From Bob Johnson:
Reading the “Peaonia” Newsletter.
I’ve been spending the last few days reading my way through the Paeonia Newsletter. Thanks to Koen, the full 32 years are available here on the website. I’m just about through to the end of the 1970’s, and am finding it informative from many angles. Historically it’s wonderful to watch Lanning, Pherson, Hollingsworth and others make their way through working with the first hybrids, and feeling their way through the first intersectionals too. “Fertility” is an ongoing concern, and it’s interesting to see the sorts of breeding plants that they had available to them. And (much like today) the sorts they were creating themselves.
Most work with hybrids where double-flowered varieties were expected came from crossing lactis with various plants related to Officnalis and Perigrina. This cross, involving tetraploid hybrids crossed onto diploid lactis, produced some of the nice varieties that we still see today. But….they were all sterile triploids. The “Little Reds” are discussed quite a bit. These were a group of plants that were Offionalis x Perigrina. There were a number of them, but trial and error indicated that “Good Cheer” seemed to produce better results than the others in this group, which may be why one still sees it for sale occasionally today. Prior to the “discovery” of the Little Reds, folks were mostly woking with Officinalis and Perigrina ( called Lobata at the time) singly by themselves. The move to the Little Reds made a big difference in the sorts of results people were getting.
What about fertile hybrids ? There were not a whole lot of them. Folks were aware of “Moonrise”, and there were a few others that were suspected to be fertile as well. But not a whole lot of advanced generation hybrid x hybrid crosses were being made. Plenty of work with “The Quads”, which involved species like Tenuifoliia, Macrofolia and the like, but apparently folks were mostly getting not-particularly-exciting singles out of the mix. But this line of breeding is where yellows were beginning to show up.
Some interesting observations. “Drop out” was something that was being discussed that we still seem to see today. Drop out refers to the disappearance of certain wanted qualities as one moves forward though the generations. Loss of the thread-like foliage of Tenuifollia is something that I’ve certainly noticed. “Laddie” has “interesting” foliage, but very few of the seedlings I’ve bloomed from ‘Laddie’ seem to retain much of that sort of foliage. I’ve also seen “drop out’ of the color red in my seedlings. In my experience, if one does not continue to inject red into their breeding every couple of generations, the number of red seedlings one gets begins to diminish, if one has gotten any of it in the first place that is. One other example of drop out would seem to be “Blushing Princess”, which ( if the parentage attributions are correct) is 1/4 Tenuifollia.
Folks struggle with getting intersectionals, and when they do get them, actually getting flowers that have decorative value. Lot’s of ugly flowers, many of which barely have any petals at all.
There are a few mentions of efforts to double the chromosomes of lactiflora types. There was a thought that David Reath actually did get one, which was shown at one of the APS conventions. But then no more mention of that. Personally, I’d like to see someone achieve success with this. If it were possible to convert lacti varieties to tetraploids, then we could cross our modern tetrapoild hybrids with the lactis, and get plants which were fertile, and perhaps useful in breeding, because of the lacti genes they would bring.
But the main thing I’m coming away with is just how fortunate we hybridizers are today. We have dozens if not hundreds of fertile tetraploids that we can use for breeding today, while they had almost none at all.
It’s my feeling that we are in a new “Golden Age” of hybridizing, with much in the way of potential ahead. And all thanks to the efforts of those who went before us.