Evaluating Seedlings

Many reasons exist for evaluating brugmansia seedlings. To keep our gene pool strong by eliminating weak and genetically inferior seedlings, we need to follow a few rules.
First, we need to give a number to all new hybrid seedlings until at least the second year of blooming cycles. Many times the brugmansia seedlings will show one type of trait in its first bloom cycle; then, after a period of time, when the second bloom cycle starts, things like color, shape, or form can change.
We need to wait until the end of the observation period to name these hybrids. Too many times we give a seedling a name when the first flower opens, then the plant is propagated and dispersed without further testing or observation. This can result in many sparse blooming, weak plants being propagated. The following items should be researched before dispersing the new cultivar.

Growth Habit

Growth should be strong and upright. “Weeping” type growth should be avoided because the weight of the flowers and possible seedpods can do structural damage to the plants. The branches should grow straight outward or angle upward. Branches should be thick and not thin or willowy. The branch structure must eventually support the weight of many, sometimes hundreds, of flowers at once. Weak branch growth will succumb to this weight and the branches will fail.

The best hybrid seedlings will show a good form overall, and have many side branches. While evaluating seedlings the plant should grow untrimmed until the second bloom cycle. This way, the eventual true form of the seedling will be noted.

Blooming

Plants should bloom freely. A plant that blooms with waves of flowers is much more desired than a plant that produces only a few flowers per season. A flower can be the most beautiful ever seen, but if it has only two flowers a year on the plant, how great is it? ‘Herrenhauser Garten’ is a good example of this trait. It is extremely beautiful, but seldom blooms. So choose plants that bloom easily. How quickly a plant blooms the first time from seed matters only in the fact that the quicker they bloom, the sooner the next generation can be produced. A seedling that blooms at the age of, say, 4 months from seed is an added bonus, but we should not exclude the plant that blooms at 9 months of age. Plants that take more than a year up to two years to bloom should be exceptional in most other qualities to justify the long growth period. Plants that bloom sparsely and inconsistently should be discarded or kept only as a personal plant and not propagated.

Flower Form

The shape or form of the flowers should be even and not “crinkled” or deformed. The corolla tube should “escape” the calyx easily. Several ‘Rothkirch’ hybrids tend to have problems with the corolla tube exiting the calyx. Help is needed to make sure the flower isn’t stunted or deformed because it failed to pierce the calyx on its own. The flower should have an even appearance. When looking into the corolla, all points should be even. Flowers with extremely long, thin corollas tend to be too weak to support the flower when it opens. This varies with different hybrids. Suaveolens types tend to have this problem more than others. A strong wind can destroy many flowers that have these long, thin tubes. Flowers should also be thick, so they last longer. A flower that lasts only a few days is much less desired than one that usually lasts about 5 to 6 days.

Wind Resistance

Seedling hybrids should have thick leaves so they can stand up to windy weather. Thin-leafed plants tend to tear on windy days, leaving a ragged-looking plant. The leaves will re-grow, but in the meantime the plants appear torn and tattered. Deeply veined leaves show the best wind tolerance.

Heat Resistance

Plants that bloom and grow well in high heat and humidity are especially favored. Few growers have even temperatures all season long. When the weather gets hot, most hybrids slow down in growth and blooming. Versicolor hybrids tend to like cool evenings, and as such bloom more in the fall.

Color

Color of flowers should be as deep as possible and of an even nature. The best hybrids should have color from the end of the calyx to the tip of the corolla tube. Flowers with green striping, or veins, as it were, should be avoided. They detract from the overall beauty of the flowers. White flowers should be a pure white overall. Contrasting colored “stars” in the center of the corolla can be an added feature if desired. Pink flowered hybrids tend to show these “stars”, especially pink suaveolens types. The colors of the flowers are a matter of choice. Always choose the finest colored forms for future use.

Summary

All of the above qualities will help make our hybrid brugmansias a joy to breed and enjoy. That does not mean all hybrids will have all of the above traits in each new introduced hybrid. Several traits are enough to qualify a new hybrid as improved over existing types. This list is just an observation and is not set in stone. We need to observe and record all of the qualities of our hybrids. We should not be in such a rush to hybridize as many “new” varieties as we can instead of concentrating on hybridizing good, high quality hybrids worth using in our collections for breeding and enjoying. In all fields of hybridizing people must learn to “cull” poor performing hybrids to keep our gene pool high. We now have access to great new genes that were not available even a few years ago.
In this way, we will not have 400 different varieties with very similar colors and qualities. Keep records of all your new hybrids best qualities so their uniqueness can be saved for all future brugmansia growers.

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