Monday, June 8, 2009

Ushering in Winter with a blush of pink!

You know winter is approaching when the main flush of early-season pink Cymbidiums start to bloom in May. There are pink Cymbidiums that bloom earlier, a few of which are noteworthy. In April the very beautiful Cymbidium Aunty Mary Kovich 'April Pink' sends up tall thin stems with up to a dozen smallish dark pinkish flowers with a most amazing fragrance. To 'guild-the-lily', so to speak, the floral display is set above a tuft of narrow leaves. I literally mean that the flowers are set above the leaves. Aunty Mary has Cymbidium insigne and C. sinense as its parents, having inherited the 1 m long or longer flower spikes with the flowers in the upper third from each parent. If Aunty Mary flowered in the cooler months instead of the unpredictable and sometimes hot early autumn weather here in Melbourne, it would last longer in flower. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I must say, it is hard to hold this apparent downfall against the plant. When you flower so early, have such an attractive flower and plant and a magnificent fragrance, how could you hold a grudge. If I lived in the mountains instead of the foothills I am sure the flowers would last much longer.

Aunty Mary Kovich 'April Pink'

The breeding of Cymbidium Peter Pan assisted greatly in ushering in a whole series of early-flowered Cymbidiums including the pinks. One might say 'especially the pinks'. Actually, C. Peter Pan was breed in 1957 but was not used sucessfully as a parent until Dr. Donald Wimber converted it to a tetraploid many years later. Progeny before this time were all triploid and unable to carry the breeding any further. The converted form was named C. Peter Pan 'Greensleeves'. Like C. Aunty Mary Kovich, C. Peter Pan has a great Asian summer-flowering species as a parent, namely C. ensifolium. Both C. sinense and C. ensifolium introduce heat tolerance and early flowering to hybrids as well as strong perfume. C. Peter Pan, although a hybrid between C. ensifolium and a standard, cold tolerant Cymbidium, retains autumn flowering with some flowering at other times of the year. The best qualities about C. Peter Pan from a breeders point of view are that: 1.) it is an easy grower 2.) heat/cold tolerant 3.) has upright flower spikes 4.) accepts other colours 5.) is fragrant and 6.) is highly fertile.

Cymbidium Peter Pan 'Greensleeves' 4N

Cymbidium Wendy, bred in 1987, was one of the attempts to introduce pink into the C. Peter Pan line. Get it, Peter Pan and Wendy? Who says orchid breeders don't have a sense of humour. Unfortunately, the other parent used to create Wendy was the pink diploid C. Wondah. Wendy, the progeny of this unfortunate crossing of Peter Pan and Wondah was a triploid and was effectively sterile or at least it failed to produce offspring. It is a great shame that his unfortunate fate would befall such a beautiful plant. Cymbidium Wendy 'Copabella' is an absolutely beautiful pink with a stunning lip. It is a freeflowering, easy to grow plant. In many repects it is like a pink version of C. Peter Pan with flowers that last for 2 months. Cymbidium Peter Pan flowers last barely a month.

Cymbidium Wendy 'Copabella' 3N

A much later pairing of Peter Pan, this time with the dusky pinkish-red C. Winter Fire did produce fertile offspring, the surprisingly popular C. Peter Fire. Now for me this pairing is not an obvious first choice. The colour of many C. Winter Fire is, well, less than clear or bright. The interesting thing about some forms of C. Winter Fire is that they have feathered petals and sepals. This feathering comes in several shades including: white, greyish-white, cream and greyish-pink. C. Peter Pan has an interesting colouring as well. Even though C. Peter Pan is generally green, if flowered in high light it gets slight reddish/brownish shading on the petals and sepals and reddish speckles at the base of the petals. You can imagine the tears from the breeder upon seeing the results of this cross between to 'interestingly' coloured Cymbidiums. Well, the colours did not come out quite as expected but they are 'interesting'. These are normally the words of the breeder putting an optimistic spin on a less than successful cross.

