> Volume 66
by Brad Thompson
Do I have a goal in mind when I make a
cross between two begonias? The answer is yes.
Is that goal always the same? The answer is
no. There are, however, two basic goals I have
in mind in all crosses I do. One is to create
something different and the second is to
improve on something already done.
What hasn't been done? There are many
traits in begonias that are still waiting to
be developed or developed more, such as a
yellow color in a semperflorens, a palmate
leaf in a cane, a double flower in a cane or a
rhizomatous, an orange color in a superba,
etc. Those traits are drastic changes and may
take years to develop. Although I work towards
creating such drastically new types of
begonias, usually my goals are more subtle,
such as more silver spots, compact growth, or
mildew resistance. An example is my cross of
B. 'Jumbo Jet' with B. dregei
'Glasgow'. B. 'Jumbo Jet' has many good
qualities: ease of culture, mildew resistance,
very large flowers, and nicely cut leaves.
"Faults" that it has are typical of
many superba canes: winter leaf drop, bare
bottom growth, sparser growth, and a tendency
to grow tall. My reasoning was that if I
crossed such a cane with B. dregei I
could solve the faults in both parents and
create a hybrid with the best of both. I chose
a cane that isn't mildew prone to overcome the
mildew prone problem of B. dregei. The
rests of that cross were exactly as expected
(this doesn't always happen, of course). The
canes that resulted such as B. 'Black Gold',
were compact growing, full growing, didn't
drop leaves in winter, but still retained the
large flowers, ease of culture and mildew
resistance of B. 'Jumbo Jet'. A side note: I
chose to use B. dregei 'Glasgow'
because it is the only dregei variety
that doesn't lose its silver spotting on its
leaves. As a general rule, crosses to make
improvements are much more successful than
crosses to create something highly unusual.
My second goal of creating something
drastically new and different is more
challenging. One obstacle to this goal is the
fact that even if the cross is successful, I
still have to be able to grow the resulting
begonias to maturity. Unusual crosses are
usually harder to grow than more
"normal" crosses. I can't tell you
how many times I have crossed a cane with B.
'Charles Jaros' and not been able to keep the
results alive more than a season or two. The
seedlings were exactly what I was trying for,
canes with B. 'Charles Jaros' type leaves, but
difficult to grow outside a terrarium. The
same goes for that elusive yellow superba
cane. There are only a handful of yellow
begonias to work with and all are terrarium
plants, except for B. pearcei, which is
tuberous. B. pearcei is the most likely
choice to use since it is the easiest to grow
and the best yellow. Canes cross easily with B.
pearcei and the seed sprouts easily, but
growing the seedlings has eluded me so far.
They just refuse to grow, though I haven't
given up. My new attack is to first try for a
yellow shrub and then use that to create the
yellow cane. I'll let you know; the seed is
planted. As you can see, creating something
highly unusual isn't always easy or it would
have been done already, but don't give up.
The goal in hybridizing should always be to
create something better, either easier to grow
and maintain or something so unusual everyone
will have to grow it no matter how difficult
it is to grow.
Thompson is noted for his cane hybrids
as well as the rhizomatous. Here, we
see B. 'Maria Holmes' (B. 'Hanna Serr'
x 'Orange Rubra') in a photo of her
plant of this hybrid by Iris Bird
taken in July of 1998. It is, she
says, the same every year, full of
flowers all year long.
Rhizomatous leaves with a double
curl such as Brad Thompson's B. 'Euphates',
below, are popular. Photo by Iris
Brad Thompson, former Begonia
editor and prolific hybridize grows in
Lomita, CA. Anyone who has seen his B.
'Little Miss Mummy' or B. 'Josephine'
(see the March/April Begonian) knows
that Brad does achieve both his goals.