Derek the Hybrid Detective

DD0214 Grandfathering in - Australian bigenerics.
by Derek Butcher December 2013

‘Grandfathering in’ is a term used to cover those hybrids that were not named or registered by the original hybridist but have been registered by another person at a later date. It is fraught with danger because many of the facts regarding parentage could well be guesswork. However, the hybrid is in existence and as with anything botanical, is best recorded for future reference rather than being in someone’s memory and therefore lost.

Some of this past knowledge is contained in old letters but so many of these letters disappear on the death of the receiver. Some are retained as archival material in various Universities especially in the USA as is evidenced by the article on Theodore L Mead in the Journal of the Brom Soc. 62(5): 214-223. 2012. This opened my mind to the fact that he was probably the first American to really concentrate on hybridising in Bromeliaceae in the 1920’s and probably succeeded in producing a bi-generic, although we have no living proof.

These days these letters can so easily be copied as ‘pdf ‘and made available for any interested party to read. This is where Alan Herndon of Miami Florida, USA comes into the picture because he has plans for this type of material to be available via the BSI. He already has letters to Bill Morris here in Australia from writers in the USA in the 1960’s, which I rescued from the ‘silverfish’ in Bill’s garden shed!

It was a great surprise to me a few days ago when Alan reported he had access to correspondence that Ralph Davis had had with Australians. Nothing like this had been found in the garden shed! You have only to read the Bulletin of the Bromeliad Society of this period to realise the high esteem that Ralph Davis held in this period. For some reason Ralph kept carbon copies of the letters he sent. In most cases you only have letters in and have to guess what was in letters out! There is one problem with such letters in that you don’t know what you are looking for until you find it. For example I look for mentions of plants being sent to Australia to see if I can link them to plants being grown here. Then there are details about hybrids.

Wow! While Bill Morris was telling Ralph about his Bigeneric hybrids he had produced in Australia, Ralph let Bill know his success with a Canistrum and an Aechmea. This had me looking for more detail but alas I had to make-do with this snippet of information. However in August 1964 Ralph Davis did send a parcel of plants to Bill Morris care of Joan White (Bill Morris was in the middle of a move to Cairns) which included an Aechmea chantinii x Canistrum fosterianum. This is the only reference I can find and it was not recorded in later issues of the Australian Bromeletter so it is probable that this plant died in quarantine. There is vague information on this hybrid in the BSI but Herb Hill was the actual one to name this hybrid xCanmea ‘RaRu’ after Ralph and Ruby Davis. It seems some 20 years after the event! But, alas we do not even know what it looks like, so if anyone out there is growing this plant it would be great to have its photo. Because of this possible parentage I have found, I will be noting the official records.

The two bigenerics that Bill Morris was talking about are mentioned as follows:
xNeobergia ‘Noddy’ by D Butcher in Bromeletter 33(1): 9. 1995
Now to another bigeneric with Billbergia nutans as the seed parent and Neoregelia carolinae providing the pollen. Here again Mulford Foster was unconvinced but whether he received specimen details or was bypassed in favour of Lyman Smith, the archival records do not divulge. I do know that in November 1961, Lyman Smith believed that a bigeneric happening between Billbergia and Neoregelia had occurred but I cannot find the letter Lyman Smith sent to Bill Morris. This has probably been filed in a special safe place (not in the shed) never to be found again!
No reference appears in Flora Neotropica, Bromelioideae by Smith & Downs which is a pity but you cannot win them all.
After all it is in my checklist under Neobergia 'Noddy'. If you have 'Noddy' then you will know it is like a robust Billbergia nutans which goes red in the centre when ready to flower and produces a somewhat shortened, non-hanging, inflorescence.
In fact, quite a talking point.

xAechopsis ‘Newk’* by Butcher in Bromeletter 33: 9. 1995
At the first Bromeliad Conference in 1981 I saw a plant in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens named Aechmea miniata v. discolor but which looked like a robust Nidularium burchellii. I quizzed Olwen Ferris & she felt it was one of Bill Morris's hybrids. We now know this as xNidumea 'Newk' (the Newk to remind us of Newcastle rather than the tennis player).
Imagine my surprise when I found a letter from Julian Nally of Gotha, Florida, U.S.A. of date March 17, 1961, which reports on Bill's achievements. Apparently, Bill had been trying to set seed by crossing plants from different genera, and believed he had achieved success in 2 such crossings. Julian was keen to acquire living proof of these successes because bigeneric hybrids were very rare at that time & many thought such crossings were impossible. Bill had been swapping seed with Julian at the time and this achievement put him into the positive side of the ledger.

At the same time, Bill was sending Cycad seed to Mulford Foster & also enjoying a supply of seed in a reciprocal arrangement. Mulford Foster was trying bigeneric hybrids but not having much success so the fact that an Antipodean had supposedly broken the barrier was somewhat of a shock. Needless to say, yet another American wanted a specimen.
I don't know if you have xNidumea 'Newk' or have seen it but it does look like a larger stiffer leaved, bluish petalled Nidularium burchellii & has hybrid vigour. Bill assures me that mother was the Aechmea miniata var. discolor. Anyway Noreen, Bill's wife, must be the artist in the family, because she had the job of drawing up the specimen parts to send away to Mulford. Mulford would have been in a defensive mood but he could not see any Aechmea miniata in the crossing and suggested other possible parents which Bill had never had!
Perhaps I should have a go with the razor blade and butcher one of my plants under this name just to see what differences there are. Another way to check would be to set seed but the plant seems to be a “mule” which all bigenerics seem to be!

So here you have three bigeneric hybrids that were quite an achievement at the time but went unnamed for some 20 years. Not awe inspiring plants but worthy of naming and recording.
These days you see the same problem with some hybridists creating new hybrids and not finishing up with the necessary paper work of naming and registering. BUT then you also see the other side of the coin where naming and registering is done and yet there is very little difference in the supposed new creation other than name.

* After 'Newk' was developed, Nidularium burchellii was re-classified as Canistropsis burchellii. Hence the name xAechopsis used in this website.

xAechopsis Newk. Ian Hook 11/09.

Updated 25/12/14