Derek the Hybrid Detective

DD0611 Neoregelia ‘Red of Rio'
by Derek Butcher April 2011

This article was prompted by discussions as to whether the variegated ‘Fireball’ is in fact a variegated ‘Fireball’ or a hybrid! It is interesting that this variant has not been given a cultivar name so it can be registered. Consensus was that it is a hybrid unless someone in the USA was playing with tissue culture - but such a happening has not been reported! (See Detective Derek 04/11)
As well as looking at ‘Fireball’ as grown in Australia we also looked at the variation in shapes and sizes on the alleged variegated form and it was inevitable that ‘Red of Rio’ would get involved.

Bromeletter 21(5): 14-15. 1983
LETTER BOX: Today the postman brought me BROMEL NEWS, the official Newsletter of the Ipswich Bromeliad Society, Queensland. The Society is to be congratulated on their activities, thus bringing bromeliads to the fore in their area. In the June issue, Mr Len Butt the Editor wrote about the controversy re. Neoregelia Fireball and Neoregelia Rio Red. A reprint of this appears below, followed by my comments on a plant purchased by me from Mrs. Olive Wills in 1967 as Neoregelia Red of Rio.
"The interesting controversy that has developed about these plants at least warrants a few notes. Here below, as written in the catalogue of "The Bromellad Treasury" is "Fireball", a small compact 8 inch to 10 inch rosette of brilliant red, glossy 1 inch wide leaves that only reach their full brilliance in 50% sun. A small cushion of blue lavender flowers appear in the centre at blooming time. The plant spreads by radial stolons from each plant. It will make a beautiful wheel of plants in a hanging pot if the offsets are allowed to mature. In two years the wheel can be 3 feet across.
Rio Red on the other hand, is an excellent substitute for Fireball in those cases where the collector does not have enough light to keep Fireball red. Slightly larger than Fireball, with a diameter of 12 inches, it has reddish maroon leaves in a flat rosette, that sometimes develops some small green random markings. Rio Red spreads easily by stolons and has beautiful royal blue flowers deep in the rosette. Train the stolons to climb a branch for good effect. Bright light without sun will keep the red colour and it can be safely given up to 50% sun. I sometimes think the labels on these plants must have been initially mixed, as according to one well known grower who brought his Fireball out from America, the latter is Fireball and the former Rio Red. Just to add a little spice to all of this, here are a few paragraphs taken from GRANDE about the origin of N. Fireball, and please note the remarks credited to Lyman B. Smith about this plant. An article concerning the origin of Fireball appeared in GRANDE and stated that the famous plant explorers Nat de Leon and Ralph Davis found it as a great cluster of red rosettes growing on a tree at Sao Paulo Brazil, and Ralph Davis gave it the name of Fireball.
(Butcher’s note - This is a misquote where in fact it was in 1960 that Nat de Leon received a then unnamed single plant of Fireball in a bromeliad consignment from orchid collector Walter Doering of Sao Vicente, Sao Paulo State, Brazil.)
The author of the article said he received a single plant but found it difficult to flower in South Florida. Later Nat Deleon sent a flowering plant to Lyman B. Smith at the Washington Institute and received a reply stating that it was a species of Brazilian origin and it was then named Neoregelia schultesiana.
(Butcher’s note - For further details on the mysterious N. schultesiana see article under ‘Fireball’ on FCBS)"
(In 1967 I purchased a small neoregelia from Mrs Olive Wills of Jannali, NSW under the name of Neoregelia Red of Rio. Can anyone else add to the history of this little plant gem? It is a smal1, rosette type, offsetting by stolons and ideal for hanging basket culture. It fits the description in Len’s article on N. Fireball. I have seen one plant similar to the larger plant mentioned by Len, in a collection here on the Gold Coast, and will continue to check on it flowering, as it looks very much like the Oeser hybrid of Neo. carolinae X Neo. ampullacea = N. Petite No 1, and before I named the hybrids, released by me as No.38.
Neo. Petite No 1 is a smallish rosette type, offsetting on stolons, and reddens well in near full sun. At flowering time the centre takes on the red colour of the parent Neo. carolinae, thus making it easy to separate it from the first mentioned two plants in Len’s article. I have also seen this plant in collections labelled Neo. carolinae minor.
Neo. Petite No. 2. is smaller and more upright than No 1. It is a darker red, and does not colour in the centre at flowering time. I did not list it until recently, so do not think No 2 would enter into the controversy, O. Ferris. Editor.)

