Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more aspidistra (cast iron plants) from seed in the garden. Here are a few of our more interesting seedlings. The first is from our search for a narrow-leaf selection of the common Aspidistra elatior, which has been christened A. ‘Thin Man’. The second is a streaked and spotted form that we named A. ‘Zodiac’. The third is a yet un-named seedling from Aspidistra ‘Snow Cap’. Surprisingly, the white leaf tip trait comes consistently true from seed.
As a plant breeder, one of the cool things we get to do is observe the diversity that arises from a single cross. In some cases, the diversity shows up in the first generation (F1), while in other cases, the first set of offspring need to have sex with each other for the diversity in the offspring to reveal itself (Mendelian genetics). Fortunately, with agaves, we can see quite a bit of diversity in the F1 populations.
Below is a cross we call Agave x amourifolia, which is our cross of Agave ovatifolia, pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox of Hort.), and lophantha. Here are three of our selected seedlings from that cross.
Plant #1 below is showing the large size of Agave x pseudoferox and the color of Agave ovatifolia (blue), with little visible influence of the narrow leaf, yellow-centered Agave lophantha.
Plant #2 below show more color influence from Agave x pseudoferox, but with the compact form influence of Agave ovatifolia.
Plant #3 below shows equal parts Agave x pseudoferox and ovatifolia, but also, what appears some leaf narrowing we would expect from Agave lophantha.
Below is Agave x flexiferox, created from a cross of the small Agave flexispina x the giant pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox (Hort.). Plant #1 shows the small size of Agave flexispina, with the greenish coloration of Agave x pseudoferox.
Below, Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’ shows the larger size and overall coloration from Agave x pseudoferox, with some added blue tones from Agave flexispina.
Below is Agave x victoferox, a cross of Agave victoriae-reginae x pseudoferox. Plant #1 below shows the form and size of Agave victoriae-reginae with the color of Agave x psedoferox.
Hybrid #2 below shows the teeth from Agave x psedoferox (victoriae-reginae has no teeth), and a size intermediate between the two parents.
Hybrid #3 below shows a larger size and more teeth due to more genes from Agave x pseudoferox. The teeth are much smaller because of the Agave victoriae-reginae genes. The splendid compact form also comes from the Agave x victoriae-reginae parent. This cross almost resembles the Northern Mexican Agave montana.
We hope this gives you a small peek into the world of plant breeding and the subsequent evaluation and selection process.
There’s a reason hostas are the #1 perennial in the US. The incredible diversity of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors are one, combined with the array of climates in which they thrive. It’s long been rumored that hostas don’t grow well here in Zone 7b, but that simply isn’t the case if you prepare your soil properly (lots of compost) and allow for plenty of summer moisture.
Below are a few hosta cultivars that are looking particularly nice this week at JLBG. Of course, the proverbial deer-in-the-room is that hosta make quite the tasty buffet for both humans and wood rats. Deer fences and organic sprays all work, but the breakthrough will come when CRISPR technology is used to implant the Capsaicin (pepper) gene in hostas, rendering them too hot for most deer.
Here are a few of our favorites this week. Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’ has shown incredible vigor.
Love the over-the-top waviness of Hosta ‘Wheee!’
Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ has it all…vigor, size, ruffles, a nice flower show, and great leaf coloration. Did I mentioned that it’s also very sun tolerant if the soil is moist?
Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’ is also very sun tolerant with amazingly corrugated leaves and great vigor on a fairly large clump.
Hosta ‘Do Wap’ is one of our yet to be introduced hybrids from our work to create blue hostas that hold the color well into the summer.
Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’ didn’t get a lot of fanfare when it was introduced, but this has been exceptional in our gardens at JLBG. Hope these entice you to explore this amazing genus.
Several of our volunteers have dabbled with cactus breeding, so here is one of the hybrids we’re currently enjoying at JLBG, thanks to the creative efforts of Mike Papay. The top image is the female parent, Notocactus ottonis (yellow). The middle image is the male parent, Notocactus herteri var. roseoluteus (pink). The bottom image is the new hybrid, Notocactus x hertonis (peachy orange).
One of the most rewarding parts of our work is being able to introduce a plant we’ve taken from idea (branched flower scapes) to reality. We are finally able to share our latest creation this week with the introduction of Hosta ‘Branching Out’. The first cross in the long road from creation to market took place here in 1989. A seedling was selected that was later crossed with another 1995 seedling, which was later crossed with a 1999 seedling, which in 2004 was crossed with the blue-leaved Hosta ‘Pewterware’, after we noticed that both hostas would occasionally produce a single-branched flower scape. We evaluated the resulting 2004 seedlings for several years before paring down their numbers in the semi-final cut. We were looking for good branching, attractive flowers, and sturdy stems. Once the final selection was made, we watched it for four more years to make sure it consistently branched in the garden, during which time, we also sent it north to evaluate its performance in colder climates. Not wanting to significantly disturb the main clump, we removed a single division in 2012, which was divided annually. Finally, in 2016, we are pleased to release our new baby to gardeners around the world. We hope you find this as exciting in your garden as we do in ours.
Thanks for the great feedback on the hosta image. Since most folks don’t have experience in plant breeding, we thought it might be interesting to share the crosses and parents involved to get to this point. Our Hosta is PDN#10-004 and is a cross of PDN07-0793 x ((PDN05-156 x PDN04-180) (kikutii x ‘Gemstone’ (venusta ‘Minima’ x ‘Dorset Blue’) (longipes ‘Tardiflora’ x sieboldiana) x (venusta ‘Minima’ x self)) x PDN07-0100 ((‘Faith’ (‘Evening Magic’ (montana gold x sieboldiana) x ‘Big Daddy’ (‘Fortunei Robusta’) x PDN04-182) (kikutii x ‘Gemstone’) venusta ‘Minima’ x ‘Dorset Blue’ (longipes ‘Tardiflora x sieboldiana) x ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ (Blue Cadet sport)) So, the species included in creating this are Hosta venusta, sieboldiana, kikutii, longipes, and montana.