Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Year-end Update

2015 Year-end Update
Is 2015 Really Over?

I can't believe how this year has flown by. I have wanted to get a blog post up for weeks, but the weather has held out beautifully and I have continued to work outside. That has caused me to get behind on writing a blog post. I wanted to touch base on some things though, and make a review of the year. There will be a lot of hyperlinks sprinkled throughout the text, so be sure to check those out for more reading opportunities.

I posted earlier in the year about culling for thrip resistance in June here. I had injured myself in March 2014 and couldn't work until the end of May. That was a painful and frustrating time that made me loose out on a great deal of gardening work. In May of 2015 I contracted a virus that was circulating in the area and was unable to work for a month. That again put me far behind on spring projects, as multiple projects from the previous spring were left yet again and a few new ones went unfinished. I have done almost no Peony or Iris hybridizing in two years, for instance. However, each year (2014 and 2015), from June forward, I have been well and active and have produced huge hauls of seeds with my daylily projects.

My target goal from the five year period covering 2010 to 2015 was to simply test a population of daylilies that I found interesting, doing mass random samplings with some small amount of specific and pedigreed breeding, and to make an assessment of what I still wanted to work with at the end of the evaluation period. If I told you how specific and targeted my "first project" was, and the five or six cultivars I bought to use toward that end, you would probably laugh out loud. I know I do. Needless to say, my focus has expanded since.

When I decided to actively breed daylilies in 2010, I first purchased seeds from the Lily Auction,  mainly diploids, while I made purchases of cultivars for spring 2011 planting, and I kept seeds from some of my favorite plants that I had been growing for a decade or four. I determined at that time that as I added cultivars, they should be tested for a host of points. Early in this blog, I wrote a post here about the criterion for pod parents that I wanted to focus on over the ensuing five year period. That article details all the selection points I have focused on for the first five year period of information gathering with an emphasis on pods parents, including plant traits, recombining ability and breeding ability (for plant traits and flower traits), fertility and viability of seeds and offspring.

So 2015 has been that fifth year, that culmination point when I make evaluations and decide where I can move forward, and then from there, of what I can move forward with: what still excites me. I am happy to say that there are a lot of good daylilies out there. As with all things you will have to go through a few to find the handful most exciting to you. And you should do that. Once you have taken some time to experiment and trail things in your own garden, you can find that set of individuals that you find interesting enough for further development. It has been an exciting, but very busy year. To me, this feels like the actual beginning of my own breeding program. Simply put, I know what I want to work toward now, and now it is just a matter of using the few things that match my interest and have proven useful in the last five years of experimentation and information gathering. Of course, I am still continuing to test a few new things every year.

Nothing I write on this blog is meant to be seen as more than my thoughts. This is very much a reflection of my inner process, my approach to breeding any plant genus I might work with. My thinking begins all over the map, and it is only as I begin to gather experience with specific cultivars, clones or seedlings that I can begin to formulate a focus-point. I let the plants guide me as much as I guide them (maybe they even guide me more). Nothing I am doing is extraordinary or unique. This is simply breeding and selection. I have always considered field testing by simply growing plants in my environment and observing their behavior with minimum intervention to be important to determining those plants that flourish the best in my environment, and thus are the plants I want to develop my own plant lines from. This approach is based in my interest in scientific concepts such as Liebig's 'Law of the Minimum' and my own interest in domestication and permaculture models, as well as my interest in genetic disease resistance research.

So this summer was wet and beautiful and I was able to set lots of seed pods. I retired many, many breeders this year, especially amongst the diploids. In many instances there was nothing wrong with them, but when you have a lot of good material, you have to refine your criteria and make cuts. Many of the plants I retired have been good plants and continue to be valuable and interesting for their best traits. I still retain them and could always choose to go back to them if I thought that were a good idea, but for the time being, I want to only observe their seedlings in my garden and see where that leads. My seed haul last year was ridiculous. I will call this year semi-ridiculous, as I only did about half as many this year. One thing that is absolutely clear from this year is that my number of cultivars used to produce seeds, as well as the number or crosses and pods set has to be reduced and focused over the next five year period. Thus, many retirements of good plants from breeding rotation. Selection is the most powerful tool the breeder has.

I did see some rust in 2015, but it did not appear until the second week of September - very late! The rust was shut down in November with our first night in the twenties. I did manage to see rust in the seedling beds, so there was an opportunity to give those seedlings their first culling for high susceptibility. I did end up with a good amount of rust in my hybridizing garden on the susceptible plants kept for that purpose, which allowed me to make more observations amongst the population and to evaluate new acquisitions for the first time. I can only reiterate the things I have previous said in regards to rust. Some things repeatedly show resistance over many years, and seem to be very consistent in their general resistance levels, while other things vary from year to year. I can make no definitive statement as to why this is so. I might suggest that there could be many factors, including different genes for resistance to different strains of rust, with some possibly having broader resistance and/or may reflect inadvertent resistance-gene pyramiding (multiple genes for resistance in one individual). As well the observed variations may represent reactions to different strains of rust, as we have confirmation that there is more than one strain of rust, and/or varying reactions based on the environmental conditions form year to year. I suspect that there are actually several answers, with all of the phenomena I just described likely occurring randomly across Hemerocallis.

