The deck was stacked against them, and their numbers were dwindling. The genocide in Rwanda allowed chaos in which poaching thrived. The rebel Tutsi General Nkunda set up his fiefdom just across the border in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. He sold access to the Mountain gorillas on his side of the border, but rivals shot gorillas to deprive him of revenue. Over much of their limited and shrinking range they were killed for bush meat and body-part souvenirs. Their numbers fell to barely 700.

Fortunately, Rwanda stabilized and got serious about protecting their gorillas in the Virunga Volcanos National Park. Uganda, also, put serious muscle into protecting its Mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Preserve, which adjoins the Virunga N. P. In January, 2009, Nkunda was captured along the Rwanda/Congo border. Real protection in The DRC is now a possibility.

AK47-armed park rangers in Rwanda and Uganda have helped stop murders of gorillas in these two countries, but ecotourism has both financed their protection and made allies of the people living around the borders of the parks. Some of these same people used to make a living killing and selling bush meat from the parks. They now have new opportunities as guides, porters, vendors of gorilla paraphernalia, and as part of a new service industry which has grown up to take care of ecotourists who pay $100+ a night for a tent and $600 to sit for one magical hour with a family of wild Mountain gorillas. The scientists and rangers alone could not have reversed the decline of this endangered species. Only by enlisting the cooperation of the local people and giving them a stake in the welfare of the gorillas did these wonderful animals become relatively safe.

Hopefully, The DRC will recover from its protracted civil war and ensure protection of its significant population of Mountain gorillas in the same way that Rwanda and Uganda have. This is especially important because a gorilla family’s foraging range may overlap the unmarked national borders.

In the last ten years, the gorilla populations in Rwanda and Uganda have remained stable or increased slightly, depending on whose census you believe. They are reproducing, but poachers and the Ebola virus have taken a toll. Now the best estimate of the total population in the three countries which share the Mountain gorilla’s range is 750. Compared to 1997, that is a conservation success story. As long as the political balance favors conservation and local people can make a living from ecotourism instead of killing the gorillas, they have a fairly secure future in their misty mountain retreat.

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Preserve in Southwestern Uganda is home to five habituated gorilla families who see and recognize a park ranger every day and a small group of ecotourists about every other day. There are also about twenty five non-habituated groups which would be dangerous to approach. We visited the Mubare family. We were enchanted. They were alternately mildly amused or completely oblivious to our presence, even at a distance of ten feet. The trek through steep terrain covered with thick, often thorny jungle to see them may take one to ten hours, but the one hour you get to sit with a family of wild gorillas is pure gold. When my wife, Crow, chewed a leaf to put the animals more at ease, one adult female, Kashundwe, rolled on the ground in what had to be mirth.

For now, the odds are improving for the Mountain gorillas. They are as safe as people, knowing and caring about them, want them to be. For more information and video clips of them, Google: Bwindi gorillas.

First, let me assure you that I’m talking about the genus Lilium and not the genus Hemerocallis. I have no bone to pick with that other genus or with its devotees, but it is tedious, when I say “I grow lilies,” for people’s faces to brighten up as they exclaim how they just love “Daylilies,” too. Their brows invariably furrow in confusion when I say “no, I grow the true lilies.” Then I’m into a 15 minute discourse about the 25-30 plants that are called “lilies” as part of their common name, which are only distantly, if at all, related to the genus Lilium. Thank goodness I don’t need to do that for this group since we only have 30 minutes.

I’ll also dispense with a discussion of the species lilies since most of them are at best difficult to grow in average garden conditions. The modern lily hybrids, however, are much easier and much more rewarding as dependable, high performing, star-quality perennials.

We are at the Southern edge of the areas where lilies grow to perfection. Most are grown in the Northern US and Southern Canada. Obviously winter hardiness is not a problem here. Lilies grow like weeds where people have to bury their water lines 5′-7′ deep. Our soil seldom freezes down to the level where the bulbs are. That is actually a problem because they tend to come up too soon in Spring, and they get frost-nibbled. Further North the soil stays cold enough to keep the shoots dormant until it really is Spring. Shoots start emerging here in mid March. To avoid frost damage, apply mulch in increments to cover precocious shoots until the last expected Spring frost, around here about the first week of April.

Most lilies like full sun and will tend to lean toward the light if planted in shade or against a wall. The taller types often need staking, particularly if they are heavy with buds or if you have overused the nitrogen fertilizers. The Oriental lilies are the exception to the full sun rule. They evolved on cool, moist, volcanic slopes, of which there are precious few in Arkansas. They are the most beautiful, but tend to die quickly in our hot summers and fusarium infested soil. Grow them in pots in a cool greenhouse, or at least provide afternoon shade.

Most lilies prefer slightly acidic soil, pH 4.5-6.0, with extra peat and sand worked in. In their natural habitat, the species are often found in open pine forests among Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and Hollies. Most lilies evolved on fairly steep slopes in Europe, Siberia, Northern China, and Japan. They absolutely demand perfect drainage. My best plants grow in raised beds. If a soil will grow good root crops, such as carrots & potatoes, or even corn, it will probably grow good lilies as well. They suffocate in clay soil, but revel in an organic sandy loam. Lily roots need air. There is even one species, Lilium arboricola, which grows like an orchid in the crotches of rain forest trees in the Philippines, hundreds of inches of rain, but perfect drainage and air around the roots. Normally we get about 45 inches of rain and that’s usually plenty, I seldom water my lilies except in severe drought when the plants are trying to grow seed pods. Frankly, its easy to over-water them, especially if they are in tight soil, and growing in level ground.

When watering lilies, use the soaker hose, not a sprinkler. Water on the foliage which does not dry by nightfall promotes botrytis leaf and flower blight. It’s hard to avoid in our climate, especially, if the early foliage has been damaged by late frost. I have tried any number of fungicides, none of which gave perfect control of botrytis problems. Botrytis is a leaf disease, but the spores live over the winter in dead leaves on the ground. You can reduce early Spring re infection of the new leaves by cleaning away the current year’s stalks as soon as they start to turn yellow in late summer and fall. Adding a new layer of mulch in Spring will also help to avoid rain splattering the infectious spores from the soil surface up onto the new leaves.