Bromeletter 27(5): 5. 1989
Questions and Answers: Q8. (Joan Williams, NSW).
For many years I called my miniature neoregelia 'Red of Rio’. I was then told that it was Neoregelia 'Fireball' and that there was none called 'Red of Rio'. However, others say that it is a slightly larger and not quite as red a version of 'Fireball and is called 'Red of Rio'.
I have looked through the "International Checklist of Bromeliad Hybrids" and also Derek Butcher's hybrid book but 'Red of Rio' is not listed. The nearest name I can find is 'Rio Red'. Could this be the plant that people call 'Red of Rio'?

A8. (Derek Butcher, S.A.). Yes, I did come across Neoregelia 'Red of Rio' but all the comments I got were hearsay and I didn't go into print on the matter. I’m not even certain if the name is of Aussie origin or the U.S.A. Neoregelia 'Rio Red' is allegedly a Hummels hybrid. At least this was what Brian Smith picked up from the various literature in the U.S. Being a Hummels hybrid its parents are unknown but I do not know if anyone has grown on any self-set seed from 'Rio Red'. Neoregelia 'Rio Red' has been used in Australian hybrids.
Neoregelia 'Fireball’ is supposedly a true species, having been collected in the wild but the only reference I can find at the moment is on p.73 of the U.S. Joumal in 1977. Here it is said that this plant is known in Europe as Neoregelia schultesiana. However, I have been unable to trace any botanical description. Perhaps we may hear from Harry Luther on the subject.
In Adelaide we find that 'Fireball' is cold sensitive whereas 'Red of Rio' (yes, we have one under this name!) is more hardy and looks different ! Is 'Red of Rio' the same as 'Rio Red' ? If I can get some sort of proof then it could go into the check list to save this sort of problem in the future.

Bromeletter 28(2): 5. 1990
Questions and Answers: A8 (Olwen Ferris, Qld.). Re the miniature Neoregelia 'Red of Rio' and N. 'Fireball'. I have owned N. 'Red of Rio' since early 1962. I bought it as an offset from a plant grown from seed which was said to be collected from the mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro (hence the 'Red of Rio'). Offsets have been sold by me to collectors around Australia and I still grow it separate to the slightly smaller N. 'Fireball' that Grace Goode imported in the 1970's. Under Queensland conditions both plants appear similar, except that N. 'Red of Rio' is slightly larger.

The more I read this history the more I am convinced that Hummel’s ‘Rio Red’ has not got to Australia. What seems to have happened is that ‘Rio Red’ and ‘Red of Rio’ have been interchanged on labels as the plant moved around Australia!
The spotting mentioned by Len Butt has me intrigued because a photo taken by Andrew Steens – see his latest book page 230 indicates that ‘Red of Rio’ is still being grown under this name in New Zealand. An earlier photo that Andrew sent me in 2008 shows it has spots on the leaves! We know that Olwen sold plants called ‘Red of Rio’ so perhaps this plant is still being grown in Queensland under this name.
There is another twist in that my Margaret got a plant from Bill Morris, Newcastle, NSW, in the 1980’s that he called ‘Fireball’. We know that Bill was a stickler for accuracy and this plant could well be linked to Olwen Ferris (See notes above). But, Margaret’s memory seems to suggest that Elton Leme was involved even that long ago – but this is mere hearsay! Anyway it had spots and for want of a name we called it ‘Fireball from Bill’ because it was different to our other plants called ‘Fireball’. I am sure others would have got ‘Fireball from Bill’ from Bill in those days so I will be adding detail to the Bromeliad Cultivar Register just in case someone in the future ponders why their ‘Fireball’ has spots on the leaves. Methinks there is a link with ‘Red of Rio’ somewhere.

In 2001 while on a working holiday at the Singapore Botanic Gardens I did see a plant called ‘Rio Red’ and the Gardens’ manifest indicated it had come from Shelldance nursery in California, which as we know, was the home of Hummel. This suggests to me that it is authentic. I was able to acquire a photo, which is now in the BCR database.

Finally, we have ‘Greenball’ discovered by Luciano Zappi in 1992 but sent to Selby Gardens by Elton Leme, which can have the odd spot or two on its leaves. Spots and size in themselves do not a species make and yet as horticulturists we have three names to choose from, ignoring the many small hybrids that abound that have ‘Fireball’ as mother or father!

Red of Rio. A.Steens.
'Fireball from Bill'. Derek Butcher 04/11.
Greenball. Geoff Lawn.

Updated 25/06/11