The most important feature of this selection, for me, still lies in identifying those cultivars, clones and seedlings that seem to remain highly resistant over many seasons of testing and, where the anecdotal information is available, within many gardens. With rust constantly evolving, we can assume that somewhere, at some point in time, all Hemerocallis may show susceptibility to one strain of rust or the other. This is an inevitability, and we should never delude ourselves otherwise. I view selection of rust resistance as a competitive sport, played against the adaptational ability of the rust pathogen. Any cultivar that has shown high rust resistance in multiple years, even if it shows some susceptibility in some years or locations, may still have important resistance factors to offer to the effort of selecting for less susceptible lines and possibly even the pyramiding of resistance genes. As always, I find the disposal of highly susceptible seedlings to be important and I do find that there are consistencies amongst resistance levels, even where their is variability, in those individuals I have been observing.

The chart of resistance variations shown amongst the test cultivars, which were infected with multiple accessions of rust as discussed in the Buck et al 2013 paper, 'Identification of Pathotypes in the Daylily Rust Pathogen Puccini hemerocallidis', would seem to suggest that the variations of resistance/susceptibility to rust pathotypes shown by any one cultivar is not extremely variable, even when variations in response are seen. I can only conclude that selection for field-resistance to rust has a place in plant selection, with the caveat that no observed resistance is 'permanent' or 'forever'. Eventually, all resistance must be toppled by new strains of a given pathogen, though that process can take decades, as we see with the wheat rust resistance gene which has been effective for the last fifty years, but which has been loosing its resistance in the face of newly evolved strains of wheat rust in this decade. I can only conclude that selection and breeding for resistance is a valuable point of plant selection in Hemerocallis, so long as we remain realistic about its uses and limitations.

The weather so far this fall has been exceptionally mild. Many daylilies are still green, even some of the plants that are normally dormant. Winter starts in a few days. It will be interesting to see if it gets colder or stays unusually warm. If it stays warm, it won't be a good year for testing things for cold hardiness. I have all the seeds I will be planting outside planted. Only the smaller amount that gets started indoors in February are still to be dealt with, about fifteen percent of my total seed production for 2015. It will be interesting to see how germination goes if the winter does stay warm, and how much earlier than normal (which is generally Mid-April) germination occurs as a result of the warmer weather. I will post if I observe anything interesting or odd.

There are many points I hope to discuss in future blog posts. This year has presented me with many tantalizing thoughts, but nothing that has yet inspired me to sit down and take the time to write them out. I find I can only do this when the inspiration is there along with complete thoughts. Until I have a complete set of thoughts to express, I prefer to ruminate on those thoughts in my head until they take coherent form and I actually then have something I perceive as useful to say. I hope to have some more blog posts for this winter, but that will depend on how the weather holds out. If it remains good, I won't be able to constrain myself from getting work done, as there are still things that I need to catch up on from spring '14 and '15. So to close out 2015, I wish you all luck in your life and your projects and hope 2016 brings you the realization of your dreams!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Daylily Domestication

Daylily Domestication:
A Process That is Still in Process

I have noticed this year, as I have observed the daylilies, that my mind has been drawn over and over to thoughts about the domestication process. My hobby is actually the study of the process of domestication, more than it is any particular species or 'genetics' in an abstract sense...specifically the study of the genotypic/phenotypic variations, breeding and selection of captive populations of plants and animals that are genetically changed from their wild type ancestors in various ways, is what most interests me.

When I observe the daylilies, I think about how far we have come in such a short time period. The advent of daylily phenotype breeding in the west began in the 1890's and from the start the early breeders utilized the fledgling science of selection and breeding - heredity - to guide their hand. The work of A.B. Stout is phenomenal and important. I am both surprised and disappointed how few daylily people have actually read Stout's book, or his many articles. His records are an unparalleled look into the earliest phases of a domestication process, detailing the hybridization of species into clonal lines and then away from their species roots to become very unnatural and very beautiful variations, family-lines that each reflect the genetic legacy of those original species in all their backgrounds, as well as mutations and new visual effects due to unique genetic combinations in the individual hybrid populations.

I want to say that I am awed and amazed by where I find the daylily today. In a mere century, daylily breeders have created a bewildering array of styles and variations, and they have done so on two ploidy levels. I am very proud of what we now have and I think all the extremes and oddities are a testament to the artistry and skill of the breeders who made them. I do not expect that pre-historic hybrid populations would have become so extreme as quickly as our daylilies have. I suspect that chickens took centuries to become something other than odd interminglings of two, three and four-way jungle fowl hybrids. It may have been hundreds or even thousands of years before various traits were put together in exclusive combinations in such a way that they would later become landrace breeds leading to the breeds we now know today. In the development of the modern garden daylily, we see a very accelerated development that is rather astounding, and I would also have to add: special.

