Derek the Hybrid Detective

DD0311b Neoregelia 'Big Bands'.
by Derek Butcher March 2011

In the Jan 2011 issue of Meristem the Journal of the Caloosahatchee Brom Soc I found out some fascinating information about the Neoregelia called ‘Oeser’s #100. About 1977, Joe and Peggy Bailey of Florida acquired a supposed unique neoregelia from a nursery in California.

In 1991 when Fort Myers horticultural artist, Kiti Wenzel was asked to create a poster for the 1992 WBC “Bromeliad Safari” to be held in Tampa Florida, Peggy provided a picture of the Neoregelia ‘Big Bands’ (also known as Oeser hybrid #100) as the model for the poster. It was reported in the Journal of the Bromeliad Society International, May-June l992 issue that this plant was the only one of its kind and at that time was felt to no longer be in existence. Actually this is not true, because today Neoregelia 'Big Bands' exists in many collections, at least in Florida gardens; and this is again due to the generosity of the Baileys. Another inconsistency was in the colour of the banding. Photographs on the Bromeliad Cultivar Register show a contrast with the one from Peggy Bailey showing gold/yellow banding as is the plant depicted in the poster by Kiti, whereas the other from Tropiflora shows light green bands. The description given to Don Beadle by Peggy Bailey for the 1998 edition of the Bromeliad Cultivar Registry – “Dark, rich red spotted and banded with chartreuse - irregular very distinct bands to half the upper leaves evident even in small offsets”. This suggests variation depending on what intensity of light the plant is subjected to.

Seeing the photo by Tropiflora reminded me of a photo I took of ‘Happy Thoughts’ that was at one time known as ‘Green Bands’!

This in turn had me looking at Oeser numbers and what had happened in the USA and Australia. It seems that about 1965 he sent packets of hybrid seed numbered 1 to 20 AND 100 to 111 to California without advising parentage. How do I know this? When Don Beadle checked all records in his preparation of the 1998 Bromeliad Cultivar Register he followed the lead of Brian Smith (see Manuscript of Bromeliad hybrids and cultivars, 1984) where detail had been captured from Nurserymen’s catalogues but he went further by recording which nursery was using the cultivar name AND the date. This way I was able to glean that the earliest references were coming from California! Oeser’s hybrids seem to have been grown by several Californian nurseries but whether they went to one Californian who distributed the seed to interested people, it will never be known. What is strange is that he did not apparently quote any parentage and yet he did when sending seed to Australia!

No doubt you have asked yourself what happened to the numbers between 21 and 99. Well, we do know that we have seeds numbered between 40 and 60 by Olwen Ferris in New South Wales, Australia AND he divulged that they were a cross between carolinae and a hybrid of chlorosticta. Because one was a hybrid we know you would get variability even with one seed pod! Most of those selected out as being worthy of growing on and naming had spots! To see the 6 sibling names involved refer to ‘Beefsteak’ which was what we called the grex name in the 1980’s. Alas, we do not have photos of them all. The photos of ‘Happy Thoughts’ are especially intriguing as mentioned before! I can see links between this and ‘Big Bands’ and it could well have similar if not the same parents.

From records currently held Oeser sent seed to Australia in this same period of
1. (carolinae x chlorosticta hybrid) which became ‘Beefsteak’ with 6 siblings
2. (carolinae x redleaf carolinae hybrid) which became ‘Nomad’ with 11 siblings
3. (carolinae x chlorosticta) which became ‘Dark Delight’ with 18 siblings
4. (ampullacea x chlorosticta) which became ‘Jodie’ with 7 siblings
5. (ampullacea x carolinae) which became ‘Petite’ with 3 siblings
6. (chlorosticta x ?) which became ‘Red Marble’ with NO siblings!!!

Let us now move to California where the US seed raising started and I regret to say that Peggy did not get a unique plant from the Californian Nurseryman. If it was Oeser #100 then the Californians called it ‘Michelle’. So Oeser #100 had at least two names that we know of – ‘Big Bands’ and ‘Michelle’. We do know that a plant called Oeser #100 was imported to Australia but we do not know by whom. All we do know is that in the 1980’s the Butchers got hold of a plant of this name from Queensland and because it was not like ‘Big Bands’ called it ‘Michelle’ instead! We do know that ‘Big Bands’ got to Australia in 1987 because it is in the Pinegrove Ledger but who is growing it now?!

Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Dr Richard Oeser has much to answer for. Or, did I hear a chuckle from up in that Bromeliad Heaven because even after 45 years some of his hybrids are still being grown even if we do not really know their parents! Where else did he send hybrid seed? We think that New Zealand got at least one packet because of ‘Bea Hanson’.

If this has a moral, it is that you are sure to create angst if you hybridise and let others raise the seed. Hybridising is not a game but a creation where the hybridist has responsibilities.

Updated 19/04/11