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Home > Begonian > Volume 66 (July/August 1999)

Hybridizing with a Purpose
by Greg Sytch

Part One

For all those would-be hybridizers who feel that this is an area best left to the more experienced, delight in knowing that hybridizing is just an easy way of playing bee or Genetics 101. It allows creativity, expression, and upon your first successful selection, elation.

I have found the most difficult part of hybridizing is the selection process. A successful cross can yield hundred of seedlings, most look-alikes. How is it possible to grow them all? It is not, even for myself with greenhouses and a mild climate. Then, how do you choose? You make your best guess!

Upon transferring male pollen to a female blossom, you should have a purpose in mind. List your priorities of a good hybrid and select accordingly.

In 1997, I crossed B. 'Flutterby' with B. 'Di-Anna'. My goal was to achieve the unusual and beautiful foliage of B. 'Flutterby' on a sturdier grower that would be easier to grow. I find B. 'Flutterby' a bit temperamental and its leaves curl and frill to such an extent that debris is often harbored near the petiole. This creates opportunity for disease. It can disfigure the specimen, and lastly, I do not have time to constantly preen the plant. I also find that B. 'Flutterby' blooms at an annoying pace -- almost everblooming -- so cuttings can be difficult to come by (never snip a cutting from a bloom node). Do not get me wrong, I love B. 'Flutterby', but if I had a perfect world...

Everyone should know B. 'DiAnna'. Fast, beautiful, lushly spotted leaves, everblooming, but not from every node. Rather compact, it is a survivor. In my perfect world, I would want B. 'Di-Anna' to transfer all of these positive traits, but retain the beauty of B. 'Flutterby'. Just tweak 'Flutterby' a little. So how does one select?

Part Two

The selection process begins. In this case, my cross of B. 'Flutterby' x B. 'Di-Anna' produced the usual hundred or more seedlings. I utilize the pastry clamshells from the supermarket for starting seeds, just sprinkling on the surface any seed that will release from the pod. In 7 to 21 days, green specks of growth appear (Hopefully not algae).

In 3 to 4 months, the seedlings are at the top of the container properly cared for -- misted with a pinch of fertilizer and checked for water weekly. The top lid should be left slightly ajar for the last week to acclimate the seedlings. A riot of color is a feast for sore eyes as looking from above, selection seems impossible. They all look so beautiful.

One key thought to keep in mind when selecting cane seedlings is that at this age, most are very colorful, displaying much silver that should fade with maturity. Look for leaves with heavy spotting, curls, furls, frills, reds and roses. Not just the eye-catching silver streaks. I chose three dozen seedlings to pot into 3" pots, and they went straight into my propagation greenhouse. Here, it is warm, not too bright, and humid. In two months, they are ready for 4 1/2" pots. In two more months, they are ready for 6" pots. This is when the true selection begins.

As mature leaves unfurl, you will have a feel for the color, shape, and style each seedling will possess. Trash those seedlings that do not meet criteria. In my case, by the time I repotted into two gallon pots, I had selected seven seedlings. Currently I have named three, all beautiful plants in three gallon pots. A few are "still being evaluated." But my biggest surprise came from the flowering. One is orange, another is orange-red, and still another is orange-salmon. Was it worth the effort? Yes! Is it easy? Yes! Just wait until you see B. 'Tequila Sunrise' or B. 'Tangerine Twist'. You'll know it was definitely worth it.

Greg who grows in Florida is another noted hybridizer with such beauties as B. 'Aripeka' and B. 'Kissammee'to his credit.

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