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.
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.
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, they were not the size one would expect from two year seedlings. Most took until 2015 to flower for the first time, but the seedling that would become Sun Dragon flowered for the first time in 2014. 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".
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.
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.