There are lots of good mulches for lilies, everything from hardwood sawdust to rice hulls to pine needles to cottonseed hulls to shredded leaves. When thinking mulch, think light, non-packing and easily permeable by our old friend AIR! Lilies love mulch, but unfortunately, so do mice and voles who love to eat lily bulbs. If you have rodents, use a minimum of mulch or you will be replanting every year. My raised beds are lined with half inch hardware cloth to keep Mickey and Minnie away from the most precious breeding stock.

If you use chemical fertilizers use low nitrogen formulas like Propell 6-24-24. I use chemicals and organics, generously. As both a soil conditioner and a source of micro nutrients, I till in at least an inch of alfalfa pellets before planting a new bed. After planting, especially in Spring, I use another half inch or more as mulch. I have no problem with organic gardening as it applies to building a rich, moisture retentive, well drained, well aerated habitat for lily roots, but fusarium loves that habitat, too, and remains viable as a pathogen for at least 5 years after it has killed the lilies planted there. The only real defense is to plant varieties of lilies that are proven resistant or tolerant to the disease. Commercial lily bulb growers have the luxury of renting new fields which have not grown lily bulbs before for each 2 year planting. Gardeners don’t have that luxury. We soon run out of new soil. Over time we find out which lilies will tolerate a buildup of warm soil pathogens like fusarium and anthracnose.

In our area, the best adapted lilies are the Chinese trumpets such as the Regal Lily and the Aurelian hybrids which are crosses between the trumpets and Lilium henryi. They bloom in June and July, and they don’t mind hot summers. Many gardeners also do well with the Asiatic hybrids which bloom here from Late may into early July. There is a very good color assortment, but there is no blue in the genus Lilium. God, I hate it when florists dye lilies blue.

It’s all the rage now to soak stems of white lilies in dye solution to match the bridesmaids’ dresses. That’s not gilding the lily, that’s gelding the lily and we hates it Mr. Baggins.

Lily bulbs are best bought and planted as soon as possible in October and November. For freshest bulbs (very important) and best selection get them from a local lily Society Fall bulb sale (which you don’t have, but Springfield, MO, does) or a lily specialty catalog of which there are several. If you see a bulb in a garden center or worse yet, the garden department of a department store, it has probably been poorly stored and would be unlikely to perform well for you. Lily bulbs are never completely dormant like a tulips or daffodils. They dry out and die. Freshness is essential. If you receive fresh bulbs and can’t plant them immediately, keep them in the refrigerator at 35° F until you can plant them outside.

It takes 2 or 3 years to get a blooming lily from lily seed, and only the better gardeners are that patient. I see quite a few of that kind in the audience today, so if you would like to flex your creativity with a truly magnificent genus, please talk to me at lunch about hybridizing lilies, my main gardening obsession. My breeding involves the new group of hybrids called “Orienpets” which combine the beauty of the Oriental lilies with the garden adaptability of the trumpets. These new hybrids will extend the area where lilies can be grown deep into the South and Southwest. They are knockout beauties which dominate the landscape in their season. Once you grow them, you won’t be able to get enough of them. Shall I tease you with a few slides?

Before we break for lunch, let me plug the North American Lily Society, the only international group in this hemisphere devoted to Lilium. We have an annual international show (Boston this July), yearbook, Quarterly bulletin, Seed Exchange, library, slide shows and a host of other member services for the reasonably low price of $20.00 a year. Also the Ozark Regional Lily Society centered around Springfield MO, has a show and Quarterly cultural meetings and bulb sales. See me later for sources of the best lily bulbs.

Sometimes collecting , growing, and showing your lilies just isn’t enough. The day may come when your garden does not have room for one more lily, but your creative urges kick in and you say, “I want lilies that are newer than new. I want to create my own originals to suit my own tastes.” When I came to that point, a whole new world of enjoyment and fulfillment opened up in my somewhat small, untidy, country garden.

Fortunately, many openhearted and openhanded professionals and advanced amateurs helped me reach higher and steer clear of some time wasting mistakes. Here are a few things I’ve learned from some fine human beings, some living and some sadly gone, from over the garden fence and over the Internet, a synergy that spawns epiphany.

All of my hybridizing heroes would have agreed that to succeed you must focus on what you most want to accomplish, and don’t take your eyes off the prize. I’d love to grow some of everything, but I don’t have the room, time, or strength. Possum Holler is a “fur piece” from the climate where most lilies thrive. It is zone 6 at the western edge of the Ozark hill country. The sorry clay soil, what there is of it, needs a lot of help and tends to build up soil borne diseases. Late frosts are maddeningly destructive, and this predisposes damaged plants to botrytis in our wet spring weather. In June the rain stops, and the Devil is right at home in our blazing hot, dry but humid summer. I call it Lily Hell.

My first focus was on developing lilies which would thrive in the South. Having tried some of almost everything commercially available, the survivors gave me an idea of where to start. Unfortunately, few orientals, my favorites, were survivors. The Aurelians, by contrast, are happy enough here in Lily Hell.

A visit with LeVern Freimann in 1987 convinced me that the new orienpet hybrids were the way to go. By combining oriental bloom qualities with aurelian heat and disease tolerance, I might have the best of both. LeVern had started in this direction with a foundation of ‘Tetra Black Beauty’ and ‘Tetra Journey’s End, ‘ both of which he converted using the mashed pulp of colchicum bulbs. His ‘Scarlet Delight’ came from this cross. Peter Schenk’s ‘Arabesque’ has the same breeding. I set about to build on the possibilities they brought to light.

L. speciosum is the only source of heat tolerance and virus tolerance among the Oriental species, so it is no surprise that two of its older hybrids, ‘Journey’s End’ and ‘Allegra,’ are some of the few oriental hybrids which persist here. Happily, a new, more outfacing white oriental, ‘Alma Ata,’ introduced by Johan Mak, also shows reasonable heat tolerance. Since I need these clones for breeding in a tetraploid orienpet gene pool, I have sent them to Iribov, a company in The Netherlands which specialized in tissue culture and conversion of diploid lilies to tetraploids. At current prices of about US $300 per clone they convert it to tetraploid and multiply the conversion to about 50 bulblets. I do some conversions myself with oryzalin, but it is a slow and uncertain procedure requiring many scales. If you want to convert something rare or expensive, you need fast guaranteed results.

