Friday, July 3, 2015

An Odd Season and Observations So Far...

An Odd Season and Observations So Far...

The 2015 flower season has been strange so far. Some things are very early, others late. Bloom time just seems to be off for many cultivars (and seedlings) and the weather patterns have been odd again this year. After a hard, cold winter with heavy precipitation, we became very hot and dry, very quickly, in the beginning of May. This brought on both early scaping and heavy thrip populations.

Many of the early scapes had been slightly frost damaged and were much shorter than usual, often way down in the foliage. The thrips destroyed many buds and even whole scapes on a lot of the early things, but in amongst those things were individual seedlings and cultivars that showed seeming resistance to the thrips, having very little damage or bud drop, often even surrounded by plants showing high susceptibility. Where there were many individual clumps of these seemingly resistant plants, there was consistent apparent resistance on all the clumps of those types, while where there were many individual clumps of the susceptible things, they all showed high susceptibility. Further, certain family lines showed consistently higher resistance or higher susceptibility. This likely indicates an actual mechanism that suppresses the thrip activity and may well be genetic. 

As those who know me or regularly read this blog will know, I cull for disease resistance, so the thrip invasion was a blessing, allowing me to identify those that showed seemingly resistant responses to the thrips. I culled as many seedlings in the early season as I typically do in the fall for rust selection. While it was hard work and a bit nerve-wracking at times (it takes a lot of intense observation and thought), it is work I am very glad to have been able to accomplish.

A highly susceptible daylily seedling showing severe thrip damage as blighted and browned scapes with total bud drop.

Of course, in our display gardens (which I tend not to breed form much), spraying for the thrips is the only real response (unless we want to dig out all the highly susceptible and replace them with resistant individuals - a thought for the future...), but in my hybridizing garden and seedling beds, I just can't bring myself to hide the problem and then pretend it doesn't exist, with a shrug of the shoulders and the comment, "Well, everyone should be spraying anyhow". I have way too many years of working with immuno-genetics to possibly think that way. I have also noticed that some very vigorous, hardy and wonderful cultivars coming from programs with a spray program have intense susceptibility to thrips (and usually rust too). This is because the seedlings are not being screened for resistance to thrips (or rust). It is a double edged sword. I understand why people don't want to go through the hassle of culling for resistance, but I also understand the importance of this type of selection. While we daylily fanatics might be happily willing to spray for problems, the average gardener will usually not. Of course, maybe we daylily people have become so insular that we don't care about average gardeners anymore? I do, but maybe some don't? I hope we all do.

This is a thrip resistant daylily that is literally swarming with juvenile thrips (increase the size of the picture to see them). They are like tiny grains of rice and are all over the petals, yet this flower shows little to no spotting from the thrips and little to no bud drop.

In addition to the selection for thrip resistance, the dry spell also gave the opportunity to select for drought tolerance. It is interesting to me how much variation there is in this factor in the Hemerocallis. Some cultivars remain lovely and don't even brown much, while others become heavily stressed and have the foliage brown and flop over into messy whorls of wilted foliage. I always observe and do some culling amongst the seedlings for drought tolerance in dry spells.

By the end of May we started getting rain again. By this time, many scapes were appearing and oddly, many cultivars and seedlings from across the whole season-range were scaping and preparing to bloom, often very much earlier than usual, though a few individuals have done just the opposite. I think the extreme heat and dry of May triggered a lot of mid/late-late plants into thinking it was July/August in May. The advantage to this was that I was able to identify some of those for thrip resistance or susceptibility during that hot, dry period.

So for most of the month of June and now going into July, we have been cooler and wet. In fact, we are now getting almost too much rain. So this will allow a whole range of different problems and thus selection to occur. We have seen this pattern for a couple of years now - hot, dry spring and cooler, wet summer. It makes for an odd mix of conditions and selection possibilities. I always say that there are no bad conditions, just opportunities for selection.

This has also been an interesting year for me in that it is now my fifth year of actively breeding daylilies, though I have grown daylilies for forty years as of this year. So I am now seeing some mature seedlings in fully clump-strength that have been selected for that whole time period for a wide range of characteristics, and finally just this year they are getting culled for flower traits. 

