Saturday, January 16, 2021

Sun Dragon

 Sun Dragon

(SDLG# AESS11-1111)

2021 - Reeder - Tetraploid
Ancient Elf x Solaris Symmetry
47" scape - 5.5" flower - 6 branches - 26 buds
Early-midseason - Dormant - Rebloom

Medium orange to peach, slight bitone, with lighter sepals near the tone of the petals, with an eye and thin petal edge of a darker lavender-maroon and light peach midribs. Thin wire edge of pale yellow and a chartreuse to yellow throat extending up the midrib through the eye.

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The most important of my foundation plants from the first year of crossing species-like base plants with secondary (phenotype) base plants. Sun Dragon is the plant to carry the flagship name of my breeding program, and has been the single most important breeder in my program to date. When I crossed Ancient Elf and Solaris Symmetry in 2011, I had no idea how good that cross was going to be. I just had the plants, and granted, I had spent some time looking for plants with interesting genetic potential to start my program from, but there was no way to know that first year which of those initial plants I had brought in would actually meet my criteria and become base material in my program. Luckily, because I didn't have a lot of plants in 2011, I made a long cross out of this breeding and produced a few thousand seeds. 

Click this image to see my new Youtube video detailing full siblings Sun Dragon, Origin of Symmetry and Ancient Ent!

There honestly wasn't a ton of variation in the seedlings, at least superficially. They all showed moderate to high rust resistance and were predominantly peach to orange with a lavender to reddish eye. So it was the minutia that I then focused on to make selections - plant traits, the highest rust resistance, highest thrips resistance, the best foliage, the best flower, the highest pod and pollen fertility, the most amazing scapes, the "hardest" of "hard" dormancy, high scape to fan ratio, etc. Sun Dragon is the one that scored the highest on almost every level. Before we go any further, let me add, there will be a lot of pictures on this page, so be warned. Sun Dragon has been a standout since its first flower, and I have taken tons of pictures of it every year, and even though I will share what seems to be a lot of pictures on this page, it is just a drop in the barrel of what I could share. Be sure to make your way to the end of the page to see the amazing seedlings I have been getting from Sun Dragon.

2015 in the seedling bed

Hybridized in 2011, these seedlings were germinated in 20 gallon seedling barrels in the late summer of 2011 and grew in those until the spring of 2013, when they were moved to my first seedling bed. They were tremendously crowded in the seedling barrels, and went through the 2012 rust resistance testing in those barrels. So when they were moved to the seedling bed in the summer of 2013, most were not the size one would expect from two year seedlings. Many took until 2015 to flower for the first time, but the seedling that would become Sun Dragon flowered for the first time in summer 2013. And from that first flower, I knew it was a special plant. It had several points I didn't expect, including the thin dark wire edge with a thin gold piecrust edge, very nice branching on tall scapes and good pod fertility.

The rust resistance of Sun Dragon was exceptional, scoring A+ all five years of my rust resistance screening program. The thrips resistance is also very good, and Sun Dragon shows high breeding value for both of these resistance traits. The beautiful plant has consistently shown excellent growth without requiring frequent division and has never displayed the die-out in the center of the clump that some daylilies show. This is a trait inherited from pollen parent Solaris Symmetry.

The plant is really stunning. Even before the scapes rise, the foliage and form of the plant itself stands out. It shows very good late freeze tolerance, and so the foliage is beautiful even in bad springs. Once the scapes start to rise, the magic has begun. The first round of scapes show a long bloom period. I see instant rebloom in some years, not as consistently or as heavily as I would like, though the high bud count on the first round of scapes still provides a very long season. In some years there is late season rebloom, which I have used to take these valuable genetics into my late and late/late program.

Sun Dragon shows a very good scape to fan ratio. The scapes are tall and show an average of 6 branches, with the occasional scape showing 7 or 8 branches, and a few lesser scapes showing 4 to 5 branches. There are a lot of buds, averaging 26, but often showing more. The combination of foliage and scapes makes for a striking plant even before the first flower opens. Once the flowers start opening, Sun Dragon is a daily show, lasting for several weeks, usually between four to five, sometimes a little longer.