Part II

After setting your goal, spend some serious study time deciding what available breeding material might get your program on the right track. Here, reading will help, but learning everything you can from other, more advanced, addicts is one of the most enjoyable parts. If you are lucky, this phase can last the rest of your life. N.A.L.S. is rich in experienced hybridizers who are easier to get started talking than they are to stop. Don’t be shy. Just have the tape running, and pack a spare. You probably wouldn’t be able to write fast enough .

Part III

When assembling potential breeding stock, don’t hobble yourself by getting only one bulb of each clone. Unless something is very new and expensive, get at least 3 or more of each clone and at least a dozen of a strain or a species. If you have only one bulb of something important to your plan and a gopher eats it, you waste a year or more trying to replace it and make the crucial cross. Accidents and critters happen, so prepare for the worst.

If you mature more good seed than you need, the N.A.L.S. Seed Exchange would love to share it with our members. If you would rather keep it, freeze it in small airtight containers after it is well dried. The same goes for pollens. I freeze pollens of late blooming clones to use on early blooming types the following spring. When the stored variety blooms again, I toss the old and replace it with fresh. Make sure it is well dried before freezing pollen. Two or three days in an air-conditioned room is fine for most types, a day or two longer for big tetraploid anthers. I pick anthers before they open so I’m sure they have not been contaminated with other pollens by critters. It saves more precious pollen, too.

I use the APC rule: Always Plant Chaff. You would be surprised how many chaffy, worthless looking seeds actually germinate if they get a chance. The really surprising part is that these seedlings often appear just as strong as seedings from plumper seeds with visible embryos. An article on this surprising finding was published by N.A.L.S. not long ago (****Help me here, Gene.)

Professional hybridizers have some very big advantages which speed their progress. From Ed McRae I learned that one advantage is being able to raise a Significant Seedling Population from any given cross. If you have at least 100 seedlings to choose from in a cross, you have a good idea of what that cross can produce in quality and variation. If you have only 5 seedlings from a cross, did you flower the best ones possible from your cross? Maybe, but probably not. Don’t waste 3 or 4 years repeating a cross because you didn’t flower enough seedlings to get the best out of a cross the first time.

Part IV

Cull your seedlings ruthlessly! Shame on anyone who saves and breeds with a seedling which has a gorgeous bloom, but has low vigor and low tolerance to the common lily diseases. It will help your project and your reputation immeasurably if you resist the temptation to breed with an attractive seedling in its first bloom season. Let it get full-size and demonstrate some admirable traits besides individual bloom quality before you devote the rest of your garden to its seedlings. Too often a flashy newcomer declines in year 2, 3, and 4. You can cull faster by not spraying your seedlings. Mom and the aphids will show you pretty quickly which ones are prone to late frost damage, botrytis, fusarium, and virus.

Sometimes we don’t have enough choices in healthy, vigorous breeders. I have used Asano’s 82-111 (Auratum x henryi) which was potentially valuable as a bridging hybrid in the orienpet group, but it is notoriously dominant in passing on virus susceptibility to most of its seedlings. I tried to use it with only very virus tolerant pod parents such as ‘Journey’s End’ and persistent seedlings from my ‘Tetra Black Beauty’ hybrids. Still, most of the seedlings showed virus symptoms within 3 years. No matter how pretty the bloom is, if it starts showing the blotchy, streaky, pale foliage typical of virus infection, the seedling is history.

Part V

If you think you have a winner, share bulbs with far flung friends who will tell you the truth about how the seedling performs for them under different conditions. We have a saying here in the South: “Every mother crow thinks her little ones are the blackest.” I do too, so I send seedlings to friends on both coasts, as well as the upper Midwest and Canada. Happily, the seedlings often do better closer to Lily Heaven (the flanks of Mt. Hood) than they do here in the Devil’s Kitchen. Still, I’m looking for seedlings which thrive in the land of gumbo and grits as well as they do inthe land of lutefisk and latté.

I have yet to solve the problem of how to get a proven winner seedling from the test garden to the mass market. If you want to compete in the mass garden market you need a commercial grower and a wholesaler/retailer for promotion and distribution. Usually, the amateur hybridizer ends up trying to sell his seedling to a large bulb company for very little money in hope that the little darling will brighten the gardens of countless thousands. Usually, it doesn’t. We often hear that there isn’t much profit in garden-type lilies, which is the reason most large companies aren’t interested in what we do. They would rather sell us their surplus forcing-type lilies as appropriate for gardens all across North America. We keep falling for it and blaming ourselves when they fail to perform well. What’s wrong with this picture?

North American gardeners have discovered lilies, and they will pay a good price for quality and diversity. They are becoming more sophisticated, however, wanting a dependable hardy perennial instead of an expensive annual. There are a lot of excellent new garden lilies in the back yards of amateur hybridizers. Who will step up to this opportunity with the know how and financial backing to bring North American gardeners really good garden-adapted lilies in the mass market venues where they already buy billions of dollars’ worth of other plants and supplies?

Every June and July morning when the first bloom seedlings are opening, I bounce out of bed like I was on springs. What a thrill it is to see the new faces and know that they may make a real difference in the enjoyment of lilies for many fellow gardeners whose climates were too hostile for lilies of the past. If I could make a wish for the new year, it would be that all of you could enjoy the same feeling of fulfillment by making your own crosses and flowering your own seedlings.

In the US lily fanciers mostly grow hybrids for two reasons. The first is that most species, including our own, are not easily pleased by the widely varying conditions in our suburban gardens. The second is that the great majority of the cultivars available to us have been the hybrid products of the cut flower industry.

Since the loss of Oregon Bulb Farms, many amateurs and small companies have tried to carry on with hybridizing programs which aimed to produce lilies which were widely adapted and disease tolerant. The North American Lily Society has stimulated interest in both hybridizing and the appreciation of the pure species through its seed exchange, educational programs, international shows, and affiliated regional lily societies. A new organization affiliated with NALS is the Species Lily Preservation Group. Its members are devoted to the culture, propagation, and dissemination of bulbs, pollens, and seed of the world’s Lilium species, with a keen interest in the rare ones. The collection is growing rapidly, and the plants are being propagated up on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Hood, near Portland ,Oregon. Our grower is Mr. Edward McRae, a native of Scotland, trained at Kew Gardens, and employed for many years as head hybridizer by Mr. Jan de Graaff at Oregon Bulb Farms. A most exciting development for species devotees is the recent availability of rare and even previously unknown species from China, the likely cradle of Lilium evolution. Mr. McRae is now growing seedlings from these recent Chinese imports, including L. rosthornii, L. bakerianum, L. taliense, L. amoenum, L. wardii, and L. speciosum var. gloriosoides, which will both delight the species purists and eventually benefit the hybrid gene pool as well.