My program is based around developing my own lines and hopefully some unique styles that are not being focused on much by other breeders. To do that, much of my early breeding revolved around crossing widely different types to bring different traits together, and so that produced many plants that are simply bridge plants. I am very excited about much of what I am seeing from these seedlings, now in their fifth year. Some are actually further along in the phenotypes I wanted to go toward than I expected.

One thing that is different about this year is that I find myself using my own seedlings much more heavily in hybridizing than in any year in the past. It struck me just a couple of days ago that when I am pollinating within certain projects, my first thought now is to go to certain seedlings for pollen over any cultivar. That is an exciting stage, and from many years of breeding animals and plants, I recognize this stage. It means I am moving into my own lines. I am not away from other folks intros yet, and I probably never will be completely (I use what's good, no matter where it came from or whether I or someone else bred it), but it is an exciting  point to realize that this is unfolding before my eyes and I am seeing some very interesting things just beginning to emerge. It has allowed me to refocus my intent and to feel very encouraged and excited about what I am doing.

Breeding is both an art and a science. There are many, many methods that will all work. I don't use just one method or another. As both an experienced breeder and a former poultry researcher and science-obsessed-geek, I know many methods and techniques for breeding and I use what I think may work best in any instance. I don't put myself in a little box and refuse to look outside. I want to use what works, not give allegiance to one or the other method. Methods are merely vehicles, they are not the actual journey...

I often see people, well-meaning undoubtedly, trying to force everyone into 'their method'. People will probably think I have a 'method' also, but I really don't. I just use what works, and I know what works from many years of reading, research, experimentation and experience, but each cross is always an experiment, except perhaps where you have worked with both parents in the cross extensively and so know them very well, and even then you may well get surprises. The notion that you must only use new cultivars in breeding is perhaps more about hybridizers selling new cultivars than it is about any genetic reality. I do think some hybridizers seriously believe that only the newest cultivars are worth breeding for, and that may in fact be true if the only interest is in making the greatest advancements on already exaggerated traits in the shortest possible period of time.

Purchase price of a daylily is no reflection of its breeding ability or its genetic content. As well, low priced and older plants are not by default 'bad' or 'useless'. That is ideology, not genetic fact. Many older plants have much to offer. Many were not used well and we have much more advanced genetic material to combine with these older things now than the breeders then had available, so looking at what was produced from a given plant fifty years ago does not tell you what it can produce now when combined with a modern cultivar. 

Good examples are rust resistance or branching. Many older cultivars offer these traits and can be used to bring these traits into more modern lines. You might only get a bridge plant in the F1 (first generation), but the use of bridge plants is a well-known and well-used technique in all plant breeding. We owe many of our finest cultivars to bridge plants. For instance, Substantial Evidence and its descendants and relatives would not exist without bridge plants, because as Richard Norris points out on his website, the F1 (and F2) from Lights of Detroit x When I Dream (both "old" cultivars at the time Richard used them...) were not much to look at, but he persevered with them and look what we have now because of it! There is not just one method. Don't believe anyone who tells you there is and question what they have to say if they insist there is only one way to go...That's not to say that their methods are 'wrong', just that there may be many other ways that can also work. 

In closing, I want to encourage everyone to follow their bliss, pursue their visions and experiment. There are no mistakes or failures. There are only opportunities to learn and grow. Do not always throw away F1 plants if you don't get an intro (always remember, there are these things called 'recessive genes'!!). Don't overburden yourself with too many bridge plants, but having a few around is not a bad idea and can give you some amazing breaks in the long run. Think about plant traits and disease, pest and environmental resistance as much as you think about the face and you will produce more well-rounded offspring. Don't let anyone tell you something is not possible or that you are wrong for pursuing what you want in your own program. The only arbiter is the genes. They may tell you something is not possible, but that is something you can only discover from making the attempt.

As usual, there will be fewer blog posts here throughout the summer and into early fall, but on rainy days like today, I will make every effort to get a post out every month or so. Enjoy your plants and pursue your dreams!