But just because we see that fast progress, that doesn't mean we won't be susceptible to long-term trends. Provided that humans persist, I expect some will grow daylilies. Some will likely breed them as well, if anyone does grow them. So should daylily culture persist for millennia, what can they become? What amazing desirable traits can we combine and enhance and what might our oversights of bad traits have accrued into in the future? I always like thinking about the edges of the known in daylilies, as I suspect there are many directions as yet untapped. Those directions may never be tapped, but they are still there waiting. Any variation seems amenable to selection, if you start applying selection to it. But even beyond that fringe of thought, wild traits as yet unrealized, what does any of this mean for the day to day breeding of daylilies? I would suggest it means we need to pay attention to a wide range of traits and be very intolerant of undesirable traits.

I recently posted an article on corn domestication at my Facebook page. (The link is here. I highly recommend reading this article!) Corn and wheat domestication are very fascinating to me. Both are ancient events on opposite sides of the planet that came to the same basic outcome. There are other examples - each fascinating - but these two have always captured my interest, especially. So when I had first read the article a some time back, the next few days in the garden had my mind abuzz with thoughts of examples from corn breeding applied to daylilies. The early corn breeders weren't selecting for flowers, but they still made aesthetic and practical selection decisions that ripple down through the ages to us today. 

One of the major selection decisions they made was to move away from the wild-type seed-scattering phenotype and toward the desirable non-scattering seed head that allowed all the grains to be harvested at one time. In essence - a selection decision toward a specific seed phenotype. All the hundreds of domestic versions of corn and wheat tend to show these non-scattering genes to this day, so it is likely this selection decision dates from the early days of their domestication. It is in essence the basis of the domestic forms of these plants. This makes me think that if we apply selection to any traits where there are variations in our daylilies, we can select toward, and even intensify, desirable types.

But it is important to realize that selection is not just for the flower traits, even though that should always be a major point of selection, constantly pushing the boundaries and bringing out new traits. However it needn't be the only area of selection. There are many plant traits, seed traits, disease-response traits and environmental-adaptability traits that can (and should) be selected for. With that said though, I am not saying each breeder needs to select for every trait, just that they should be aware these things can be selected for and then choose those traits to select for that are of the most importance to themselves.

I fully understand how hypnotic the flowers can be. I have to actively remind myself to look at the plants when the daylilies are in flower. If daylilies didn't flower, I can guarantee you that I wouldn't grow them, but there is more to the daylily than the flower. There are so many traits in the daylilies that can be selected for. Try looking closely at your plants. Look at the traits other than the flowers and when you see a trait that displays variations across different cultivars (or seedlings), that is a trait to which you can apply selection, choosing those which display the variation of the trait(s) that you prefer. The selection possibilities are at least vast, if not unlimited...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bridge Plants

Three Facebook Posts on Bridge Plants

I have condensed these three Facebook posts into one article.

I wanted to talk a little bit about bridge plants and use the attached picture as an example. A bridge plant is a plant that has traits (or carries traits) that you wan't, but isn't good enough to be an introduction. It is simply a breeder in your program that you are using to bring in traits you want.

This particular seedling pictured below is Ashwood Wray of Sunshine x Pigment of Imagination. It is an inbreeding I did to see what would happen and this is the only seedling I kept from the cross. It isn't the prettiest flower ever, and is definitely NOT an introduction, but it has some amazing traits. For instance, it puts up four to five series of scapes each year I have had it since its first year of flower three years ago. That is some impressive and consistent rebloom! It has been totally rust resistant as long as I have had it. It has beautiful foliage and it increases quickly. Finally, it shows the odd blue of its pollen parent as an undertone (though it is not a color changer) at the edges and eye and it is a white based flower rather than yellow based, which can give color clarity in breeding.

However, look at the stamens - they are withered in the first few sets of scapes and even in the last sets of scapes it have never produced viable pollen - it is always white and sterile. It does not set seeds on the first sets of scapes, but on the last two sets of scapes in the fall, it sets seeds like crazy. It is top branched and doesn't have a great bud count, but with the constant rebloom, it doesn't really matter that much. The color is nothing to write home about and it is a bicolor, but there is the bluish undertone, which you can see strongly at the edges and in the base of the petals just above the throat. Finally, it doesn't have a great form and certainly doesn't show the flatness of its pod parent or its ancestor Substantial Evidence.

So what to do with such a seedling? It has too many good traits to cull, but it will never be introduced, so it is a bridge plant to use in breeding. I have been using it as a pod parent in the fall on the scapes that will set seeds. I am crossing it with other reblooming line plants (mostly my own seedlings) that are totally unrelated to the Substantial Evidence family line that this seedling comes from. I am careful to use it only with very pollen and pod fertile partners and have been focusing it through deep reds and purples that show a melon/near white base. I have gotten some very vigorous seedlings from it to date and a few should bloom this year. I will be curious to see what the seedlings from it look like and if I will see the pollen problem in any of them. However, whether they do or not, I will watch any descendants of this plant closely for pollen problems because I know this one has it. I consider this a "salvage plant" (for me - often a synonym for 'bridge plant') and its use is a "salvage project". That is, I am seeking to salvage the good traits of this plant and improve or remove the bad traits.

