Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Looking Back and Looking Forward… 2019 and 2020

Looking Back and Looking Forward… 
2019 and 2020

Seeing the Vision Become Reality
February 26, 2020

Today was a beautiful day, and so I spent some time in the garden. I have had three previous nice days since 2020 started, and have used all of those catching up on garden work. I had planned to take some pictures in the garden today, but I had forgotten the camera on and the battery had run down, so once I got that hooked to the charger, I was left with a beautiful day and no scheduled activities, so I decided to take some time to walk through the garden and just make some observations. That turned out to be a wonderful thing, as it gave me a chance to not only see how things were looking, but, being in an introspective state lately, it gave me a chance to think about my longterm goals.

2020 marks the tenth year since I bought the first new daylilies to start my breeding program. Of course, I had already been growing daylilies for over three decades at that time, but from 2008 I had begun planning a breeding program and there were plants I knew I would need to start that program that I didn't already have, and so those plants I bought in 2010 were the first plants I brought in specifically for breeding purposes. I also bought seeds on the Lily Auction in 2010, and those were the first seedlings I grew. Some of those are now introductions, and a few more will come out in the future. 2011 was the first year I made my own crosses, so 2020 is the tenth year since I started my program and the ninth year since I began hybridizing in my own garden.

H. fulva var. Korean

From 2008 I was planning a very specific program, and along with that I had created a timeline to guide the process of developing my own lines. The program outline spanned a twenty-year period, broken up into four five-year segments.

Ancient Elf

The first five-year segment was to test cultivars and species clones to find individual plants that met my criteria for a wide range of traits and to make crosses amongst the select cultivars and species clones to create a first round of seedlings that would also receive the full range of testing to form the base plants for my breeding program. Another aspect of this period was to make 'salvage crosses', where a plant with a very advanced flower, but lacking in plant traits, was crossed with a select, superior plant, regardless of its flower traits, in order to 'salvage' the flower trait genes onto superior plants so that in later generations the advanced and interesting flower traits could be brought back out on plants with superior traits. Salvage crosses can't be expected to produce their magic in one generation and require at least two generations to start to shine, sometimes more, and to reveal the wonder of wide-crosses and weaving disparate lines to bring distant traits together into one line. Salvage crossing is not for the impatient. In the second and later generations, you may be looking for only a tiny percentage of individual plants that show the combination of traits you desire, and you may need to be able to recognize very minute expressions of traits, because it is more likely that you won't get any plants in the second generation that show all the traits you want, but you will need to recognize individual plants that show some of the traits and then perhaps do a sibling mating or backcross to an ancestor to further concentrate the traits. The more traits you are trying to combine, the longer it is likely to take, unless you are selecting through massive numbers of seedlings, and even then it may take a few generations.

Solaris Symmetry

The second five-year period was to cross select F1 seedlings in a variety of directions including backcrossing to select parents, to select unrelated hybrid cultivars and for use in salvage crossing. Much of this period involved backcrossing to select parents, as well as crossing select cultivars with each other to make a new round of first generation seedlings, many of those focused on flower traits along with desirable plant traits. Another aspect of this period was to continue with any salvage crosses that were of interest. This period should have seen the majority of the major salvage crossing work. Now, at the end of this period, I can say it has been successful and that I have achieved the objectives I had proposed for this period.

Ancient Elf x Solaris Symmetry
First generation select base seedling

The third and fourth five-year segments will involve concentrating the traits I have saturated my lines with, both in terms of plant traits and flower traits. Because many of my initial crosses involved crossing fancy, modern cultivars back to species clones or to older hybrid cultivars, many of the first or second generation plants don't show the extreme flower traits I hope to reach in the future, but the genes are there, and I have begun seeing second and third generation seedlings in the last couple of years where many of those traits are starting to reemerge. So the next decade will be the period where I concentrate the genes of both plant and flower, producing the kind of flowers I want to look at on the kind of plants I want to grow.

Through the winter, as I prepared my 2020 Monday Night Lights Facebook presentation, I have had the opportunity to look through my 2019 seedling pictures very closely, and through that to appreciate a lot of things about where my program is at this time, and how it is meeting the expectations I had at the beginning a decade ago. I am now entering a very exciting phase of my program where the genes for the flower traits and plants traits are all in place and I have proven to my own satisfaction that the ideas I had early on are going to work out, so now it is just a matter of braiding the base lines I have made into complex and concentrated lineages. Honestly, my program is just now, at ten years in, at the point most people would be within two or three years. While most people can simply go out and buy some fancy flowers and start breeding from there, focusing solely on making more extreme flowers, I couldn't simply buy-in my base program, because the kind of flowers I want were not available to me on the kind of plants I want to grow, so my first decade has been spent in making the breeding base from which I can now develop a visually unique flower program, but with those superior plant traits.  

2020 Monday Night Lights introductory slide
click for larger image

2019 was an interesting year. I saw some amazing first-year-of-flower seedlings in the seedling bed, and I was finally able to make the last series of salvage crosses using introductions from Tet Rose F Kennedy. I have been braiding together cultivars and seedlings for nearly a decade to have a strong base to take the RFK lineage over at the tet level. While I may bring in the occasional new plant to cross into my lines in the future, 2019 was the last year where the majority of pollinations for an entire breeding season will revolve around producing a large number of seedlings from one line in order to salvage the good traits, while combining them with improved and desirable plant traits for my environment and breeding goals. In the late summer I eliminated the majority of cultivars from other hybridizers from my hybridizing garden, keeping only about 100 cultivars from other programs, and opening up space for the biggest move of select seedlings into the hybridizing garden that I have done since the program started. 2015 saw a large move of select seedling into the hybridizing garden and I again moved a fair number in 2018, but 2019 was massive. This now makes the majority of my hybridizing garden my own seedlings and introductions, and mainly tetraploid.

