE SKY and is a dormant, showing the progression of foliage type from evergreen grandparents to semi-evergreen full sibling parents to dormant F2. As well, JENNIE SIVYER has a 38" scape, which is nearly a foot taller than the parents or grandparents. This shows the progression toward advanced plant traits through selection. Lastly, the flower is lovely.

Jennie Sivyer - 2014 
38" height - 7" bloom - Midseason - Dormant

From the original cross of Destined To See x Julie Newmar, there are also two more introductions coming for 2014. As Bob's Blue Ridge Daylilies garden will be on the National's tour this year, these two introductions will be bus gift plants for the 2014 National Convention. They are ASHEVILLE WHITE WINGED DOVE and ASHEVILLE SUNLIT RAINBOW. Both are dormants and show remarkable flowers, with the former showing, to me, the most remarkable and advanced patterning of any of these introductions.

Asheville White Winged Dove - 2014
27" height - 6" bloom - Midseason - Dormant

Another view of Asheville White Winged Dove showing a different face. As with most patterned daylilies, the patterning is variable, but always lovely. Note that in both face types, the "doves" are still there!

Asheville Sunlit Rainbow - 2014
30" height - 6.5" bloom - Midseason - Dormant

This series of introductions show how selection can be used to move in any direction. By crossing two evergreen cultivars, both carrying dormancy genes, Bob was able to produce both hardy semi-evergreen and dormant offspring and by then making sibling matings between those offspring, he has been able to go even further, not only making improvements in the foliage type, but also improving scape height, branching and bud count while still retaining and refining the lovely phenotype of the original faces of the grandparents. 

This is a good lesson to us all in breeding, but the most important lesson may be that Bob has such cultivars available. I hope those of you in the north who hunger for advanced flowers on hardy dormant and semi-evergreen plants will take notice. Using any of these cultivars, or others where Bob has done similar work with other lines, can accelerate your program and keep you from having to wade through the hundred of plants it takes just to get to that next step in your own program. Plants like these shown in this post can help you move forward more quickly in your quest to breed away from evergreen foliage and toward dormancy on an advanced and lovely flower.

To see more of Bob's fantastic introductions, go to his website at
contact Bob by email:

You can also find Bob's cultivars listed at the Blooming Auction and the Lily Auction