Yesterday I looked at a situation where there was a plant with a defect that is being used as a bridge plant because of other desirable traits. Tonight, I want to look at a group of seedlings that are also bridge plants, that don't have any obvious flaws, but still do not merit introduction, though they are important breeding subjects.

The seedlings pictured with this post are from seeds given to me by Mike Huben in winter of 2011 and are from his 2010 breeding season. They are a cross of his cultivar Early and Often x (what was at that time) a seedling - MH0735X - which is now registered as Army of Darkness. Mike made the cross to combine rebloom with dark scapes and possibly also to get a pale melon to near white flower. The seeds were started here in spring of 2011 and the plants are now 4 years old.

Mike told me he was disappointed in the cross because he didn't get dark scapes, rebloom or near white flowers from any of the seedlings. My reply was that they are exceptional plants and all carry all those traits recessively, so it is just a matter of going another generation to pull those traits out. Mike has a very limited program due to his small yard, so I am left to see what I can pull out of them and I have the space to take these types of 'dirt roads' in my program. I don't expect each mating to give an introduction - only to advance the projects I am pursuing. They are a very interesting group of seedlings, and very consistent with little variation amongst them. I have culled some over the years, but the handful that are left are just exceptional plants. However, they do not merit introduction. Let's consider why. 

They are average, first and foremost. There are already introduced many little melon diploids that don't rebloom and have green scapes. That is the primary reason: they lack distinction - and what distinction they do have is in their exceptionally beautiful foliage - something not all that important, in and of itself without a distinct flower, to many daylily people (though it is very important to me). So there is just nothing there that hasn't already been done over and over, but what is important about these plants is the genes they carry.

Now, let's consider some of their good traits. First, they are all hard dormants and then, of course, the foliage - just look at it! They are so deep green and are not effected by adverse conditions. Look in the pictures how much darker in tone they are than some of the other seedlings and cultivars growing around them. The bed they are growing in is one of my worst test beds. It has awful sand/clay mix refill soil. The bed can get bone dry being on a slope, and yet, even with the mini-drought we had through May, the foliage is still gorgeous, no browning at all and no bud drop, unlike a good few other things here. Then they have a high scape to fan ratio and the scapes have an average of three branches plus a terminal Y on almost all of them and around 15 to 20 buds per scape and are about 24" to 28" tall. Most of them have the flowers carried just above the foliage and make a nice look in the landscape, especially as edgers. You will note in the pictures that there is one seedling that shows partial dark scapes, but it is the least attractive plant with the slowest increase and the least attractive habit and flowers (though that is in comparison to its sibling - it isn't really all that bad...compared to many other things). One seedling is closer to white than the rest and is a lovely flower. One seedling put up a few rebloom scapes in a really wet year, but has never done so before or since, so we know all the component genetics are there (we know that too from the parentage and knowing the behavior of the genes involved). It is now just a matter of combining those genes into homozygous expression...and then we might have an intro. Finally, these seedlings that are left have all been rust resistant for the four years I have had them, and I have tried to infect them every year (some of their siblings weren't rust resistant, and they are no longer with us...unless you consider the compost they made...)

So how am I using these seedlings? I am crossing them amongst themselves to bring the recessives back to homozygosity. That is, of course, an obvious thing to do. If I cross them back to pod parent E&O, I might get a higher number of rebloomers, but I won't get the dark scapes. If I breed them back to pollen parent Army of Darkness, I might get a higher number of dark scapes, but I won't get rebloom, so the only route to get both, fully expressed, in some small number of the seedlings is to cross the F1 with each other to make a true F2. As I am not necessarily looking for near white flowers, I am not calculating for that, and any shade of melon will work, and since these F1 seedling are all variations of melon, I can expect 100% melon offspring, in various shades, and any shade will be fine with me if it reblooms and has dark scapes.

Because these seedlings are all full siblings and all show the nice foliage that can handle dry conditions and poor soil and still look good, I don't expect a lot of segregation on this level. Both parents also have good foliage, so that suggests there will be little variation in that trait. All have good branching (for this type of thing - most of the rebloom dips have poor branching - usually just a terminal Y or W), so again, that should be fairly consistent in the F2 offspring. But, you may ask,"What if it isn't, or what if you get some poor foliage, etc?" Good questions!

In this instance, if such occurs with any desirable trait, then I can backcross any reblooming, dark scaped F2 seedling to any of these F1 seedlings. They have no obvious, serious flaws, so a backcross can be considered, and all the genes I want to see expressed are present in all these F1 seedlings. Further, both the F1 x F1 sib matings and the F2 x F1 backcross can reveal any hidden deleterious or undesirable genes that may be lurking in the line unseen, and that too is valuable information from a breeding standpoint. As well, a backcross may even concentrate the desired traits, both the rebloom and dark scape traits as well as the plant habit traits that are also very impressive.