Lily hybridizing in North America is done in the three main areas of the Northern US and the Southern parts of the Canadian Provinces from British Columbia to Ontario. Commercial production has been mostly along the Pacific coast, but there are many dedicated amateur hybridizers in the upper Midwest, centered in Minnesota, as well as the Northeast US from Maryland well into Ontario. Most of my hybridizing friends work with asiatics and aurelians, since these are generally adapted, somewhat disease tolerant, and fertile without the need for special techniques. Unlike cut flower types, our lilies can be any color, any season, any flower orientation. In short they can show any variations which please us, as long as they are vigorous, hardy perennials. North American amateurs are not trying to turn Lilium into Tulipa.

In the last 20 years, there has been great interest in the tetraploid asiatics because of their stronger stems and larger blooms. Tetras are also capable of producing much more variation among the seedlings in a single cross, an obvious advantage when one is looking for the charming novelty. Great progress has been made in this group and others because of the extensive cooperation between amateur hybridizers, and even with some commercial hybridizers. This has certainly been a great joy to me because some of my best friends have been those I met through hybridizing.

Here at Possum Holler, my greatest frustration was that I could not maintain the orientals. Most succumbed to our summer heat and warm-soil pathogens such as fusarium and rhizoctonia within a year or two. The Aurelians and Chinese trumpets are much more tolerant of our heat and clay soils, however. So, when I heard about the new group of hybrids with the somewhat unfortunate name “orienpets” which combined the orientals with the trumpets and aurelians, I sought out the pioneers who were doing this hybridizing. They were LeVern Freimann, Leslie Woodriff, Peter Schenk, Wilbert Ronald, Robert Griesbach, and Judith Freeman. These new hybrids are high performers in gardens from coast to coast, as evidenced by their domination of the annual Lily Popularity Poll conducted by the North American Lily Society. Most are large plants, often 2-2.5 M tall with 20-60 blooms which will stop traffic for several weeks in the summer season. ‘Scheherazade,’ ‘Northern Carillon/Silk Road,’ and ‘Leslie Woodriff’ are three of the best.

The best part is that in seedlings from this group I can select for intermediate and oriental type blooms on plants which show great vigor and dependability here in the sunny South. That is, if I can overcome the fertility problems, which are daunting. Fortunately, our 30-35C degree summer heat allows more embryos to form than a cooler climate might. Also, I’ve learned to do embryo culture at the kitchen table, which allows me to save embryos from crosses not possible otherwise. To expand the polyploid orienpet or “OT” gene pool, I convert diploid cultivars to tetraploids using colchicine or oryzalin. At home it is a slow and uncertain process, so I also send potential breeders to Iribov bv in the Netherlands to be converted.

My first orienpet crosses were based on the tetraploid form of Black Beauty (Lilium speciosum x Lilium henryi), perhaps the most widely adapted and “bombproof” lily known. It grows well almost everywhere. I wanted its vigor, adaptability, and disease resistance in my seedlings. It delivers all these qualities, but the speciosum red color is double dominant. You start getting clean non-red colors in the second outcross from tetra Black Beauty. Fortunately, even in the second outcross, it’s vigor is still evident, though disease resistance and adaptability will be influenced by the diluting parents of the F1 and later generations. Using Lilium auratum hybrids and Lilium rubellum hybrids in crosses with the Black Beauty seedlings gives beautiful forms and clear, true pinks, but greatly diminishes disease tolerance.

My next project was to cross the strongest orientals, such as ‘Jouney’s End’ and ‘Allegra’ onto my best aurelian trumpets. I got some very nice intermediate forms from these crosses which appear to be both heat and disease tolerant. Some are diploid, and some are triploid, which often happens for reasons I don’t understand, in wide crosses. Triploids pollinated by tetraploids may produce a few tetras and a few triploids. Most triploids are rather infertile.

Currently, my strategy is to work more tetra orientals into the orienpet hybrids while selecting for heat tolerance and disease tolerance. This will eventually fulfill the dream of combining the beauty of the orientals with the garden adaptability of the aurelians. This would create oriental type lilies which would thrive in the Southern half of the US, a significant increase in our potential market for garden lilies.

Possum Holler affords only a modest space in a mixed oak-hickory woodland setting. The soil is clay loam and rather thin, overlying a flinty limestone base, far from ideal for any sort of Lilium. For these reasons, I have sought associations with professional growers like Don Egger of Cebeco Lilies, USA, Aurora, Oregon, and Wilbert Ronald of Jefferies Nursery near Winnipeg, Manitoba. I can make the crosses and rescue the embryos in my kitchen-laboratory, but I need the pros to grow them on to maturity so we can select the next generation. Right now, the project is recovering from several disasters, including the consolidation of Cebeco’s research and development operation back to the Netherlands. My good friend Ed McRae is growing my seedlings up on Mt. Hood, near his precious species seedlings. This summer, we will select the best of the best for propagation and introduction. A year of tissue culture and two or three years in the field may produce our first crop.

The accompanying photos show interesting intermediate forms and colors possible in the first to third generations of orienpet seedlings. Each cross back to one side or the other of the orienpet family influences the balance between beauty and garden utility. As we say here in the country, “It’s hard to get all your coons up the same tree!” LeVern Friemann, my greatest amateur hybridizing hero, reminded me many times to “Never give up!” I won’t.

In our heart of hearts all hybridizers want to combine the best qualities of all lilies into a series of fabulous beauties with new forms, colors, habits and seasons. They would be so vigorous, adaptable, and healthy that soon they would be as common as those impostors which only borrow the name lily. Alas, the dream is not yet made flesh, but we are working on it.