Some of the C. Peter Fire however did turn out passable to the breeder and wildly popular with the buying public. Turns out that womens' tastes in colours are radically different from we menfolk. Dusky pinks and mulberrys predominate with some individual clones with colour that fades as it extends out the petals and sepals. Colour also varies wildly when flowers are opened in high light or low light. A dusky mulberry in high light can fade to a light dusky pink with mulberry spots in low-light conditions. I have a set of C. Peter Fire 'Cutie' exhibiting just this syndrome this year. Last year I purchased a flowering plant of C. Peter Fire 'Fabulous' based on its bright pinkish flowers and red lip, as clearly illustrated on the Valley Orchids website and in their nursery. What a suprise when it flowered this year, obviously under different light conditions. I actually like it better under my light conditions! How's that for a strange turn of events? Breeding with 'interesting' colours can lead to a successful cross.

Cymbidium Peter Fire 'Fabulous'

One of the most successful of the early Cymbidiums and certainly one of the best breeders of high quality early pinks is C. Summer Pearl. This wonderful hybrid is another hybrid of C. Peter Pan, this time using the highly useful C. Trigo Royale. The later of these two hybrids is especially valued by the cut-flower industry because of its lasting qualities of the flowers, especially when cut. One of the issues when using some of the early season species and hybrids, especially those using C. ensifolium, C. erythrostylum, C. sinense and C. tracyanum, are that they do not draw water when cut and barely last a day after removal from the plant. Even though C. Trigo Royale has a high proportion of C. erythrostylum in its heritage the poor keeping qualities have been not only diluted but completely eliminated. There is now a long list of 'earlies' that contain C. Summer Pearl as a parent. One of my favourites at the moment is an un-named hybrid between Summer Pearl and Valley Glory.

Cymbidium Summer Pearl

Cymbidium Summer Pearl X Valley Glory

Before there was Cymbidium Peter Pan to assist in the breeding of early season pinks there was the absolutely beautiful species C. erythrostylum. While C. erythrostylum provided the early flowering characteristic it was C. insigne that provided the lovely pink colour. Cymbidium Albanense, the hybrid between C. erythrostylum and C. insigne provided the key link to a long line of pink hybrids, mainly in the early to mid season. While many of the first forms of C. Albanense were white with red spotted lips, several were a delicate pink. Recent remakes of C. Albanense are a good strong pink and provide exciting opportunities for further improvements of early flowering pinks, especially for miniatures and intermediate types. The characteristic triangular shape of C. erythrostylum and the smaller lip are passed on for several generations. The petals of C. erythrostylum close in over the column but when crossed with species or hybrids with more open form these broad petals open out in the progeny and give after a few generations what are classed as the 'rounded shape' that we have come to accept as the standard.

Cymbidium erythrostylum 'Dale'

One of the most recent hybrids to come out of Andy Easton's breeding stable is the very lovely C. Plum Village X C. Flying Colors. This is a very interesting little plant. Little is apt as the whole plant in full flower is only about 35 cm tall with about a dozen smallish, perky but well formed flowers. What is fascinating about this plant is the strong influence of C. erythrostylum. You can just look at it and see the original species in it. The parentage is actually very complex with C. erythrostylum, C. Alexanderi, C. floribundum (pumilum) and a range of other large-growing species and hybrids in its ancentry. The repeated use of pure white and pink petaled species and hybrids has lead to an unbelievably clear pink in the petals and sepals of this little cutie.

Cymbidium Plum Village X C. Flying Colors

Recently, I went to Adelaide to give a talk to the local Cymbidium Club. I was to give a talk on the influence of the old awarded plants, those species and hybrids awarded by the RHS between the 1880's to 1930. One of the reasons I wanted to talk about such an obscure topic was to highlight how these plants could still play a role in modern hybridizing. When looking through the collection of hybrid seedlings in the greenhouse at the moment, there were many of these 'Vintage' plants used as parents even though the crosses using them were made in the past couple of years.