This type of bridge plant project is very different from the one I discussed last night. This is not a salvage project, where you wish to incorporate good traits while removing bad traits. That is a much more delicate procedure. This is a simple breeding project to retrieve recessive genes. This is a very common reason to use bridge plants, perhaps the most common, and is how desirable recessive traits can be combined into one individual where they do not already occur together. In this instance, backcrosses are not just for test matings to determine when the undesirable traits are gone from any given individual in the line, but can also be used to concentrate desirable genes within the line.

Bridge Plants Part 3: Working from Tender to Hardy
In this post I want to talk a bit about working from a tender evergreen that is not hardy in my garden toward a hard dormant that is northern hardy.

The flower in the attached pics is Kanai Sensei x Blue Oasis. The cross was made in summer 2011. It is the only seedling I kept from the cross out of about 120 seedlings. It had the least offensive foliage in spring to my eye and taste and has been rust resistant over several years. Just by chance, it also carries the blue (bluish/lavender) eye trait of its pollen parent and shows some level of pattern, which was really lucky! It is what would be called a semi-evergreen and has fast increase and some rebloom.

However, it is not, to me, an introduction. It regularly curls at least one petal inward as you can see in the picture below, and sometimes all three. The foliage is not attractive to me and even though it was the only seedling selected, I am still not happy with how it looks in the spring - it was just better than the rest, but not really good.

I bought Blue Oasis in fall of 2010. The winter of 2010/2011 was mild and so it did well and bloomed nicely in 2011 and I used it that year as a pollen parent and pod parent (I also have one plant left from it as a pod parent - a story for another day...) The winter of 2011/2012 was also mild and the plant survived well, but we had late freezes and the foliage looked horrendous, bloom was suppressed and the clumps reduced fan count (there were two clumps of it). One clump looked much worse than the other and was removed, while the second clump was moved to my mother's garden. My mom lives in the old farm house my grandparents lived in and the soil around it is just amazing - black and rich. I consider her garden the remedial garden - if it won't grow anywhere else, it will usually grow in her garden... The winter of 2012/2013 was mild, but we had a series of late freezes and again, Blue Oasis dwindled further. Then came the winters of 2013/14 and this last winter, 2014/15 and Blue Oasis dwindled significantly each year. It is almost completely gone now, just two half-pencil sized fans from an original clump of twelve fans. One more hard winter and it will be gone, I fear. This is the common pattern for tender plants here in my area. They don't tend to just die here, though I have had it happen, but what is more common is that they dwindle away over a few years. If it couldn't survive in my mom's garden, it just doesn't survive well here. Mike Huben also told me that not only usually survive in his Boston area garden, but it won't bloom there either, even after milder winters. So I am very grateful that I got something out of it to move forward with, because it is really beautiful.

I have known since I started hybridizing that I wanted one aspect of my program to be moving fancy but tender faces toward dormant foliage, so I had chosen Kanai Sensei as a mate based on the foliage dormancy, the near white color and the strong increase and rebloom it shows. That was not an act of wisdom though, but a lucky break. I had no idea BO would dwindle as it has, or that KS would produce such good results in breeding. Sometimes you just get lucky by accident, and never underestimate the workings of lucky accidents in a program - they happen for all of us smile emoticon

So back to this seedling - There are some good traits here and the traits I don't like are really more about personal preference than an actual defect, so this is one of those projects where I am just not satisfied with this first generation result and want to keep working to get to a plant that is more what I want and what I want to introduce.

Many people are not bothered by the rolled inward or 'canoed' petals, but it irritates me, and that is just a personal preference. It is no reflection on anyone who likes that or grows or introduces plants with it, but I am obsessed with very open, very flat flowers - blame Richard Norris and his wonderfully flat Substantial Evidence family line! smile emoticon
Blue Oasis

The foliage, both the look of it and the habit, don't satisfy me and I have no idea how much further north beyond my area this individual might be hardy, and I want the bluish eye on hard dormants. Again, no reflection on anyone who likes other foliage types, but I am just in love with hard dormants. That is a personal thing, but with the tenderness of Blue Oasis, I would not feel comfortable saying this plant was a hardy semi-evergreen or evergreen. That again is just a personal inclination.

The plant does put up a rebloom scape or two most years, but it is not enough to call it a rebloomer and my goal is this look on real, consistent rebloomers like its pod parent. As well, there is poor branching and low bud count, as is common on many of those little rebloomers, which would be ok with me if it rebloomed heavily, but it doesn't. So all these things add up to something I want to continue on with, but that I would never see as an introduction in and of itself. It might make a great plant further south, but I don't live further south and I have to make my decisions based on what I see in my own garden. In my own garden, other than the flower, there is nothing to recommend this plant, other than the genetics it carries and the potential it offers for the future. It is the nature of breeding that sometimes we have to make bridge plants to get where we want to go. When material isn't available where all the traits are already combined, sometimes the only way to get there is to make the generations that you know won't give you want you really want, but will give you the pathway to it. That is one common area where bridge plants are a necessity, or a necessary evil, depending on how you look at it.