Hybrids from different horticultural divisions of the genus Lilium are very hesitant to cross with each other. Species can be even more picky about partners. And yet, with persistence and special techniques sometimes we can coax a miracle out of unlikely and unwilling pairs. One special technique which takes advantage of the occasional halfhearted attempt to produce viable offspring by distantly related lilies is embryo culture or EC. Sometimes a cross will produce one or a few embryos in the seed pod but no normal endosperm, which is the life support system for the embryo. Ordinarily, when this happens the embryo will die as soon as the mature pod starts to dry. The hopeful hybridizer would again be shaking his head over empty seedling flats.

If , however, the embryo is rescued from the green pod and planted on sterile nutrient medium which substitutes for the endosperm, it can grow rapidly and become a valuable hybridizing link between the two parent groups. Until recently EC was thought to be the province of cloistered academics and professional lab technicians, requiring elaborate equipment and exotic potions. No more. In 1987 at the Portland NALS show, Judith McRae taught a large group of amateurs to use the technique utilizing kitchen technology.

If you can muster a large pressure cooker, a sterilizable box with a transparent lid and arm holes in the front, and some supplies from Carolina Biological Supply you can soon see results from breakthrough crosses that would be impossible without embryo culture.

The orienpets are hybrids between orientals and trumpets or aurelians. This difficult interdivisional cross has already begun to combine oriental bloom characteristics with the disease resistance and adaptability of aurelians. So far, the orienpets are as a group not very fertile, though many crosses will form embryos without endosperm. This hybrid group is benefiting greatly from the use of EC in the hands of quite a few amateurs as well as pros in North America. Hopefully, each succeeding generation of orienpets will produce a few seedlings a bit more fertile than the last. By selecting for fertility perhaps someday we won’t need EC anymore.

Thunderbolt is an aneuploid, but it breeds as if it were a triploid, that is , it’s slightly pod fertile with tetra aurelian and tetra orienpet pollens. My first successful EC was done one year after I was able to obtain one of Dr. Robert Griesbach’s white tetra aurelians from Borbeleta Gardens. Thunderbolt formed 20 good embryos and a lot more weird ones which didn’t survive. Several clones of (Tb X GW) still exist, all very robust and attractive tetras which form healthy, viable seed when crossed with tetra aurelians. One of the best new orienpets available commercially is ‘Scheherazade’ which Judith McRae selected from her cross (Thunderbolt x tetra Black Beauty), made possible by EC.

Most of my EC now, however, is used on crosses involving seedlings descended from tetra Black Beauty. LeVern Freimann had a dream many years ago that Black Beauty could be the foundation of great garden hardy lilies with oriental type blooms in many colors and forms. He converted Black Beauty to tetraploid status with the mashed pulp of colchicum bulbs because it contains the alkaloid colchicine which interrupts cell division in the first stage of scale bulblet formation. Then he used the tetra pollen on Thunderbolt to create an amazingly vigorous and beautiful series of bred tetras. A commercial lab did the EC on this cross for him. LeVern sent me one of these seedlings in 1989, and I set right to work using pollens from Dr. Griesbach’s tetra aurelians on it and on other orientpets. Most seedlings descended from tetra Black Beauty will form seed pods as big as your fist, which in the latter stages of maturity will give you a very ego-inflating sense of accomplishment. The crash comes when you open the green pods in your sterile transfer case and find few, if any, live embryos. Nonetheless, if you made plenty of pollenations of each cross you can salvage a respectable number of embryos. If all goes well, about half of these will grow on your lily multiplication medium.

I place tubes in bright light at room temperature. You can see the embryos turning from white to green within 7-10 days . Check the tubes at least once a week for contamination. If you see a tiny spot of mold or bacterial growth, immediately transfer the embryo to a fresh tube. I rinse it with chlorhexidine surgical scrub diluted with distilled water. Good luck. Most attempts to salvage embryos from contaminated tubes fail. This year was a lucky one; only about 10% of the tubes became contaminated. Careful attention to sterility inside the EC transfer case is critical. Surgical gloves and keeping instruments and pods wet with 10% bleach solution helps avoid contamination.

Some people take the seedlings out of the tubes as soon as leaves and roots form, planting the seedlings in pots of sterilized soil-less potting mix with a clear plastic ventilated cap until growth resumes. Other people grow the seedlings on through the winter still in the tubes. In early spring they wash the bulblets and pot up as above. Still others wait until a fair sized bulblet has formed (3mm or more) and remove the bulblets from the tubes. Bulblets are then placed in plastic bags of slightly moist vermiculite and vernalized at 35-40º F for 6-8 weeks before potting. After many failures using other methods, I am now trying the latter two methods.

Hope it works; I’ve got about 300 seedlings from about 25 orienpet crosses growing vigorously in tubes now (Jan ’95). EC is the easy part. Making crosses with the best potential for dependable garden performance and growing the seedlings on to maturity are the hard parts.

Here are some of the crosses which gave good embryos in 1994:

Journey’s End X Schenk’s [tetra Black Beauty X Asano’s 82111 (auratum x henryi)]

New Allegra X Freimann’s 4-way

New Allegra X Woodriff’s Giant Flat Yellow

(tetra Black Beauty X 82111) X Woodriff’s [(tetra Rachel Pappo X tetra Black Beauty ) X Griesbach’s (tetra White Henryi x tetra trumpet)]

Freimann’s (Thunderbolt X tetra Black Beauty) X Woodriff’s [( t.RP X t.BB) X (t.WH X t. t)]

Damson X LeReve and Trance, mixed pollen

Damson X Allegra and L. speciosum var. White Angel, mixed pollen

Damson X Journey’s End and Red Jamboree, mixed pollen

Damson X tetra Unique and Nove Cento, mixed pollen

Asano’s [oriental X (Shikayama X L. henryi)] X Woodriff’s [(t.RP X t. BB) X (t.WH X t. t)]

Journey’s End X Asano’s [oriental X (Shikayama X L. henryi)]

Le Reve X yellow bowl aurelian from Helsley’s (Moon River X Butter Curls)

Leslie Woodriff X Griesbach’s white bowl tetra aurelian

Schenk’s (tetra Journey’s End X tetra Black Beauty) X Schenk’s ( Tetra Black Beauty X 82111)

several clones of my own (tetra Black Beauty X Griesbach’s white tetra aurelians) from embryo culture X tetra aurelians (note: some normal seed from these germinated in pots.)