Second generation (Backcross - BC1) Seedlings
-(Ancient Elf x Solaris Symmetry) x Solaris Symmetry-
The Ancient Elf x Solaris Symmetry seedling pictured above is the pollen parent of these seedlings.
Click picture for larger image

So today, as I had time to just walk through the beds, I was able to make some important observations about the progress of foliage habit of my program. Because so much of my first five years focused on incorporating rust resistance, I initially had a lot of evergreen foliage amongst my seedlings, even though I am more focused on dormant foliage habit, but to get a trait like rust resistance, you have to go where it exists to get it, and it was far easier to find in tetraploids amongst evergreen and semi-evergreen types. As the genes involved in the evergreen foliage behaviors are quite dominant, that made a lot of my initial work seem to skew that direction. Further, many of the flower traits I love are also predominantly found on evergreen foliage type plants, so this further skewed things. 

However, now that I am a few generations in, I am seeing those dormant foliage behavior genes reemerge and each generation of seedlings is showing less and less evergreen foliage traits. I haven't really paid that much attention to the foliage behavior other than to cull out extremely tender evergreen in the seedlings from the last three or four years, as that is something I typically only start to pay close attention to once I have selected a seedling and moved it into final testing in the hybridizing garden. Today I was pleasantly surprised to note that a lot of the seedlings I had moved in late 2019 are either nearly-dormant or strongly dormant. Of course, some are semi-evergreen and a few are fully evergreen behavior, but the vast majority of my selects that were moved in late 2019 are in the dormant range, and a surprising number are strongly dormant. Further, most of those that are not dormant carry dormant genetics in a heterozygous state.

The Spice Must Flow
(Implausibility x Bali Watercolor)

Today in the seedling beds, I noted that certain later-generation seedlings are showing a significant level of dormancy. For instance, seedlings from the Ancient Elf x Solaris Symmetry F1 seedlings, when crossed to either other dormants (even those less dormant than the AEXSS seedlings are), or to seedlings that show evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage, but that themselves have a dormant parent (i.e., recessive for dormancy genes), show a very significant level of dormant offsprings. It is very gratifying to see these recessive genes reemerge. Base F1 seedlings such as my 2019 introduction The Spice Must Flow, which is a very hardy plant that shows semi-evergreen foliage, but has a dormant parent, is throwing some significantly dormant seedlings, especially when crossed back to very dormant partners. 

The Spice Must Flow x Pacific Rainbow seedling

Seedlings descending from my 2019 introduction Korean Queen, which is very dormant, also tend to show significant dormancy. It is really gratifying to see the recessive genes reemerging, both in the flower and in the plant traits. While I knew this was how things worked, from a lifetime of working with genetics, it is still a marvelous thing to watch happen. What I realized today is that I have actually made a great deal of progress and am right where I had hoped to be at by this point. That gave me a great deal of excitement and gratitude today, and was a lift I needed as the winter slowly draws to its close and a new season is nearing its beginning. It confirms that I just need to continue on with the plan I have laid out, focus on my own select seedlings and begin to braid things together in unique ways to concentrate the strengths and desirable traits.

Korean Queen
H. fulva var. Korean x Queen's Circle

The observations of today further galvanize the plans I have for my 2020 breeding season. First, each year since 2016 I have been reducing the number of seeds I have produced each year. In 2016, I produced over 500,000 seeds. In 2019 I produced about 15,000 - 20,000 seeds. As the genes get blended, and I am working with plants rich in the genes I want to work with, and with proven breeders to backcross to, I no longer have to produce the huge numbers of seeds I needed in the earlier days of the program. Last year would have seen an even smaller seed production, but I did one last major salvage project, and even though I made those crosses to a limited number of individual select seedlings and cultivars of known quantity and proven breeding ability, I still felt it best to make as many seeds in each of those crosses as I could to have a wide margin for selection. 2020 will see a smaller number of seeds, hopefully around 5,000 - 7,500, as there will be no large salvage crosses and should be little to no small salvage crossings either. This year, I will be focusing on a very small number of pollen parents chosen from my select, tested F1 seedlings from the 2011 and 2012 seasons and for pod parents, the focus will be on select seedlings from the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons. I will also make a few crosses to younger seedlings just to begin testing fertility in a few of the most interesting later-generation seedlings, and a few crosses made to select cultivars from other hybridizer's programs. 

Because some family events will require a lot of my attention this year, I plan for this to be a slower season, where most of my focus will be on just keeping the weeds beat back, making a few select crosses and not much else. I will mark select seedlings, but many of those will not get moved in 2020. With the way I mark select seedlings by tying flagging tape around the base of the clump, I will begin tagging a few years before I make final selection in the seedling beds. In that way, a select seedling that is ready to be moved to the hybridizing garden for the final round of testing may end up with two, three or four tags at the base of the clump. I know that the more ties at the base, the longer that plant has been under observation, and I can be more sure of its select status. So the select tagging for this year will most likely just be a step in the journey, though most select seedlings are unlikely to get moved until at least 2021. Another things this season will allow me to do, and something I am really looking forward to, is to have more time for simply making observations, and last but not least, to just enjoy the fruits of a decade of intensive labor and effort.

To close out, I would like to offer you the closing thoughts from my 2020 Monday Night Lights Facebook presentation...

Click for larger image