The Tertiary Layer
Updated January 29, 2021
I have added an update to the end of this article, as I have had numerous requests to give an example of how I work with a tertiary plant within my program.
In this layer we see all the fanciest flowers. Unfortunately, those fanciest flowers also far too often come on the worst or most tender plants, so the problem becomes - how to bring in those very advanced flower trait without ending up with lines of poor-quality or tender evergreen plants. Now, before I begin to answer that, I want to stress that not every plant at the tertiary level is a bad plant or is tender.
All hybrid cultivars from other hybridizers enter my program as a tertiary level plant. Some plants are tertiary because of their foliage type, which is not a flaw, but I am aiming for a specific range of foliage behaviors so tender foliage can rule a plant out for my needs. Some will turn out to be good plants and pretty flowers, maybe even have an exceptional trait or two and move up to the secondary layer, but the hard truth is that the majority of plants that I bring in and test remain at the tertiary level, if they ever get used in breeding, contribute anything to my program, or even remain in my garden at all. I want to be honest, in terms of both the good and the bad, and there is always some of both.
I want to define, in the broadest terms, what a tertiary plant is in my program. The tertiary plants in my program are plants that have contributed genetic material into my program, but that I would not in any way consider using in any form of inbreeding, backcrossing or sibling mating, and I make the greatest effort to ensure I would rarely blend plants from later generations with a tertiary plant in its background, so as to avoid any type of inbreeding with these ancestors. Most tertiary plants do not remain in the program or the garden, except in rare instances.
One example is Wow! Factor, which is a pretty good plant, and I have used its pollen and have good seedlings from it. However, it has low rust resistance and over six years has only set two pods. I would NEVER inbreed back to it, but I like it and so it is still here, and I will use the pollen in certain ways at times, last using it in the 2019 season on multiple toothy types. I consider it a tertiary (+) cultivar.
This level demonstrates an aspect of breeding that can be disheartening, but is important. It is important to keep your goals in mind and not be distracted by pretty faces growing out of empty packages. That doesn't mean you can't make use of these less than ideal plants that have a flower trait, though, and this level of my program can serve as a roadmap for those who want to use a particular cultivar, but are not satisfied with it on many levels. Basically, you just want to dip in, get a little bit of its genes and then carry them out into more reliable lines, working to extract the traits you want, while eliminating the traits you don't want.
I treat all new plants as tertiary until they have proven otherwise. Only a few do, but once they have proven themselves over several years, both in the garden and the seedling bed, then they move on into the secondary level where they may be used repeatedly, are maintained the program and might even get inbred, if there seems to be enough good traits to seek to concentrate them.
I will likely always have a few new plants, tertiary until proven otherwise, that are being tested in my garden, though there are fewer of them now than ever. As my own seedlings progress, I will move to a point where I don't bring in new plants, and I have almost reached that point. In the future, when I look to bring in new plants, it will only be a few plants that represent major breakthroughs. Until then, I have a lifetime of work to keep me busy within in own seedling beds and with those secondary plants that have passed the test.
January 29, 2021 Update - Example of Using Tertiary Plant in my Program
As I have had numerous requests to write something in more detail about using tertiary plants, I have decided to add that as an update on this page, rather than create a new page for that purpose.
To begin, I want to stress that the tertiary plants are important. I do not discount their value, nor do I think of them as just junk I am trying to extract one trait from. While they are most often of use because of their advanced flower phenotypes, it has still taken breeders generations to create those advanced flower phenotypes. The reason that they may only skirt the edge of my program, used to bring in some needed genes (usually flower traits) and then not retained with the program, is that they far too often are the product of generations of focus on the flower only, and so they may carry (and/or express) a host of problematic traits that have either not be recognized or were ignored. Because my program is designed around ironing out the many problems we see in the tetraploids, I have to work through the slower means of extracting desired recessive flower traits through working with heterozygous carriers with extremely good plant traits, rather than backcrossing to the lesser plants with the more extreme flowers. And this is one of the main reasons that I do not continue to maintain a lot of these tertiary plants. The temptation, during bloom season, is too great to use them over and over, and so once a plant has shown problematic plant traits, but has enough good in addition to the flower to be used in one round of breeding, I must eliminate the temptation in order to realize my goals.