Some of these are very interesting interdivisional crosses which, if they survive and if they are fertile (two very big ifs), could produce some fascinating bridges to the dream I share with LeVern Freimann. Thanks again to all the hybridizers who made these crosses possible.

_________________________________________________________________

Postscript: As of 12/95 there were 97 seedlings from these crosses growing well in pots in the greenhouse. The two methods of treating the infants in their transition to pots seemed to work equally well. The ’95 crop of EC’s, done in October and November, look even better and include some very exciting new combinations, one of which introduces L. longiflorum into my polyploid orienpet group.

In the early eighties, when I first became interested in polyploid lilies, the scarcity of breeding stock was only equaled by the scarcity of knowledge in how to use them. Fortunately, that has now changed to the point that keen and persistent amateurs can now get their hands on some really marvelous hybridizing tools. In the early nineties, knowledge and the available polyploid gene pool have expanded to the point that the greatest limitation to progress may well be the scope of one’s imagination. Polyploidy confers some interesting and valuable advantages to the genus Lilium, such as stiffer stems and thicker petals for better weather resistance, stronger root systems for better nutrition and drought tolerance, and, of course, greater genetic variability which will release a cornucopia of fresh novelties in all manifestations of lily genetics. The most important advance may be in growability. Have you been disappointed by the performance and early disappearance of cultivars specifically bred and produced for the cut flower market? Me, too! My greatest gardening pleasure is to walk among the myriad colors, forms, and fragrances of my lilies over a long season, without a sprayer in my hand. I want lilies that can “take a licking and keep on ticking,” to borrow a phrase, year after year. The time of the lily as a true garden perennial is nearer than ever, and polyploidy should advance our progress by decades. Please do not infer from my enthusiasm for polyploid breeding that I only use triploids and tetraploids, or that polyploids will make diploids obsolete. I don’t and they won’t. To paraphrase a long time Canadian hybridizer, Mrs. .Jean Erickson, gardeners don’t care how many genes a lily wears. She is quite correct. If a polyploid cultivar or polyploids in general are not obviously superior to available diploids as garden plants, they will not predominate in the lily gardens of the future. Compared to our ideal of the perfect garden lily, most present day polyploids must be considered rather primitive, particularly in form and color, though less so in vigor and growability. Another very important reason that diploids and diploid breeding will continue to be essential is that they contain important genetic characteristics which can be brought into the polyploid gene pool through the mechanism of (diploid x tetraploid) which yields triploid seedlings. Some professional hybridizers, notably Ed McRae, suspect that triploids rather than tetraploids will make the better of the polyploid plants for commercial production. As more of our older cultivars such as the venerable L. tigrinum var. splendens, ‘Schellenbaum’, ‘Red Velvet’, ‘Thunderbolt’, and ‘Zigeunerliebe’ are discovered to be triploids, we must realize they were selected for introduction because of superior plant characteristics and growability long before we knew “how many genes they wore.” As the N.A.L.S. Seed Exchange shows, a lot more amateurs are now trying their hands at polyploid breeding. By all means, go for it! The future of hybridizing better garden lilies is mostly in the hands of amateurs. The bottom line is still the bottom line, and amateurs are the ones with the time, space, and means to support such a labor of love. Garden lilies will never be as profitable as the cutting and forcing types, so we cannot realistically expect commercial hybridizers to cater to our needs. To my way of thinking, the role of the large commercial growers should be to do what they do best, that is, to use their high-tech means of production to provide a growing garden market with cheap, sound, virus-free bulbs of superior garden lilies which have been thoroughly tested for at least ten years in amateurs’ gardens all over North America. The boom in amateur polyploid hybridizing is going to produce a lot of junk. Of course it will; all hybridizing programs do. Progress only comes when we discipline ourselves to plan crosses carefully with specific goals in mind, and then rogue ruthlessly, savingonly the top 1070-5070 each year.Some crosses,howeverpromising, won’t produce anything of value. Then we learn from our mistakes and try a different angle. Amateurs do have some disadvantages, particularly as beginning hybridizers. We soon run out of fresh soil in which to grow lilies, and as we say in the country, “Every mother crow thinks her little ones are the blackest.” That’s where objective testing under different growing conditions over several years lets the cream rise to the top. There will be some lucky breaks, but most progress will be due to careful planning, keen observation, keeping careful records, learning from failure as well as success, ruthless rogueing, having patience, and keeping your eyes on the prize. The human factors which drive your program are at least as important as your breeding stock. So what am I doing in polyploid hybridizing other than ranting about it? Mostly trying to sort out what works and what doesn’t work. Low fertility of most triploids and converted tetraploids (like Tetra ‘Connecticut King’) means that most crosses produce little or no viable seed. You can save more embryos by using embryo culture, a technique which is easy enough to learn and adaptable to kitchen table conditions. Unfortunately, it is a lot of hassle with precious few rewards. I use it mostly for the Orienpet crosses where pods and embryos are scarce, and the endosperm is often deficient. I’ve learned to make as many replications and reciprocals of a cross as possible to increase the size of the seedling population. If you don’t have at least 100 seedlings, you still don’t know the full potential of a given cross, especially with complex hybrids and polyploids. I’ve attempted colchicine conversion of a dozen good garden-type diploids with very modest success. So far, only ‘Journey’s End’ and ‘Gypsy’ are showing the large stomates (.005 inches) typical of tetraploids. Only time or chromosome counts of pollen mother cells will tell if the sex organs of these are also converted and not just the surface layer containing the stomates. I use a 50X pocket microscope to screen these conversion attempts and other seedlings as well. LeVern Freimann mentioned using this instrument in his 1985 N.A.L.S. Yearbook article. It has been very useful, though it could hardly be called definitive in assessing the exact chromosome number of a lily. Stomate measurements are only one of several clues one can glean from careful garden observation. To be certain of ploidy, a chromosome count should be done. Root tip tissue is adequate for chromosome counts of seedlings, but pollen mother cells should be tested on plants resulting from attempted colchicine conversions. My first attempted polyploid cross was ‘Jasper’ x ‘Red Velvet’.What a laugh. In retrospect one could hardly imagine a less likely mating. Both are triploids and quite sterile both in pod and pollen. My beginner’s luck was bad because I didn’t have a clue about what works and what doesn’t. That’s about the time Bob and Dianna Gibson of Band D Lilies suggested I consult Dick Thomas in British Columbia. Dick became a good friend and has been very helpful to this beginner ever since. Through Dick, Eckart Schmitzer in Germany, Dr. Jaap van Tuyl in Holland, and Ed McRae, the following practical information useful to amateurs has been previously published: 1) diploid x tetraploid produces mostly triploids 2) tetraploid x diploid produces triploids (and some tetras if the diploid produces some unreduced pollen grains which function much like the pollen of tetraploid plants.) ‘Connecticut King’ and ‘Enchantment’ are diploids which have this trait. 3) triploid x tetraploid produces triploids and tetraploids 4) triploid x diploid usually produces nothing, but may produce diploids, triploids, tetraploids, or aneuploids. (If you get a healthy seedling from this kind of cross, bow to the East and have its chromosomes counted for the sake of scientific curiosity.) 5) As previously mentioned, pollen of triploids is usually sterile, though a few exceptions have been claimed. My more vigorous and promising seedlings are presently being challenged outdoors (unsprayed) by virus, botrytis, fusarium bulb rot, rodents, late frost, summer drought, wind, hail, and the odd mis-lick with the hoe. Most won’t make it, for as Vicki Bowen says of seedlings in general, “much is promised, but little delivered.” I hope these garden notes will encourage other amateurs to take up the intermittent joy of hybridizing better garden lilies and to include some polyploids in their work as well.