Kanai Sensei

So what am I doing with this plant? Well, I am actually using it in several ways. I have backcrossed it to Kanai Sensei and Early & Often, as both will allow eyes to express in their offspring and will help to concentrate the rebloom traits while keeping the nice, clean background cream color on the melon base. Then I am crossing it into seedlings from the Substantial Evidence family crossed to reblooming lines, both to flatten out the petals and to work to concentrate rebloom. Finally I am doing a few selfings of this seedling, just to see what happens and if I can pull out any dormants while also concentrating the eye trait and the rebloom trait. Odds are slimmer in the selfing of getting strong rebloom or dormancy, but it is possible. 

I suspect that what I will get from all the various breedings are more 'parts' to move forward with. I won't be upset in the least if I just get more bridge plants to continue weaving together into what I actually want. That is just breeding and when you are working to combine several traits that don't already exist in one plant, then it can take a few generations to put it all together into one plant, and that plant then be worthy of introduction. Of course, I might get something really nice out of one or all of those matings and maybe even have an intro, but I am never looking for that. I am just looking to extract traits I desire and maybe concentrate them - incremental steps.

If you look at the pictures below, they are mildly blurry because I am using my tablet right now, as the SD card went out in my good quality camera, but I plan to get one tomorrow, so I may add some more pictures of this seedling later on, but for now, these are good enough to see the flower and the eye. Note how the eye is patterned in bands of color as well as a bluish/purple/lavender. It is especially apparent on the sepals. The picture where I am holding back the petal for a better view especially show the layers of tones.

All in all, this is a nice seedling and not a bad plant. It might be a much better plant in a warmer area. It is close to what I want, but just not quite there yet, so onward we go, ever searching for the ideal. This is not a bridge plant because is has a defect, nor is it a bridge plant because it is boring (though there are many semi-evergreen small flowered cultivars with a similar eye by now, so it isn't terribly distinct), but because it doesn't meet my goal. I am satisfied that through it I can pull the beauty of the tender Blue Oasis into the hardy reblooming lines that Mike Huben has developed. Time will tell if I am successful wit the effort, but even if I am not, I have already learned a great deal through working with this plant and can apply that to other similar projects in the future.

Bridge Plants - Part  - Addendum 

In a recent post on bridge plants I discussed the plant pictured below (Ashwood Wray of Sunshine x Pigment of Imagination). I noted that it had pollen infertility, but several other very nice traits. However, in evaluating for thrip resistance this year, I found that this plant had very high thrip susceptibility (as does its pod parent), so I disposed of it. One bad trait is one thing, but two is too many for me in this instance. This plant was what I call a 'salvage project', but such projects have to be approached sensibly and with a realistic understanding of what a salvage project really entails. They are a lot of work! There is no guarantee that you will ever get anything out of a salvage project. You are always taking a gamble, and the more traits you are trying to eliminate/add, the greater the number of seedlings you have to raise and flower out and expose to various conditions in order to find the breakthrough plant you are after. So I am very cautious about salvage projects and I do not approach them lightly. I have a few seedlings from this plant already, and they will be watched very closely over the next couple of years, but I don't have high hopes for them, though you never really know. 

Since I had mentioned salvage projects and this plant in particular, I wanted to update everyone one its status and illustrate that selection sometimes means giving up on something you had hopes for. It was very difficult for me to make this decision, something I actually agonized over for several days, but in the end there was really only one decision I could live with. There is a bright side to everything if you choose to look for it. There are no tragedies or traumas, just opportunities if you choose to use them. Those opportunities can greatly improve your lines too, if you let them.

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!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why Daylily Foliage Matters To Me

Why Daylily Foliage Matters To Me:
Using Daylilies in the Landscape

The foliage of daylilies is an oft-neglected area and one that is ignored in some circles, but daylilies can have beautiful foliage and can serve wonderful effects in the garden; in background groupings, in mass plantings, as a substitute for ornamental grasses (with the added bonus of flowers) - but not just any daylily will work for these purposes. Some daylilies are bred for fancy flowers alone and require more intensive care than the average homeowner or gardener cares to spend on their gardens. 

My first  fifteen to twenty years with daylilies were spent mainly working with daylilies as landscape plantings rather than specimen plantings grown strictly for flowers. Though I grew a wide range of daylily types, I quickly found that only certain daylilies were actually what I would consider 'good plants', by which I mean landscape quality plants. To me, a landscape quality plant is a fast multiplier that recovers quickly from division and increases quickly but does not decrease its scape count as the plant matures and has beautiful foliage. Thus such plants can be frequently divided to create groupings and mass plantings that can be very beautiful in the landscape and can be accomplished fairly quickly, and without a massive monetary investment.

However, such plants are often overlooked in the daylily hobby and are not reliably-enough identified in the general home garden market. We often hear that daylilies make excellent ground covers, slope covers for erosion control, and xeriscaping plants, but not all daylilies successfully can fulfill those roles, which can make buying daylilies confusing and sometimes disappointing.