The example we will look at here is Stardust Dragon. This is a flower that is absolutely gorgeous and the plant shows moderately high rust resistance, as well as real dormant foliage. In addition, there is nice branching with strong scapes, high bud count and the flower, in addition to being very close to true white, is also carrying teeth and edging recessively, as well as lavender/pink genetics and is homozygous for the recessive melon gene, which is so essential to clear pastel flowers.
So there is a great deal good that I can say about Stardust Dragon, and I want to clearly state those good traits, because I then also need to give some information on the traits that made it problematic for me, on certain levels. To begin with, it showed no pod fertility for me through four years of trying to set pods on every flower. The pollen was very fertile though. I brought the plant into my garden in the fall of 2012 as a single fan. I used its pollen from the few flowers I got in 2013 on a few things things, and got good seed set. I then used it heavily in 2014 and 2015 as a pollen parent in a great many crosses. The foliage can be spotty and comes up early and gets damaged by late freezes so, much like the foliage of Heavenly Angel Ice, it is mostly ratty and tattered, browning and generally unattractive in my garden. There is considerable susceptibility to thrips, especially when the weather is dry, and so the buds can show extreme enations. And when there is drought, as there was here through April and May or 2016, Stardust Dragon collapses, with the foliage withering and falling flat onto the ground. It was one of only two cultivars that did that in 2016 in my garden (Megatron was the other and almost everything I have to say about Stardust Dragon applies equally to my observations, and usage, of Megatron). Finally, in 2016, after the high stress of drought, there was tremendous bud drop when the scapes did emerge and there was some rust on the foliage that fall - not a lot, but it did show it for the first time here. Also, in 2016 I saw seedlings flower that had been made with Stardust Dragon pollen in 2013. They were extremely beautiful with clear pastel colors, light melon or near-white, but I saw considerable pod sterility on them that year and continued to see the majority of Stardust Dragon seedlings be pod difficult. However, a few show good to excellent pod fertility, as one would expect.
As an experiment, I crossed some of the pod and pollen fertile seedlings from Stardust Dragon (F1 x F1 = F2) with each other to see what would happen, and also crossed them to other things that did not have Stardust Dragon as a parent, but instead had both parents with good pod fertility. The seedlings from the Stardust Dragon siblings mated with each other (the F2) have shown poor pod fertility in a very high percentage, as well as showing many of the other problematic traits of Stardust Dragon, while the mating of Stardust Dragon F1 seedlings that were pod fertile with other daylilies with no known history of familial pod sterility and without a known history for the other problem traits seen in Stardust Dragon such as drought-foliage-collapse, ugly foliage or high thrips susceptibility, showed few of the problem traits and a high level of pod fertility. The contrast between the two types of matings was stark and quite telling. I had eliminated Stardust Dragon from pollen breeding rotation in 2016, with 2015 being the last year I used its pollen. I now suspect that was the right step to take, and so the only seedling plants I have retained from Stardust Dragon are F1 seedlings with many good traits. I maintained none of the F2, nor did I make any backcrosses to Stardust Dragon. Of those F1 seedlings that I kept, some few are exceptional and in field testing and breeding testing they do not show or pass on the majority of the problematic traits. I am using these in my breeding program and I will be registering some for introduction (with two amongst the 2021 introductions - Little Dragon On The Prairie and Elven Sunburst click on the links to read more about each one).
So, you can see from this description how I used Stardust Dragon in my program. It is a tertiary plant that was good enough to use, with many good traits and some bad traits, but not good enough to continue using and not good enough that its seedlings can be inbred. So those seedlings I maintain from it have been used, and are being used, and are a part of my program, but I am very careful to not inbreed that line and so they serve as outcrossing lines, being woven into other lines for various purposes. The alternate parent might be inbred, but never Stardust Dragon, for example, Elven Starburst has been crossed with Sun Dragon, inbreeding the fine genetics of Ancient Elf, but outcrossing the Stardust Dragon genetics with Solaris Symmetry genetics. To close this little update, I want to mention that when I moved Stardust Dragon out of my hybridizing garden, I didn't compost it. It is just too beautiful. Instead, I dug it, split it into three sections and gave one to my mom, one to my aunt and one to my brother and sister-in-law, and I love seeing the beautiful flowers every year. I honor its contribution, but I also know its limitations. And all that makes it a tertiary base plant with my program.
In the next installment, we will look at the seedlings I have produced from the four species/species-like bases and the secondary level plants - those selects that have become my own base plants and some that have made it to introduction.