Sun Dragon shows variable color in a range from light peach to orange, depending on the season. The flowers don't tend to change every day, though you can see some variations within the same year, but over the years, I have seen some variations in different years, I suspect heavily influenced by changing climatic effects. The most common petal coloring appears peach to the eye, with a lavender to burgundy eyezone band.

I want to discuss the coloring of Sun Dragon in a little more depth. Some who just give it a superficial glance may think it is just a "muddy orange", but that misses the intricacy of its actual layering of pigments. The parents are a medium yellow (Ancient Elf) and a near white with bluish-lavender eye and thin petal edge (Solaris Symmetry). When I saw the first flowers, my question was 'how did those two make an "orange" flower?" Over time I have come to realize that Sun Dragon actually isn't "orange', even if our eyes read that color. So what is going on? Well, I think what we see is lavender/purple anthocyanin in the surface level of the flower tissue (as in the pollen parent) layered over a medium yellow carotenoid in the deeper levels of the petal tissue (as in the pod parent). The lavender anthocyanin appears to be the same as in the pollen parent - a thicker layer on the eyezone band and the outer petal edge, with a thinner layer over the main petal. If you inspect a near-white with lavender edge and eye, you will note that there is a hint of lavender in the "white" area of the petal, but over the very pale background your eye is deceived by the extreme contrast into seeing "white". Taking a razor to the petal of such a flower and slicing out thin layers and then looking under a microscope will show that the upper layer of the petal in fact contains a lot of lavender colored anthocyanin. The same is the case with Sun Dragon, but over the yellow under coloring, it is more obviously visible and appears to the eye as "peach".

You can see here the self-cleaning, how nicely the old flowers fold up and don't gum up the next round of flowers to open. Also note that in this sunset photo, the high contrast between the eye/edge and main petal really stands out.

I have dissected many of the flowers of Sun Dragon in order to look more closely at the pigment. Blots on white paper towel have been very helpful in determining that the flowers of Sun Dragon are not actually "orange", but that the top layer is actually lavender and the under coloring light to medium yellow. Even on its most "orange" days, the paper blots of the upper layers of Sun Dragon's petals does not come out orange, but rather a purplish lavender. This was really revelatory for me. I have also done paper blots on other cultivars and species forms that have anthocyanin that actually is orange to the eye in a paper blot. Sun Dragon isn't one of them, and further, I almost never get a true orange seedling from Sun Dragon. 

The two main colors I get in the seedling bed are pink to pink-lavender to lavender to purple and a range of these peach to orange-peach seedlings. I also see a range of near-white to cream to melon to various shades of yellow. I wanted to discuss this some to explain one of the reasons that Sun Dragon is such an interesting breeder and how a flower that can superficially be seen as in the "orange" range of tones can produce such an interesting range of seedling colors, with such a focus on lavender. It is a lavender. It just isn't on the near white base that would allow the lavender to be perceived by the human eye as lavender. Rather, layered over the medium yellow under color, your eye sees the reddish tone of the lavender blend with the yellow of the carotenoid to form what your eye perceives as peach-orange. If you really look close to the flower, either in pictures or life, you can see the hints of lavender coloring in the main petals. Be sure to take a look at the pictures of seedlings toward the end of this page!

Lighter "peach" phase

Medium "peach" phase

Darker "Orange" phase

You can see in the three pictures above that the depth of tone of the peach to orange appearance seems to be related to the concentration of the carotenoid pigment on any given day. Note that the darker and more "orange" the flower, the more yellow you can see peaking through the thin anthocyanin layer on the sepals. It is my conclusion that what determines the tone of the flower of Sun Dragon is the level of carotenoid that is present in the flower tissue on any given day, and this varies somewhat. That actually makes sense to me. The pod parent has one parent that is a lemon yellow (Itsy Bitsy Spider) and one parent that is a golden yellow (Nutmeg Elf). I strongly suspect that there are at least two genetically distinct forms of carotenoid in daylilies - one responsible for the lemon yellow category of shades and one responsible for the golden yellow (orangey-yellow) category of shades. If that is the case, then Ancient Elf likely carries the factors of both types of carotenoid and (though heterozygous for each type) could have passed each to any of its seedlings, including Sun Dragon. 

