Derek the Hybrid Detective
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Detective Derek 06/05 : Elfi.

This article is soon to be published on under "Uncle Derek says".
Due to it's "Aussie" content, Derek Butcher has kindly permitted it's use here.
The photographs are by Derek Butcher, Kerry Tate of NSW, and Keith Green from NZ.
The article will also be reproduced in The Bromeliad Society of Australia "Bromeletter".

Vriesea ‘Elfi’ and ‘Elfi Natascha’, by Derek Butcher, Cultivar Registrar, BSI.

O what a tangled web can be woven when little is written about a cultivar when it is released. This is just one example. While this may be a ‘Cold Case’ there are still plants being grown around the world that are in this tangle.

In the International Checklist of Bromeliad hybrids 1979 we find a reference to a Vriesea ‘Elfi’and that it came into existence in 1970. No parentage was known.
In 1984 in Brian Smith’s Manuscript of Bromeliad hybrids and Cultivars we read that the parents of ‘Elfi’ are (‘Viminalis Rex’ x gigantea) gleaned from some nurseryman’s catalogue. The use of the name ‘Viminalis Rex’ suggests an origin in Europe. It is interesting to note that this name was coined by the Belgians nearly one hundred years ago to cover all Vriesea hybrids at that time because their pedigrees were such a mess. This would be the first recorded use of a Cultivar Group! It was not a Cultivar name but is treated this way these days and I personally can see no difference between it and a branched ‘Poelmanii’. Both quoted parents have branched inflorescences.
In 1991 ‘A Preliminary Listing of all known cultivar and grex names for the Bromeliaceae’ repeated this parentage.
In J. Brom. Soc 45(3): 106. 1995 G Samyn from Belgium again repeated this parentage.
In J. Brom . Soc.47(3): 121. 1997 G. Samyn and E Thomas showed ‘Elfi’ as a ‘variegated’ chimaeric shoot from ‘Natascha’whose parents were (‘Poelmanii’ x fenestralis) Note that fenestralis has a simple inflorescence and ‘Poelmanii’ would probably have had a simple spike at the time it was used as a parent.
These problems of changing identity but not name is partly explained in under ‘Uncle Derek says’ under Vriesea ‘Van Ackeri’.
In 1998 the Bromeliad Cultivar Register shows this new parentage, pointing out the previous error in parentage without realising it was referring to a different plant!
In 2004 we flowered a plant we had got from Ken Woods of Sydney called (‘Viminalis Rex’ x gigantea). It was time for action! These days a cultivar cannot be identified by formula. Ken had not done the hybrid and the answer lay in Queensland.- we thought!

Olive Trevor was able to give me some clues. It appears that the plant had been imported into Queensland or Northern New South Wales in the ?1980’s under formula from the USA. Somehow, at least one of these was called Vriesea ‘Gigant’ but it bears no relationship to Richter’s ‘Gigant’ whose parents are (‘Poelmanii’ x ‘Versaillensis’). We have a photo on file of ‘Gigant’ from Gilbert Samyn of the Belgian Research Institute showing a single spike. Perhaps it was a typical Aussie abbreviation of the pollen parent V. gigantea - nobody knows - but we do know there are plants circulating in Australia under ‘Gigant’ AND the formula (‘Viminalis Rex’ x gigantea ). Perhaps the plant is still being grown under the formula in the USA!

To my mind this is the ‘TRUE’ ‘Elfi’ but we cannot have two different plants with the same name. The ‘Elfi’ which is a variegated form of ‘Natascha’ should be referred to as ‘Elfi Natascha’ to differentiate the two.

My guess that there was an old ‘Elfi’ was confirmed when John Arden sent me a copy of Kent’s catalogue in 1979 in California where Vriesea ‘Elfi Variegata’ was on offer with parents shown as (‘Viminalis Rex’ x tesselata) – you may recall that the current name for tesselata is gigantea – and the price was ASK. This indicates a rare plant!!! To my mind this means that there was a non variegated Vriesea ‘Elfi’ in existence – somewhere! The name and quoted parentage suggest this hybrid was of European origin and well before the revelations from Belgium in 1997.

In the same catalogue Vriesea ‘Natacha’ (note the spelling) was also available and showing parents of (Fenestralis X Poelmanii) which indicates that in 1979 ‘Elfi’ and ‘Natascha’ were no way related even though both had variegated Sports. I would suggest that in those days plants sold as ‘Natascha’ had a single spike. Just to confuse matters, in those days all from the one seed batch would have had the same cultivar name and these were not primary crosses so some variation would have occurred! This is perhaps confirmed that on the same price list there was a plant with the formula fenestralis x ‘Poelmanii’ !!

Both the species used in these hybrids are from the subgenus Xiphion and with both hybrids there is a certain oddity in the floral arrangement. It is difficult to see what differences there are but I believe them to be.

Vriesea ‘Elfi’ has . . .
Plant larger – difficult to assess because of feeding programs
Leaves less tessellated
Scape longer
Floral bracts wider
Floral bracts and sepals uniform (‘Natascha’ sometimes spotted)

So I’ll be changing the Cultivar Register to read
Vriesea ‘Elfi’ see also ‘Elfi Natascha’
Vriesea ‘Elfi Natascha’, (‘Poelmanii’ x fenestralis), Variegated, Sport from ‘Natascha’, Simple inflorescence but sometimes branched, at one time known only as ‘Elfi’ Refer J. Brom. Soc. 47(3): 121. 1997. Cargo Report describes it as ‘ A wide leaved hybrid with a purple spike. The leaves have bold cream-colored variegation up the center.’ (Wurthmann developed a variegated form with this parentage 11/1991 unnamed as of 1998)
Vriesea ‘Elfi Green’ is ‘Elfi Natascha’ that has lost its variegation.
Vriesea ‘Elfi’, (‘Viminalis Rex’ x gigantea), hybridist unknown, long scape, large branched inflorescence, there may be a variegated form in existence. Refer BSI-ICBH-1979 and Prelim listing 1991under ‘Elfi’ and in Kents Catalogue 1979 under ‘Elfi Variegata’

Click on thumbnails for full size image.

Elfie. Derek Butcher.
Natascha. Kerry Tate, NSW.
Natascha. Keith Green, NZ.

Updated 03/06/21