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!