While in Adelaide a wonderful man named Peter Hall and his Cymbidium club friend Wayne Baylis where my tour guides. I showed up at Peters house for a good day out looking at other peoples collections. He was a bit disparaging of his own collection and assumed that there would be nothing that I would be interested in. It could not have been further from the truth! Sitting there right outside of his back door was a plant I had been looking for for years, the serenely beautiful Cymbidium Osborn (C. erythrostylum X C. dayanum). By chance one of the people we were going to visit was the breeder of C. Osborn, the very individualistic Malcolm Osborn. This man has taken the brave and forward-thinking step and moved solely into the growing and breeding of miniature Cymbidiums. His collection was stunning and immaculately maintained. He was kind enough to provide me with a very healthy division of the plant of my desire.

Cymbidium Osborn 'Pink Mist'

Cymbidium Osborn 'Pink Mist'

One of the older hybrids that shows the C. erythrostylum influence and the beautiful pink colour is appropriately named 'Rosie'. Now 'Rosie' is not an officially recognised name but this stunning plant has been doing the rounds for many years. It comes out of the now defunct stable of Cecil Park Orchids. Although never named, the parentage of this hybrid is well known, namely, Earlyana X Henry Davis. The influence of C. erythrostylum is clearly evident in the broad, upward swept petals and triangular shape of the overall flower. This shape influence is not surprising as 'Rosie' is only three steps away from erythrostylum through the C. Earlyana parent. Cymbidium Earlyana is a hybrid between C. Early Bird and C. Louisiana. Cymbidium Early Bird is half C. erythrostylum. The other major influence in 'Rosie' is the wonderfully bizarre and highly fragrant C. tracyanum, itself a very early bloomer.

A couple of the nicest aspects of C. 'Rosie' are the vibrant colours and strong fragrance. The size of the flower and plant is well within the range of the normal standard types. the flower spike is over a metre tall and the flowers a good 10 cm across. Can you smell it by just looking at the picture? I can. The french have a name for that syndrome but for the life of me can't think of the word at the moment.

Cymbidium 'Rosie' (Earlyana X Henry Davis)

Sometimes an un-named plant comes into my posession that I know one of the parents but do not have a clue about the others that are listed. Going on trust you have to assume that the breeder knew what they were doing when they made the cross. Suspicion can be raised in the mind when one of the parents is itself un-named. One such plant recently came to live with me. The name on the label was (Sylvania X Palaker) X Musita. In this case the plant was not chosen because of the parentage but because when I walked into the sales shed of a local breeder and grower the plant jumped out at me. Not literally, but the colour was so clear and intense and the habit of the plant so attractive that I had to purchase it. The breeder was not originally going to sell it because he wanted it for himself. I love his wife for talking him out of keeping it. I have yet to work out its full heritage but it is clear from the little research that I have done that there is not a trace of C. Peter Pan in there anywhere. Interestingly, the parents were originally bred in 1970, 1976 and 1961 respectively. Here we go with the old hybrids playing a role in modern breeding! Needless to say, C. erythrostylum plays a large part in this hybrid through its grandparents parents C. Stanley Fouraker and C. Early Bird.

cymbidium (Sylvania X Palaker) X Musita

Cymbidium (Sylvania X Palaker) X Musita

Cymbidium (Cherry something. I can't read my own writing!)

My friend Julians plant is also a real stunner. A standard by classification but far from standard in looks. I wrote down the name incorrectly, which is something that happens when overly excited. This plant is pretty stunning in real life! Looks like this hybrid is probably a cross between the C. Peter Pan and C. erythrostylum lines of breeding. It is certainly a fragrant early season pink with broad upward swept petals! I am only guessing though. Will have to follow up on this one.


archibear said...

Dear Chuckie

Thank-you for a wonderful post. You are a masterful storyteller of the evolution of the Cymbidium! Your carefully studied photographs convey their sublime splendour, so much so, I can almost smell the beautiful scent of these pink orchids through my computer!

Chuckie said...

Hey Archibear,

Thanks for the kind words. Do you know the french word for experiencing memories through sensory perceptions? and sensory perception through imagining or seeing items or experiences?

Anonymous said...


I maybe did not make it clear in my earlier e-mail but Musita 'Pinkie' was almost certainly not a Musita. It came from an English nursery renowned for changing labels and was sold to Vacherot & Lecoufle right at the start of the meristem Cymbidium boom. There were in Australia plants of the correctly-named Musita and they tended to be fairly strongly-colored reds.