Back in the late 70s, when the earth was young and so was I, I had to admit that I couldn’t grow all kinds of lilies.   No one told me what we could grow here in the upper south and what was a waste of time, so I tried just about everything that looked good in the catalogs.  Wasted a lot of time and money.  Even the ones that did fairly well for several years, usually faded away because of diseases.  Especially the orientals, the ones I thought were the most egregiously flamboyant, didn’t tolerate our summer heat and often came up already looking virusy and sickly.  I didn’t especially like the trumpets because there really wasn’t that much variation in form and color, but they did grow well and bloomed dependably.  What a neat effect it would be to put oriental colors and forms on a plant I could actually grow!  Most of us “knew” such a trick was not possible until some dedicated visionaries like Leslie Woodriff, LeVern Freimann, and Robert Griesbach did it on about the thousandth try.

I call Black Beauty the first orienpet. Some don’t, because OT means oriental pollinated by trumpet, and the speciosum was pollinated by henryi to create it.  Well, guess what?  Division VI is all the Chinese trumpets and all their hybrids with henryi.  What group is Black Beauty most fertile with?  Trumpets and aurelians.  From speciosum, Black Beauty got at double dose of red-maroon color and a fair dose of virus resistance and excellent botrytis resistance.  From henryi it got a big inflorescence, floppy stems, good virus resistance, and excellent heat tolerance. The amazing vigor is common to many wide hybrid crosses.

Leslie Woodriff’s other magic cross resulted in White Henryi.  You guessed it, a white trumpet pollinated by henryi produced the best known aurelian of all time.  It’s still with us after over sixty years, and it’s still vigorous, lovely, and healthy. Bob Griesbach really, really wanted to cross Black Beauty and White Henryi, but Black Beauty in its diploid form was very sterile.  Some research showed that when an infertile wide-cross diploid hybrid was converted into a tetraploid, it often was able to form viable pollen and egg cells.  When Dr. Griesbach successfully converted Black Beauty and White Henryi to tetraploid status, he had the parents he needed to produce a line of tetraploid orienpets.

The cross did not produce normal seeds, so embryo rescue was needed.  With that techno-fix he produced the first modern superlily which he named for the hybridizer who created both of its parents.  It is, of course, Leslie Woodriff.  If you don’t have this lily, you have a great joy in store.  It is more than the sum of its parts.  It is bigger in all respects than either of its parents, and it puts on a terrific show in the garden and on the show bench.  It tops out at about seven to eight feet tall with forty to fifty blooms that stop traffic for the better part of a month.  It seems completely immune to virus and botrytis, even in my garden. That’s saying something! When my original baby bulb got full sized I knew this was the lily of the future, and I was on the ground floor.

For a while, North Americans were ahead of the Dutch.  Some great OT crosses were done at Oregon Bulb Farms, Agriculture Canada at Morden, and in amateur hybridzers’ gardens in Canada and the US.  Dr. Wilbert Ronald released some OT seedlings from diploid parents to amateurs like me, and I discovered that his White Trumpet X Speciosum seedling produced good embryos when pollinated by a tetraploid aurelian trumpet.  Not supposed to happen!  He was surprised, too, because he thought his seedling was a diploid.

When you cross diploids from different families, like a trumpet and an oriental, strange things can happen.  Sometimes, you don’t get anything, which is the usual case.  Sometimes, you get triploid seedlings with 36 chromosomes, and if you are lucky they can be fertile as pod parents when you use tetra pollen on them.  Sometimes, you get a diploid seedling which has trouble making proper diploid pollen, and the pollen ends up being tetraploid, instead.  Dr. Asano in Japan used henryi pollen on auratum to produce a remarkable seedling which he numbered 82-111.  It was a diploid plant which produced fertile tetraploid pollen.  It was a parent of two of my best lilies, including the one which won the Best in Show trophy at your NALS show here in St. Louis.   I used 82-111 pollen on a tetra white trumpet to get the winning seedling.  When I used the same type of pocket microscope LeVern Freimann used to tell the difference between diploids and tetras, I found the stomates of Wilbert’s seedling to be half way between the lengths of a diploid and a tetraploid.   Bingo! It was a triploid with 36 chromosomes.  Definitely a Eureka moment.

Ever hear of Thunderbolt?  It was an aneuploid which had 37 or 38 chromosomes, but sometimes if you shook your rattle just right, it would make a few embryos with tetra pollen.  Perhaps you have heard of Scheherazade? That was Judith Freeman’s cross, but LeVern Freimann and I also made the same cross.   We are not sure what happened to LeVern’s seedlings from that Thunderbolt X Tetra Black Beauty cross, but I lost mine to some stupid cultural mistake.  Scheherazade was the next great OT.

