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!