The future of lily-breeding

As a result of the many discoveries and introductions of lilies during the previous century, not to mention the exciting finds of the last few decades, all that is left for us is the production of new hybrids and their introduction into our gardens. The first tentative trials were made in England as long as 50 years ago. Isabella Preston succeeded with her Stenographer and Fighter hybrids, and Dr F. L. Skinner bred L. x scottiac and L. x maxwill. But the early breeders had to gain their knowledge on a trial-and-error basis, and progress was very slow in most cases. The second International Lily Conference, held in London in 1933, enabled breeders to exchange knowledge and techniques, and soon afterwards the United States inaugurated scientific research in this field. Jan de Graaff was already a leading figure in the lily world, and furthered cytological and genetic progress which led to an increased tempo in the breeding and development of new lilies in North America -a tempo which was previously thought to be impossible. Further progress is being maintained, and will not stop as long as the public’s interest in lilies and gardens is maintained. The same tempo, effort, and research is paralleled in roses, where every year more and better varieties are released.

Although it is impossible to prophesy with any accuracy what the lilies of the future may hold in store for us, an attempt at forecasting the exciting prospects should not be neglected.

In the hope of obtaining fertile hybrids, we may expect a back-cross between L. speciosum and Black Beauty, and also perhaps between Black Beauty and L. licnryi. Present indications point to the possibility of a fruitful L. auratuiu x L. hctiryi cross, and L. Tuffery’s reports from New Zealand already seem to indicate success. The questions of whether the progeny of a cross between such very distantly related varieties will be fertile and whether they will be suitable for further breeding work are still unanswered. But if it proved possible to cross such future hybrids with Black Beauty (L. speciosum x L. henryi) the resulting possibilities would indeed be vast, and it is difficult to imagine the prodigious range which could ensue. L. henryi could substantially influence the health, vigour, and adaptability of lilies if crossed into the Speciosum-Japonicum-Rubellum complex. Achievement of this one aim alone would ensure considerable progress and lead to even wider distribution of the lily.

The cross between the rare Japanese L. nobilissimum into the Auratum-Spcciosum complex is already a fact, and while these erect white trumpets can be expected to influence inflorescence conformation beneficially, there is a danger of weakening winter-hardiness.

Trumpet lilies offer countless opportunities, and in combination with L. henryi, the permutations of colour, shape and inflorescence are tremendous. Perhaps L. henryi may prove to be the link with the Auratum complex!

F. L. Skinner, of Dropmore, Canada, reports crosses between L. auratum and L.japouicuin withL. ccrmitim and L. davidii, and of L. centi- foliutn hybrids with L. cernuum, L. davidii, L. amabile, and L. x macu- latmn. Such hybrids, provided they prove to be fertile and can be used for breeding, will undoubtedly lead to ever more and new possibilities.

Lilies of a better and ‘fast’ red are expected to replace today’s pink trumpets, which are apt to bleach and turn grey; it also seems feasible that more new yellow-red combinations are going to come forward among the trumpet shapes.

The successful crosses of L. amabile and L. cermuun with other Asiatic lilies have already indicated that further crosses among the many different Asiatic lilies should become a reality. The most delicate pastel-toned flowers stem from a cross between anthocyanin-containing L. cernuum and lilies with blooms containing carotenoids. L. cernuum has been instrumental in widening the range of fine pastel-toned lilies, and judging from colour photographs which have reached me from Canada, there are many more exciting things to come. Apparently new are the two-toned or multi-coloured blooms of the Cernuum range now-appearing in red and lilac with lighter-coloured centres. As it has proved possible to cross L. cernuum into the Asiatic lilies, it may prove possible similarly to cross it with rose-pink L. wardii, white L. taliense, pink-lilac L. lankongense, or blackish-red L. papilliferum.

The diploid orange-coloured L. tigrinum as well as canary-yellow L. tigrinum var. flaviflorum can be crossed with various Asiatic lilies: L. davidii, L. x umbellatum, and L. concolor among them. Jan de Graaff has used many of these lilies in his crosses. Proof that the variation possibilities of these hybrids are not yet exhausted are the new hybrids from the American breeders David Stone and F. Henry Payne (Connecticut Yankee, Nutmegger, Connecticut Maid), and those of G. W. Darby (Nora Darby, Sir Frederick Stern). Further combinations can certainly be achieved among the Tiger hybrids.

Through multi-stepped crosses between Midcentury hybrids and L. leichtlinii var. max’unowiczii, L. tigrinuni var. faviflorum and with Harlequin hybrids, Jan de GraafF achieved remarkably vigorous, large Turk’s Cap-flowered plants which bloom prolifically in pyramid-shaped inflorescence.

It is still doubtful to what extent the strong-growing but small-flowered, red-lead coloured L. callosum can be crossed into this group.

Successful work carried out by Oliver Wyatt in England and by Dr A. M. Showalter in the United States in crossing the wild American lilies among each other has given very elegant hybrids. The future breeding potential in this field is quite considerable, and so far the surface has only been scratched.

Interesting breeding opportunities in the Martagon group appear to lie with L. nicdeoloides. Crossing L. bulbiferum and L. x inaculatuin into the Martagon group could also produce new colours and beneficially influence flower shape. Alexander StcfFcn produced L. x martclatuni (L. martagon x L. x inaculatum) and Olof Kumlin of Sweden has recently reported similar crosses. Further work along these lines will surely prove rewarding.

The Caucasian L. nionadelphuni and L. szovitsianum are extensively used by the Russians for lily-breeding and crossed with L. x hollandicum and L. concolor. Scented, saucer-shaped lilies with many other desirable characters can be expected from this work.

The oldest known lily hybrid is L. x testaccum (L. candidnni x L. chalccdonicum). Why, therefore, should the Madonna Lily not allow itself to be crossed with L. carniolicuni and L. pyrcnaicuin – particularly as crosses with L. nwnadelphum and L. szovitsianum are said to be possible? But this, again, lies in the future.

Polyploidy presents further opportunities for better lilies. Polyploid lilies possess two extremely desirable characteristics not found in diploids – more vigour, and larger blooms. Breeders do not seem to have achieved many polyploid lilies so far; they are not very difficult to produce, but, as mentioned earlier, each attempt is like a shot into the dark. Not enough shots are being fired to reach the dark targets!

The crossing of polyploid lilies with each other offers a quite new perspective, and once the number of available polyploid varieties is sufficiently high a polyploid hybrid is bound to follow – there are certainly no existing technical difficulties which could stop it. Let us also remember the tremendous progress achieved in the field of iris-breeding since the introduction of tetraploids, and the unforeseeably large number of varieties available today as a result of it. Hemerocallis, too, has already taken the inevitable steps towards polyploidy. There is little doubt that the breeding of polyploid lilies will widen and increase the number of variants, which in turn will necessitate raising from seed in large numbers to obtain all possible variants.

The American lily breeder F. Henry Payne wrote that the breeding of lilies is one continual, never-ending task. William C. Horsford said that it is not a mistake to make unlikely and seemingly foolish crosses; he also said that for inexplicable reasons the most unusual forms are produced from such crosses.

We have only just opened the door to the world of lily-breeding. The scientific foundation is laid, and the future will provide vast numbers of beautiful, elegant lilies in a multitude of rich colours and sumptuous shapes. All of them will bring colour and pleasure into our gardens, and in the meantime everyone can help – no one is excluded – to further this wonderful aim.

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