An "orange" day in my mother's garden. Note the high level of yellow carotenoid pigment visible in the sepal fronts, backs of sepals and the buds in this picture. Mom's soil has a neutral pH, and Sun Dragon has always been more orange in tone in her garden, though it still varies a little.

More "peach" in my aunt's garden, where the soil pH is quite acidic, as it is in my hybridizing garden and seedling beds. Note how much lighter the under coloring is on the sepals in this example. Could soil pH be a causative factor in the expression of carotenoid pigment levels in this cultivar? I don't know, but it is one obvious variable between these gardens.

Sun Dragon growing in my friend Robert Anderson's Oregon garden showing the orange phase. Note the very yellow expression of carotenoid in the sepals. 

Ancient Elf has days when it is more toward the golden yellow range and days when it is more toward the lemon yellow range, and I suspect this is heterozygosity for the two types of carotenoid. I don't know what causes one type to predominate. Perhaps it is triggered by temperature or other weather variables. What I can be sure of is that when dealing with genetics, we are almost never dealing with just one gene or another, but are also dealing with minor genes (which effect and modify the major genes), as well as epigenetic factors that modify gene expression, are heritable and are often environmentally triggered. These minor genes and epigenetic factors may or may not be linked to, or pleiotropic effects of, any of the major genes. So sometimes the whole genetic package passes together and does not break up through independent assortment in zygote formation. Sometimes the factors can break up, not being linked, and can separate through independent assortment. 

It would appear to me that Sun Dragon shows a similar expression of carotenoid to pod parent Ancient Elf. However, it also carries dilution factors and the factors surrounding melon from the pollen parent. Some of these may also cause modifications to the carotenoid processes, and the heterozygous presence of the gene(s) responsible for melon (lycopene) pigment may also have an effect. One thing that I am certain of, from many years of observation, is that plants carrying heterozygous genes for different pigment types show more variability, while plants that are fully, or close to, homozygous for the pigment genes they carry are more stable for tone and expression than their heterozygous counterparts. However, the heterozygous counterparts are typically more interesting breeders.

Another interesting trait of Sun Dragon is that it shows dark pigmentation on the sepal backs and upper portions of the scapes in full sun. I have also seen this in numerous seedlings, some much darker and more intense than in Sun Dragon. You can see this in the three pictures below. I am working on this trait in my program and I think that Sun Dragon will open the door to very exciting dark scape and contrasting front/back flower phenotypes with fancy flowers at the tetraploid level, and with great plant traits and high pest resistance to boot.

As a garden plant, Sun Dragon is a wonderful plant and flower. It is a perfect plant with strong vigor, fast recovery from division, strong winter hardiness and wonderful plant habit including the gorgeous foliage, the great scapes with height, branching and bud count, and high resistance to rust and thrips. The flowers look good every day and there are a lot of them. They fold up neatly when the have finished their day of flowering and the old flowers don't cause problems with the new flowers, drying up and falling off neatly, being self-cleaning. The flowers are beautiful in the garden and have good substance, holding up throughout the whole day without melting or deterioration, and they also have good rain and sun resistance. The foliage is dormant, the "hard" dormant type that goes down in the fall and stays down until fairly late in the spring, then showing great freeze tolerance to late spring freezes. I have never seen summer dormancy and the foliage remains beautiful until the first hard freezes of fall when it goes into dormancy. It forms a resting bud here during the winter. 