Over the years I have gravitated toward using simple flowered, species-form and more primitive cultivars in order to find just the right balance of vigor, flower display and beautiful foliage. However, in recent years, I have begun testing newer cultivars, both dips and tets, and have begun to locate a few that may have the extremely fine foliage and garden habit that can make a long-loved garden classic.

I wanted to show you some of the uses I have made of daylilies in my own landscape. As you can see, these daylily plantings are not just about the flower. They are important parts of my landscape year-round. The flower is an accent to the foliage, which is the primary landscape use for these plants. We frequently see short daylilies like Stella De Oro used in landscapes as borders or edging, but I like daylilies more as a backdrop and as a substitute for ornamental grasses. For that use, daylilies that are more robust in foliage and scapes are most appealing to me.

Here in the entry to my house, you can see a mass planting of daylilies to the left.

Here is a more complete view of the entry with daylilies in mass plantings to both the left and right of the stairs that lead down to the deck and house. You can see they have a lovely, grass-like, textural look that is very pleasing and is a wonderful contrast to the red foliage of the Japanese maple.

A study in contrast.

The contrast of the daylily foliage and the stark concrete retaining wall is very attractive and softens the hard edges of the concrete wall. The daylily growing behind the wall and to the left in front of the wall are H. fulva 'Korean', which tends to show lovely lime green foliage that is very golden when it first emerges in the spring.

From this view you can see that behind, the Japanese maple is trimmed flat and creates a hidden testing area where modern cultivars are being tested for their garden value. The soil in this area is backfill from when the house was built and is basically red sand and red clay. In other words - horrid! So this is a marvelous testing area for vigor and toughness. You can also see the large clump of H. Fulva 'Korean' that is against the retaining wall and you can see how golden it is. I believe that daylily foliage shows the same range of possibilities for color that hostas exhibit. Daylilies just haven't been selected for it like hostas have. The daylilies against the wall to the left of the fulva 'Korean' are the old classic Hyperion. You can see the lovely dark green foliage that it has from its ancestor H. citrina. I love the contrast of the two foliage colors together.

A closeup on Hyperion, and in the background you can see a mass planting that includes several species and cultivars. Notice that the planting is split in half with lime-foliaged plants to the right and darker green foliage plants to the left.

Here is a closeup on the mass planting I just mentioned above. I did plant the daylilies to have the two foliage colors as contrasts, but the ivy and sedum did their own thing and also intensify the contrast pf the daylily foliage. The daylilies to the left are the dreaded 'ditch lily', H. fulva 'Europa'. They have been there for years and haven't eaten creation :-) There is a clump of Stella or two in front of them also, and the daylilies to the left are a mixture of "Nashville Star" (an unregistered G. H. Wild cultivar that is slightly root-spreading), Frans Hals, H. sempervirens and H. fulva 'Kwanso'. When daylilies are mass planted like this, they tend to shade out most weeds. 

Here is the view from the bottom of the stairs of the daylilies on each side of the retaining wall. Notice how the golden spring foliage of fulva 'Korean' contrasts so beautifully with the Japanese maple and the faded red paint on the railing.

This view shows the area of the garden on the west side of the house. This pathway leads up to chicken houses (that no longer have any chickens...) and the west gardens and then up to the top of the hill where the hybridizing garden and grow-out beds are located. This pathway used to be full sun before the bamboo ate it. I grew many daylilies along that path until the bamboo took over. I now focus on Hosta and Hellebores in this area. The Japanese maples have done well in both full sun and heavy bamboo shade. Many of the daylilies that I am showing in this post once grew along this pathway and were rescued from under the bamboo. The bamboo killed several cultivars in this area, so those that survived tend to be extremely hardy and flourish. Now the last two winters have taken a serious toll on the bamboo. I hope in time it will recover, though we will probably need a few mild winters for that to happen, but that's gardening - everything you plant doesn't work and things evolve.

Here is the western side retaining wall and the bed behind it. Both sides of the house have mirror image beds - both have the same horrid soil and I use both as testing areas. Anything that flourishes in these beds is very hardy and thus very useful for many purposes. This garden on the side of the house is steeper, and this area just behind/against the retaining wall had problems with erosion. I did two things that have stopped that. First, I added a McCourt rectangular tub and filled that with Louisiana iris and used a small McCourt three-tier waterfall behind the tub and in it I am growing Iris versicolor. These stop the dirt from being washed down over the bank and into the bamboo. The second thing I did was to cover the steep bank with daylilies. These have filled in well and have worked to retain the soil and stop erosion. It is also really beautiful, lush and requires very little weeding.

Here is the bank when the daylilies were first added in early spring of 2011. You can see the terrible soil, These daylilies are rescues from under the bamboo. They are "Nashville Star" and a fulva like cultivar I bought at Lowes in 2000 that was simply called "ground cover daylily".  It is slightly root-spreading, which is very good on this slope. 

Here is "Nashville Star" blooming in the summer of 2011, only a few months after they were saved from under the bamboo. You can see how much those little single fans I had planted that spring had grown in only a few months.

