The new lilies – hybrids

Plant breeders have only been able to give us the beautiful new, exotic lily hybrids during comparatively recent years. The reasons for the delay in development are many, chief among them that wild lilies suitable for breeding purposes were not found until the beginning of the present century, and that it took many more years before they could be developed and achieve worthwhile distribution. Two World Wars further disrupted advances in breeding, multiplication, and distribution. Another reason was the unreliable reputation the genus received, due to the slow, cumbersome and inefficient transport methods which were the only available means during the early part of the present century of bringing bulbs from the Far East and Middle East for European and American distribution. The lengthy and laborious collection of bulbs was followed by extremely long caravan journeys along the interior land tracks to the nearest port; next came a sea voyage of many months to the port of destination, and still further transportation by rail before final delivery to the purehaser – this in many cases was a dealer who still had to get the bulbs to the user. No wonder, therefore, that a big percentage of imported bulbs were spoiled and rotten – they had travelled for many months through tropical heat and sometimes in sub-zero temperatures in unvcntilatcd, tightly packed wooden boxes. The situation is radically different today, and perishable bulbs and plants reach their destinations – however vast the distances involved – within a short time and in perfect condition. The many diseases to which lilies are prone proved another obstacle to their popularization. Diseases were cither not recognized or wrongly diagnosed, and the chemical preparations we now use to prevent or cure these troubles were not available. Thousands of boxes ofL. auratum and L. speciosum bulbs, exported from Japan to Europe and North America every year, completely disappeared from the soil after only a short time. This happened year after year, and it is now clear that only fusarium and virus diseases could have been responsible for such wholesale destruction of bulbs. The origin and cause of diseases, and the means of preventing, or at least restraining them, only became known when scientists began their investigations into the biological factors involved. Industry was not slow in using the knowledge gained by these researches, and now produces ever more effective fungicides and insecticides to prevent, fight and control the spread of disease and pest attacks. The unusual combination of transport development (particularly aviation), the scientists, and the chemical industry has made the ever-1ncreasing popularity of the lily possible, and ensures its safe and certain future.

Easily multiplied and disease-resistant, the new hybrids offer none of the problems that even long-experienced growers find with certain lily species, which are notoriously difficult to raise and maintain for any length of time. Taking the beauty and rich flower potential of hybrids for granted, even if only for a moment, their main advantages are health, adaptability to all kinds of soil, easy management and prolific multiplication potential.

Today’s lily hybrids are just as easy to grow as tulips and hyacinths. They flourish in any good garden soil, have no particular or difficult soil preferences, are able to overwinter in the open garden, and demand no special care or attention of any kind. No gardener who has once grown them will ever wish to be without them.

No wonder that the number of lily hybrids increases annually, and the total is certainly too high for each one to be individually detailed in this article. There are at present over 1,500 names given in the International Lily Register of the Royal Horticultural Society, London, and additions are made annually. The best overall appreciation of hybrids is obtained by classifying them into groups according to their origin. We already know that only related species are able to cross with one another, and that crosses between distantly related species are mostly unproductive.

If such an exceptional cross does occur, even if only very rarely, the new hybrid could represent a most interesting and very valuable combination of chromosomes for further breeding.

Hybrid lilies have accordingly been classified into eight categories for gardening purposes, both in England and America. They are perhaps best referred to as breeding categories, and are: 1. Asiatic hybrids 2. Turk’s Cap (Martagon) hybrids 3. Candidum hybrids 4. American hybrids 5. Longiflorum hybrids 6. Trumpet hybrids 7. Oriental (Japanese) hybrids 8. Hybrids of various other origins which do not fit into the above categories

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