My breakthrough in OT breeding came when I discovered that you can begin to get other colors than speciosum red in seedlings from the second outcross from tetra Black Beauty.   That is, tetra Black Beauty seedlings, which are all red in the first outcross, pollinated by other-colored seedlings.  I had a lighter red seedling from a tetra white trumpet by tetra Black Beauty cross, and it was a pod and pollen fertile tetra.  When I used other-colored tetras with it, half the seedlings were other-colored.  This blew me away, because several people I looked up to said that you couldn’t get anything but red out of tetra Black Beauty seedlings because of the double-dominant speciosum genes.

The next breakthrough came when some Dutch hybridizers gave me pollens of some orientals they had converted to tetraploid form.  I used these pollens on some tetra white trumpets that Eddie McRae had given me which Bob Griesbach had hybridized.  One of them, 171-92, actually formed tiny, almost normal seeds with hard, well organized endosperm and embryos only about one millimeter long.   With embryo culture, which I had learned from Judith Freeman in 1987, the little rascals came right along.  So far 171-92 is the only tetra trumpet I have found which accepts tetra oriental pollens so readily.

Dr. Jaap van Tuyl had told me one had to make wide crosses at the diploid level, expect the F-1 seedlings to be infertile, and then convert the diploid seedlings to the tetra form before one can hope for any fertility.  When I visited him at his research greenhouses in Wageningen, he asked if there was anything he could help me with.  I said that I couldn’t grow orientals so I sure make good use of some tetra oriental pollens.  He had a potted tetra Star Gazer in bloom so he gave me a good packet of pollen from it.  I brought it directly home and put it on everything I had.  Well, the OT cross works both ways, and 171-92 produced a dozen nice embryos from about that many pods.  When the plantlets in the test tubes looked strong enough to travel, I sent several of them to Dr. van Tuyl to play with.  He thanked me politely, but I could tell he didn’t think they were what I knew they were.  Two years passed, and when they bloomed in his greenhouse, he was quite amazed!  Perfect intermediate forms with variations of blush pink, red, and different amounts of spotting on rather attractive bowl to flat blooms.  No doubt about the parentage.  The biggest surprise of all was when he used the pollens in reciprocal crosses with other tetra trumpets and orientals.  They were as fertile as sewer rats, many producing normal seed in fair amounts!  The next year he told me that he had five hundred seedlings from one of my embryo cultured seedlings.  Since then he has used them extensively in his own OT breeding.  So much for thinking inside the box.  Sometimes, lilies don’t pay attention to the rules.

The lily breeder at Sande bv, Carlo Randag,  gave me a bigger selection of his tetra oriental pollens, including tetra Barbaresco, tetra Acapulco, tetra Casablanca, and a few others. Each of these gave me a few seedlings when the pollens were applied lovingly to the private parts of 171-92.   For several years I sent half my test tube babies to Don Egger at Cebeco USA in the facility formerly known as Oregon Bulb Farms.  This amounted to over 100 mature plants blooming in the green house when Cebeco abruptly fired Don and sent a surrogate to bring all the bulbs “home” to Holland and close the facility.  Eddie McRae and Teresa Pankiewicz-Leap still had the run of the place and by some miracle managed to save the seedlings that several amateurs had sent to Don for testing and evaluation.   I will be forever grateful.   Eddie moved my bulbs out to Lava Nursery and Julius Wadekamper’s place on the flank of Mount Hood.   That’s a beautiful place to grow lilies, but it is a frost pocket, it’s too cold at night to set seed well, and the gophers ate most of the bulbs.  Then there was a severe outbreak of flower-breaking virus which just about wiped us out period.  I did get some photos of the OT seedlings which I’ll show you in a few minutes.

At home I grew mostly the tetra Black Beauty lines which will stand almost any sort of abuse, especially if there is tetra Black Beauty on both sides of the cross. Some of the best came from a seedling from Peter Schenk.  It was (Tetra Black Beauty X 82-111). I used pollen from a seedling by Leslie Woodriff from (tetra Rachel Pappo X tetra Black Beauty).  One seedling from this cross was a giant reflexed apricot showing strong henryi influence.  It stood eight feet tall in the garden and carried 54 buds and blooms when I cut it for the NALS show in Minneapolis several years ago.  It won the Hornback Award, the Emsweller Award, and the Alberta Award for stem with most blooms and buds in the show.  I thought it was better than my other seedling which won the Isabella Preston Award, but then who am I to second guess the judges when they are debating which of my seedlings is the Best in Show?  Anyway, I call her ‘Lady Liberty’.  The Isabella Preston Award was won by ‘Crowbird’, my seedling from a strange cross of a diploid trumpet, ‘Damson’ pollinated by ‘Flat Rose’, which was a tetra white trumpet by ‘Tetra Black Beauty’.  Again, sometimes lilies don’t read the rule book.  ‘Damson’ was an anomaly in that it had none of the usual defense mechanisms which ordinarily inhibit the growth of wide-cross pollens into its style and ovary.  I even got good embryos using tetra Asiatic pollens on ‘Damson’.  Wish I had it, still, but it virused out on me, and no one I know still has it.

So what of the future?  There are now lots of new OTs on the market.  Some are beauties, and some are good growers, but seldom do you find both qualities in the same plant.  A lot still needs to be done in that respect, and we probably shouldn’t expect much help from the people who breed for the cut flower industry.  As time goes by, garden lilies and cut flower lilies seem more like apples and oranges.

Some people get all exercised at the thought of genetically modified plants. Frankenflowers, they call them. Well, let me put together a Franken lily for you that might go over well with gardeners.  How about if we start with a line of lilies with the best forms, colors, inflorescences, and seasons of bloom that we have today and add a gene for frost resistance from a North Atlantic flounder,  a gene for AZT production that would prevent virus infection, and a gene from garlic which would guard the bulbs from voles and gophers! How about an everblooming gene from Stella de Oro? We could even throw in a gene for delphinidin to make a blue super lily.  Crazy? Not really.  All these are already possible with gene gun technique, except the one for AZT and that may be possible before too long.   Black Beauty and both of its parents, speciosum and henryi, are somewhat resistant to the Red Lily Beetle, so Mother has already given us a leg up in that department.

As long as we are wishing, let’s wish big and work like hell while we are wishing.  Hybridizing is great fun, and you shouldn’t be put off by the three years from cross to bloom.  After three years you have your own new seedlings opening every year, and it seems like every day is payday!