Here is the same planting in the spring of 2012. You can see the great growth of these plants. I did not fertilize them at all, as the bamboo will run into any area and get very vigorous if there is much fertilizer added. So these plants have to be very vigorous to flourish in this awful soil. This is essential for daylilies that are going into landscape situations and that won't be pampered!

Here is the planting from above in the summer of 2012. You can see the fulvous types at the top of the planting and the Nashville Star plantings below. The hot pink flowers to the right are the old cultivar Carmine Monarch, and it too survived under the bamboo for many years before it was rescued.

Here is the planting this spring (2015). I actually moved some of the Nashville Star that was directly behind the tubs, as they weren't necessary for stopping erosion (the plants up higher seem to do that enough on their own) and they were crowding the irises. They are now in the entry planting.

Here is the planting in the winter. I included this picture to show that these are all dormants and why dormancy is important to me in this type of landscape setting - no 'boiled-lettuce', ragged leaves struggling to grow all winter... The dead daylily leaves and tree leaves work to stop erosion through the winter. The look of this bed is very clean and open all winter - a stark contrast to the lush look of the growing season. I really enjoy that contrast.

Here is the planting this spring from the back. I included this to show how the clumps along the edge of the slope have become huge and serve to stop most of the erosion on their own, by channeling the runoff away from the slope.

Here is a wider shot of the slope showing more of the garden that is behind it, mostly daylilies, but also a few peonies. Peonies take years to establish in this horrible soil, so there aren't many in this garden. The tree peony has been there for over twenty years. I extensively cull poor performing daylilies in this area, and you can see the results in beautiful plants, as well I am gathering data on what daylilies make excellent landscaping subjects.

And here is the full view of the western testing bed from the northern view. In addition to being a great place to test daylilies for vigor and resilience, it is also very pretty year-round. That is because I vigorously cull those cultivars with bad foliage and poor performance and I focus on those that perform beautifully and there are almost no semi-evergreens or evergreens here so the bed looks clean and neat all winter. The lushness of these beds on the sides of the house is beautiful and relaxing - a lovely place to relax in the late evening after a hard day of working in the rest of the garden, and it is not just beautiful when the daylilies bloom.

This is a view of my hybridizing garden and pigeon houses (formerly chicken houses...). This garden was established in 2010. Even though it is mostly daylilies here, I have still approached this planting as a garden and with an eye toward pleasing aesthetics. I am very influenced by Asian gardens, especially Japanese gardens, so an ocean of moving, variable greens to me is just as pleasing as when the garden is in full flower, and that is the garden that I see for much longer each year than the garden in flower. Since most of my property is on a south-facing slope, I like the effect of the daylily foliage as it appears to almost cascade down the hillsides. The lush, green effect is in part due to culling out anything that showed ugly, unattractive foliage. Look at the beautiful lushness of this scene and you can see why daylily foliage matters to me as much as the flowers.

Here is the hybridizing garden in 2011, just to show you the progression of this garden.

Here is a detailed shot of lovely foliage in the hybridizing garden. The daylily cultivar in the front of the picture is Substantial Evidence, which has beautiful golden to lime green foliage, while the taller clump behind it is Notify Ground Crew. Both cultivars have wonderful foliage, beautiful flowers and tons of presence in the garden.

Here is a picture from summer of 2012. You can see there are still a few cultivars with less-than-beautiful foliage hanging around at that time. 

Here is a view of the hybridizing garden this spring. I took the picture while standing on the porch of the pigeon house. You can see that the layout of the garden, even though it is just a garden for hybridizing, is still designed to be attractive, have easy access and be beautiful throughout the year. I am in this garden every day of the year, all year, as I have to feed the pigeons, so it maters to me that the garden is attractive and the plants that I grow here are beautiful, even when not in flower. The area to the front of the picture that is surrounded in landscaping timbers is a seedling bed. There is one plant in the front of the row against the timber to the right that has very unattractive foliage. I have seedlings from it, many with equally bad foliage, but a few with much better foliage. That plant is unlikely to be here after this season. The other seedlings around it have much better foliage and much better prospects.

Another shot of the hybridizing garden. The shot also shows some of the seedlings in their testing tubs. Notice even they have nice foliage. That's because I removed and composted those that didn't have beautiful foliage. I love the sea of beautiful green foliage in the background.

Here is Challenger looking gorgeous and shading the base of a beautiful white clematis. The plant in front of Challenger is one of the least attractive foliage plants left in the garden, but it has very strong rust resistance, so it has been given a reprieve for the time being, but as soon as I get some better seedlings from it...

The white clematis in bloom today. There is much more to the hybridizing gardens than just daylily flowers :-)

And to close our tour of foliage and mass plantings of daylilies, here we are back at the west retaining wall and the daylilies that stop the erosion. I have to admit, this is one of my very favorite areas in the garden - simple, elegant, and beautiful year round. This is why daylily foliage matters to me, and these are some of my methods for using daylilies in the landscape.