MY EXPERIENCE IN HYBRIDIZING CANNAS
By Antoine Wintzer, West Grove, Pa.
It is about nine years since the writer first commenced to experiment with cannas, with the object of improving the strain and creating some new and desirable varieties, suitable for our trying climate. At that time we depended almost entirely on the skill of the European growers for our novelties in cannas, and they sent us annually a great many new varieties. While some of these novelties were good, a great many were little, if any, improvement on existing varieties.
After growing a few seedlings from the best strains, the writer commenced to cross breed with the intention of producing a good solid yellow canna. There were plenty of spotted yellows, but we desired something purer. In 1893, from a batch of Crozy and Star-of-1891 seedlings, I was fortunate in getting one almost yellow. It was named Golden Star. The next year I succeeded in growing from another lot of seedlings another almost pure yellow; it was named Coronet. By crossing these two varieties I succeeded in producing Buttercup. This variety seems to have the desirable qualities long looked for in a yellow canna. It is rather dwarf, an early and free bloomer, erect head held well above the foliage, endures the sun without bleaching, drops its faded flowers, which always gives it a bright and clean appearance. It will also bloom under a lower temperature than most varieties, and last, but not least, its tubers are small and solid, making it especially valuable for pot culture.
Besides the yellow, I was also desirious to grow some good pink varieties. To enable me to get these I had a good start with Pink Ehmani, which I raised in 1894 from seed hybridized by Dr. Van Fleet. Having a start in color, I hybridized it with other varieties, and produced Maiden’s Blush, Rosemawr, Martha Washington, Betsy Ross. The main difficulty found in the varieties of this color was the poor keeping quality of the tubers. In the earlier varieties they were soft and spongy and liable to rot in a dormant condition, long before the weather was warm enough to plant them in spring. The last two named varieties are free from this bad habit. They usually produce small hard tubers of good keeping quality.
After breeding cannas for a few years, I noticed that it was desirable to produce small and solid tubers. A great deal of this work is still in its infancy, but we are slowly advancing along that line. In the early ‘gos there were several good red cannas in commerce, and any one at that time looking over the leading catalogs and reading the description of such varieties as Alphonse Bouvier, would wonder how a more brilliant color could be produced, and I often longed for the shade of red we had in such roses as Prince Camille de Rohan and Baron de Bonstettin.
In the production of Philadelphia and Pillar of Fire, I became hopeful, and more so when later, Duke of Marlborough, Black Prince and Cherokee came into existence through my efforts along that line. The Duke had the most interesting history, as being the production of a very inferior seedling, which had nothing to recommend it except its dark color. Its pollen used on Philadelphia produced the Duke of Marlborough. In working for solid color, I managed to produce a great many shades and combinations of colors found in such varieties as Lorraine, Niagara, Conqueror, Schley, Duke of York, Striped Beauty and a host of others, most of which were thrown into the mixture after they were tested for a couple of seasons.
Alsace, the nearest to a white canna, although small, was useful in massing, and is now extensively disseminated. It was produced in 1894. From its pollen I produced Montano, Starlight and quite a number of seedlings of little value, and only useful for breeding. At last I produced one which proved superior, and it was named Mt. Blanc. It was almost pure white, with full-sized flowers produced on strong, vigorous, erect stalks, carried well above its rich, massive foliage. The habit of plant is vigorous and of good constitution.
In the Canna indica section we had very little variety in colors. After crossing these for several years, I produced Mt. Etna, Queen of Holland, Shenandoah, Evolution. These are giving us a wider range of colors. The last named is proving very hardy and vigorous. Its odd color, a blending of orange, salmon and yellow, making a fine contrast with its rich bronze foliage.
To produce the different colors and types mentioned, it was necessary for me to do a considerable amount of hand hybridizing. This work was done at odd times when condition were favorable, generally in early morning. We usually plant from four hundred to five hundred of these seedlings in the field annually in June. The seed is started under glass in April, and germinates quickly. When they show two leaves they are potted into 2 l/2 or 3-inch pots. The majority of them bloom in August. At that time I always look over them daily and number or mark the most promising ones.
In reviewing the work of the past I find that the mistake made is in numbering too many. I find that it is well not to do much of this work on cloudy days, as under such conditions cannas of average quality show up well. For several years I have selected hot, dry days, from 1 to 5 o’clock p.m., with the thermometer anywhere from 90 degrees, up, in the shade. Under such conditions it is necessary for a canna flower to have substance to make a show.
The work of selecting seedlings is becoming more difficult, as there are several expert canna hybridizers in Europe and in this country who are working and developing fine novelties, and we are all striving for the ideal canna, with the hope of producing it in the near future. Any one looking back a decade will admit that the work of the canna hybridizer has developed the flower to a remarkable degree, and the canna of the present time is worthy of a place in the finest conservatory, and in the near future will be used as a decorative plant. The canna has not received the attention it justly deserves. Nearly all our public parks are planted with inferior varieties. If these were thrown into the dump pile, and their places filled with the improved varieties, the public would have a better opinion of the canna as a blooming plant.
In conclusion, the writer would say that the labor of the hybridizer is not so arduous as some would have us believe. Why should he care if the dew is wet, or the sun hot; is he not laboring for love? Is it worth nothing to watch a plant grow and thrive under your care and produce its beautiful flowers for your eye to behold?