Thor Dalebö.

Antoine Crozy

Antoine Crozy

Pierre Antoine Marie Crozy (1831-1903) [also called Crozy aîné—French for “elder”] was a nineteenth-century French rose breeder, a partner in the French firm, Avoux & Crozy, La Guillotière, Lyon, actively breeding roses from the 1850s to 1860s.

Following the sensational  introduction of Canna Annei many nurserymen took up breeding new varieties of canna. From the early 1860s until his death in 1903 Monsieur Crozy was also hybridising Canna species, and introduced many hundreds of new cultivars.

CannaAntoine Crozy
Monsieur Crozy’s goal was to turn Cannas from being primarily a foliage plant, with pretty but insignificant flowers, into a floriferous plant that could compete alongside any other genera in the flower beauty stakes. How well he succeeded can be judged by the fact that by the time of his death in 1903 the Canna was the most popular garden flower in both his native France and in the USA, where it even outsold roses.
CannaAdmiral Courbet
Antoine Crozy’s work and influence were recognised outside France too, notably in Britain.  In 1888 the  RHS gave 70 of his new introductions First Class Certificates, and many of them are, surprisingly perhaps, still available, forming the basis for the largest single group of canna in modern catalogues. 

In 1866 Monsieur Crozy introduced his first cultivar,  Canna Bonnetti, which has staminodes that are 45mm. in length and 13mm. in breadth, and by the time of his demise his new cultivars were being introduced where the size had been increased to 66mm by 35mm, and this was achieved purely by selective breeding.

CannaMadame Crozy

The different colours and colour patterns in bloom and foliage were introduced by crossing his hybrids with other species, such as Canna iridiflora. Basically, Crozy raided the species to supply him with any new feature he required.

The most famous of the cultivars introduced by Crozy was CannaMadame Crozy’, and this was later used by both Carl Sprenger in Italy and Luther Burbank in California to cross with the species Canna flaccida to produce the first of the Italian Group Cannas.
CannaArthur William PaulThor Dalebö.

George Paul, the Cheshunt nurseryman, saw Crozy’s canna beds in the gardens of  the 1890 Paris Expo and said he was “won over by the beauty of the new race” because they were “most effective and seemingly of easy culture in the open air.”  In his wide-ranging article about growing and hybridising canna Paul also went on to admit that he had tried and signally failed to emulate Crozy’s success.

Writing in the Gardeners Chronicle, Mr George Paul referred to correspondence he had received from Monsieur Crozy.

My debut in the race of Cannas dates from about twenty years ago. I began with C. Warscewiczii and C. ‘Nepalensis Grandiflora’, a tall variety of which I have reduced its height little by little. My first gain was C. Bonnetti, a variety much appreciated at the time ; since that period, constantly progressing, I succeeded in obtaining the splendid variety Madame Crozy, which by the year I had it ready to put into commerce, had given me 1,000 seedlings. These flowering have given me all shades of colour, and since then I have improved in the rose and carmines, even attaining nearly to whites.Gardeners Chronicle of November 25, 1893
CannaAntoine Barton
George Paul was not the only nurseryman to try and emulate Crozy.  Kelways nursery listed 25 canna varieties in their 1893 catalogue including 6 of their own breeding, while Veitch’s carried 33 in 1896, and Cannell of Swanley as many as 96 the following year.   Indeed there were so many that Gardeners Chronicle [7th Oct 1893] even carried a basic classification system for garden varieties “simple enough to enable… anyone to frame his catalogues in accordance with it”.

Monsieur Crozy was accorded the nickname Papa Canna, as he was considered to be the father of Cannas, but was more commonly referred to as Crozy aîné (French for “elder”), He was succeeded by his son, Michel Crozy, who died only five years later at the tender age of 37 years, thus ending one of the most important and dynamic periods in the history off Canna.


Species and Varieties, their Origin by Mutation Lectures delivered at the University of California 1904 by Hugo DeVries, Professor of Botany in the University of Amsterdam
Hugo DeVries

As an illustrative example I will take the genus Canna. Originally cultivated for its large and bright foliage only, it has since become a flowering plant of value. Our garden strains have originated by the crossing of a number of introduced wild species, among which the Canna indica is the oldest, now giving its name to the whole group. It has tall stems and spikes with rather inconspicuous flowers with narrow petals. It has been crossed with C. nepalensis and C. warczewiczii, and the available historic evidence points to the year 1846 as that of the first cross. This was made by Anneé between the indica and the nepalensis; it took ten years to multiply them to the required degree for introduction into commerce.

These first hybrids had bright foliage and were tall plants, but their flowers were by no means remarkable. Once begun, hybridization was widely practiced.

About the year 1889 Crozy exhibited at Paris the first beautifully flowering form, which he named for his wife, C. ‘Madame Crozy’. Since that time he and many others, have improved the flowers in the shape and size, as well as in colour and its patterns. In the main, these ameliorations have been due to the discovery and introduction of new wild species possessing the required characters.

This is illustrated by the following incident. In the year 1892 I visited Mr. Crozy at Lyons. He showed me his nursery and numerous acquisitions, those of former years as well as those that were quite new, and which were in the process of rapid multiplication, previous to being given to the trade. I wondered, and asked, why no pure white variety was present. His answer was “Because no white species had been found up to the present time, and there is no other means of producing white varieties than by crossing the existing forms with a new white type.”

Comparing the varieties produced in successive periods, it is very easy to appreciate their gradual improvement. On most points this is not readily put into words, but the size of the petals can be measured, and the figures may convey at least some idea of the real state of things. Leaving aside the types with small flowers and cultivated exclusively for their foliage, the oldest flowers of Canna had petals of 45 mm. length and 13 mm. breadth. The ordinary types at the time of my visit had reached 61 by 21 mm., and the “Madame Crozy” showed 66 by 30 mm. It had however, already been surpassed by a few commercial varieties, which had the same length but a breadth of 35 mm. And the latest production, which required some years of propagation before being put on the market, measured 83 by 43 mm.

Thus in the lapse of some thirty years the length had been doubled and the breadth tripled, giving flowers with broad corollas and with petals joined all around, resembling the best types of lilies and Amaryllis. Striking as this result unquestionably is, it remains doubtful as to what part of it is due to the discovery and introduction of new large flowered species, and what to the selection of the extremes of fluctuating variability.

As far as I have been able to ascertain however, and according to the evidence given to me by Mr. Crozy, selection has had the largest part in regard to the size, while the color-patterns are introduced qualities. ,

Ed. C. nepalensis was just a synonym of C. glauca, and C. warczewiczii is a sub-species of C. indica.