For the breeder, Sun Dragon is a powerful tool for bringing all these traits into a line quickly. Because so many good traits are combined into one plant with great breeding value for all these traits, Sun Dragon can produce seedlings that show many of these traits in individual plants, so you don't have to spend generations trying to get all these good traits combined into one plant. Below are a series of pictures of Sun Dragon, some with comments. On below those will be some of my favorite Sun Dragon seedlings and then a few final words. Click any picture to expand to a larger version.

2015 in the seedling bed showing the wonderful piecrust edge and ruffled sepals that were so striking right from the first flower

2018 in the hybridizing garden showing interesting pinching of the petals. Many of the seedlings are even more 'unusual' in form


The scapes directly behind the flower are instant rebloom scapes, while the taller scapes extending out of the picture are the first round of scapes

The plant is a glory in the garden. The tree-like branches hold the flowers well spaced for an amazing display

Buds and beautiful flowers!

This image shows the first round of scapes browning after their seed pods have already been gathered, while the instant rebloom scapes are still green with maturing buds. Sun Dragon is extremely fertile both ways. I have used it heavily each year, especially as a pod parent, and in 2020, it was the main pollen I used for all my tetraploid hybridizing.

In the line out garden 2020

In the hybridizing garden 2020

In the line out garden 2020 at sunset after a long, hot, sunny day

Below are several seedlings that I particularly like. I have hundreds of select seedlings in testing from Sun Dragon. It has proven to be one of my best breeders, producing seedlings that tend to have many of Sun Dragon's great traits combined, not just one good trait in this seedling and one good trait in that seedling, as is the case in a lot of other plants I have bred from. The power of Sun Dragon as a breeder is really quite surprising. I have not focused, so far, on just breeding "fancy flowers" with Sun Dragon and have instead focused on putting excellent plants over it, some of which also have fancy, modern flowers, and so I have been able to see the combining ability of Sun Dragon for fancy flowers. It is good! 

I have also experimented with backcrossing Sun Dragon to pollen parent Solaris Symmetry to test the potential for inbreeding depression in the Solaris Symmetry line. This round of testing was a priority to determine what directions I could take this family line. I was very pleased to find that there was no visible inbreeding depression in the BC1 (first generation back cross). This will allow me to continue experimenting with inbreeding to further set the amazing plant traits of these lines, while also intensifying the fancy flower traits. 2020 was really the first year that I was able to focus on using Sun Dragon almost exclusively as pollen parent over all the fancy types in my hybridizing garden. After nine years of growing and experimenting with Sun Dragon as a breeder, I felt confident to start to make Sun Dragon one of my major pollen parents. Enjoy the pictures below. I know I have enjoyed them in my seedling bed!

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 1 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 2 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x sdlg (Sherry Lane Carr x tetra Substantial Evidence) sdlg 1

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 3 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 4 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x William Colby Jones

Sun Dragon x Elizabethan Fine Gloves

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 5 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x Pacific Rainbow

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 6 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 7 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 8 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon x sdlg (Sherry Lane Carr x tetra Substantial Evidence) sdlg 2

Sun Dragon x Solaris Symmetry sdlg 9 (backcross experiment)

Sun Dragon is an amazing plant with so many good traits, which should make it of great value to gardeners and breeders alike. In all the desirable traits, Sun Dragon excels and surpasses all but that tiny handful of the finest plants I have ever grown or bred from. I think it has so much to offer. For gardeners and hybridizers in cold-winter areas, it has the coveted "hard dormancy" in combination with late freeze resistance and amazing plant traits. For anyone concerned with rust it offers exceptional rust resistance, tested for five years in a row, and shows high breeding value for rust resistance. For those only interested in various plant traits, Sun Dragon can accommodate. Branching and bud count? Check. Scape height? Check. High scape to fan ratio? Check. Gorgeous foliage? Check. High fertility both ways? Check. Fancy flower traits and breeding ability to make even more extreme flower traits? Check. In combination, Sun Dragon has the highest concentration of refined traits of any daylily I have ever grown and sets a standard for what fancy daylilies can become in the future, opening the door for the most extreme examples of desirable plant traits and offering the way forward to the fanciest of flowers on those desirable plant traits.