Monday, 15 July 2013

Hybrids Update

 ‘High-breds’ or wanting weeds?

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered..

Gerhard Marx

I have much appreciation for people who enjoy Haworthia hybrids. It reveals the fact that they have a true admiration for the beauty of each individual plant. Our friends in the East seem to have a superior inherent ability for such focused visual appreciation. They appear to look through unspoilt eyes that had been educated to appreciate the subtle colour blending in a jade carving or glazed pottery while our western eyes appear to be suffering from the malnourishment of sparkling candy wrappers and Christmas decorations. But wait, perhaps I am generalizing. Fact remains, the ability to evaluate and appreciate plants purely based upon the character and beauty of each individual is particularly welcome in Haworthia where a tendency seemed to have developed to value only plants with habitat data. Besides, it is ironically becoming more and more evident that there are in fact rather few fully distinct Haworthia species in the wild and that a majority of wild populations suggest complicated transitional interaction that does not exclude periodic natural hybridization. The fact that all members within each sub-genus can hybridize very readily with each other further implies that geographic separation and flowering times are the main efficient barriers applied by nature to keep the various elements separate.
A wonderful feature encountered in all wild populations of Haworthias as well as within batches of seedlings grown in cultivation is the great variation in the appearance of the individual plants. Textures, colours and decorative patterns vary greatly amongst individuals and a number of plants often display exceptionally attractive combinations of features. These attractive plants are then selected and used to give rise to beautiful cultivars by crossing it with equally attractive members of the same kind. Similarly, the best hybrids are also obtained by using the most attractive clones as parents.
In the case of both pure cultivars and hybrid seedlings, the attractive features of the parents are readily inherited by a number of the seedlings and often stunningly enhanced. When creating hybrids the combinations of the features can only be guessed but when selected good looking parents are used, the results will seldom disappoint.
I have often remarked that some of the most attractive Haworthias in my greenhouse are hybrids. I might also have added that some of the least attractive Haworthias in my greenhouse are also hybrids. But perhaps that is another reason why I have a special appreciation for hybrids as they reflect the basic truth of the dualistic nature of life on this planet. Good and bad being the opposite ends of the same stretchable string.
In addition there is the element of the magical and mysterious as one can only partially predict the outcome of any combination. Sometimes the results are far better than predicted, like for example crosses between H. archeri (marumiana) var. dimorpha and H. magnifica var. splendens. Really stunning results were obtained by the latter combination of which ‘Black Knight’ is an example. In contrast, hybrids between very attractive clones of H. badia and H. magnifica var. splendens yielded mostly less eye-catching results than anticipated. But then one is immediately reminded of the excellent results obtained by Bob Kent by crossing H. badia with H. wimii (=magnifica/ emelyae var. major) which yielded the famous and very beautiful ‘Bev’s Wonder’ hybrids.
Haworthia 'Bev's Wonder' X H. 'Aluminum Star'

Hybrids also force us to realize and appreciate the distinctiveness of each individual plant. Not only is there much greater variation between siblings from the same batch of seed but obtaining the exact same results by using the same parents is not quite possible. For example, I have tried repeatedly to create another ‘Lombard Star’ that matches the plant pictured herewith by using the exact same parentage and although a variety of very beautiful plants resulted, not a single one matched the appearance of the original ‘Lombard Star’ precisely. 

Haworthia 'Lombard Star' original.
Haworthia 'Lombard Star' series.

Haworthia 'Lombard Star' series.

Haworthia 'Lombard Star' series.

Hybrid vigour:
Mention must also be made of a very fascinating occurrence frequently found in hybrids and that is the relatively fast growth and vigorous behaviour of seedlings. This is of course the well-known ‘hybrid vigour’ or ‘heterosis’ that is often referred to when offspring display superior qualities to the parents.
A very good example of this was observed when the somewhat unwilling-to-be-propagated and rather slow growing Haworthia magnifica var. splendens was crossed with the extremely slow growing and irrefutably difficult Haworthia marxii. The seed were sown on the same day (7th May 2008) along with batches of pure seed of both H. marxii and H. magnifica var. splendens. Three years later the seedlings of H. splendens X marxii were 6.5 cm wide mature adult flowering plants of which the best clones had already been used as parents for new hybrid combinations. In contrast, the largest May 2008 seedlings of H. marxii measured only 2.5 cm wide after three years and they may not reach flowering size before 2014 or 2015 if I must guess. The May 2008 seedlings of H. splendens measured just under 4 cm wide after three years.
Haworthia splendens X H. marxii.

When I sent photographs of above-mentioned seedlings to a friend, he aptly remarked: “Interesting that one can cross two slow-growing rarities and the resulting seedlings grow like weeds!”
 In an article titled ‘Bastard Beauties’ published in Alsterworthia 9(3) in November 2009 a number of my own best Haworthia hybrid results were illustrated, named and discussed.
Since then my production of Haworthia hybrids has increased and many hundreds of seedlings are in the process of developing. A few of the largest of these are illustrated herewith. As is evident, my emphasis and preferences are restricted mostly to the most attractive retusoid species. I seldom cross-pollinate amongst the ‘soft-leaved’ and green types unless I use a retuse-leaved species as partner. I seldom use H. truncata and H. maughanii as parents because the results are often just grotesque asymmetrical clumps of semi-truncate leaves and generally not attractive in terms of colour. My aim is to obtain neat and compact and very flat retuse-leaved rosettes with unusual texture and colour combinations. If the leaves are somewhat elongated and strongly ‘H. badia-like’ recurved , like in the cases of ‘Aluminum Star’, ‘Tripple B’ and ‘Lombard Star’, then I feel I have reached my goal.
Haworthia 'Avalon' . A rare case of an attractive hybrid with H. truncata/ maughanii in the parentage. 'Avalon' is the result of cross-pollination involving amongst others, H. maughanii and H. mutica 'Drew White'.

Although it is occasionally possible to cross Haworthias across the sub-generic borders, I seldom tried it so far. I did pollinate retuse-leaved Hexangulares like H. koelmaniorum and its variety mcmurtryii as well as H. bruynsii with H. splendens, H. badia, H. marxii, etc. whenever some flowering overlapped as well as H. emelyae, H. bayeri and other members of subgenus Haworthia that regularly share the same flowering period, but with very few fruits and no exceptional seedlings resulting to date. Hybrids between H. bruynsii and H. koelmaniorum were easy and very successful (and also growing with typical hybrid vigour) but also not remarkably attractive.
Apart from the low success rate I have had by cross-pollinating Haworthias from different sub genera, an additional reason for my reluctance to do so is because such hybrids are mostly sterile in my experience. The advantage of hybrids within the same sub-genus is that they are fertile and one can continue to produce many new F2 and F 3 generations by using the most successful hybrids as parents. At the moment I have many seedlings with ‘Lombard Star’, ‘Aluminum Star’, ‘Toff-o-Lux’, ‘Pink Nebula’ etc. as parents. I have to admit that keeping up with the parentage and marking each fruit with coloured thread as I initially did gradually became simply impossible due to the amount of plants that became available to work with.
Although these hybrid seedlings develop comparatively fast, it still takes at least three years on average before they start showing their ‘true colours’. Any Haworthia propagator will know that initially seedlings generally lack the colours, textures and patterns of adult plants. In some cases, like H. truncata and H. maughanii, it may take up to 5 years before a rather dull-looking seedling will suddenly start developing attractive facial lines. Years ago Bob Kent said to me that with H. truncata and var. maughanii seedlings on can easily wait up to seven years before you know which ones can be discarded. And, of course, the older they become the more attractive they develop.

Marx, Gerhard. 2009. Alsterworthia 9 (3): 2 – 12. Bastard Beauties.

Haworthia 'Dracula' series

Haworthia 'Earth Emblem'

Haworthia 'Flicka' series
Haworthia 'Earth Emblem' X 'Bev's Wonder'
Haworthia 'Glossy Garnet'

Haworthia groenewaldii, selected seedling.

Haworthia groenewaldii selected seedling.

Haworthia bobii, selected seedling

Haworthia bobii, selected seedling.

Haworthia 'Lombard Star' X 'Kent's Wonder'

Haworthia 'Lombard Star' X 'Pink Nebula'

Haworthia badia X 'Lombard Star'

Haworthia mutica 'Mumun'

Haworthia 'Noble Star' series

Haworthia 'Noble Star' series.

Haworthia 'Noble Star' series.

Haworthia 'Kent's Wonder' X ' Tripple B'.

Haworthia 'Noble Star' series.

Haworthia 'Peter Pan'.

Haworthia sordida 'Mint Cream'.

Haworthia splendens, selected seedling.

Haworthia splendens, selected seedling.

Haworthia splendens, 'Toffee'.

Haworthia splendens, white seedling.

Haworthia 'Zenith'

Haworthia badia , selected seedling.

Haworthia 'D-Light' X H. marxii.

Haworthia badia , rough seedling.

Haworthia badia, pimpled seedling.

Haworthia bayeri hybrid.

Haworthia bayeri hybrid.

Haworthia bayeri hybrid.

Haworthia bayeri hybrid.

Haworthia bayeri, selected seedling.

Haworthia splendens GM 447, seedling.

Haworthia splendens, white seedling.

Haworthia splendens GM 452.

Haworthia splendens GM 452 ' Collage'.

Haworthia 'D-Light' X H. comptoniana.