Derek the Hybrid Detective
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DD0708 Times ara a Changing
by Derek Butcher 06/08
Document 8/2007, ammended 5/2008.

Do you want the good news or the bad news? We now have 8821 names on the International Bromeliad Cultivar Register of which 4366 are Neoregelia. If you wanted to buy one of these plants how lucky would you be? Many of the older ones would be very difficult to find. With many of the newer ones you could try contacting the hybridist but even then you could have problems. Let me explain.

In the good-old-days, Nurseries printed Catalogues and advertised their wares in various Newsletters and Journals. However, as Herb Plever from New York already pointed out these Catalogues are becoming few and far between and yet plants, especially hybrids, are still sold and purchased around the world.

Ever since I became Registrar in 2000 I have tried to point out the advantages of registering hybrids if only to give some way of identification compared to the names that just occur in Catalogues, which for want of a term I have always called Nurserymen’s Names or “NN” for short. If mentioned in a Bromeliad Journal I ask that “unregistered” be put next to the name if this applies.

Another reason for having a Cultivar Register is that anybody wanting such a plant could at least contact the hybridist and in the good-old-days this was a reasonable assumption. Catalogues were invaluable in this exercise because the Nurseryman had to have sufficient stock before going to the expense of printing such a Catalogue.

Therefore, he worked with propagating offsets. Having available stock is all the more important to the large wholesalers in Europe and some larger US concerns. Here, it can be said that the plants are truly being cultivated widely and need to be recorded in the Register. If I find out they are using a different name for this same plant this is also recorded in the Register whether the company concerned likes it or not. The same name for different plants is also recorded. So the Register is more than just a Register because it gives extra information in any search for identity.

We have the rule for registering hybrids that the plant should be grown through successions of asexual reproduction to ensure that:-

- 1. There is a chance to look at stability and;

- 2. There is a likelihood that there are sufficient numbers for circulation for it to be considered a plant in general cultivation.

This is decided by the registrant/hybridist not the Registrar and if we return to the good-old-days there was no incentive to ignore this rule!

These days of Ebay and Websites it costs no more to have just one cultivar for sale calling it unique and claiming a high price for it. The purchaser is not fully aware that the onus is on him/her to propagate such cultivar and, in reality, it is unnecessary to be in the Register because nobody else has a chance of obtaining it or needing to know its identity. This uniqueness is a decision by the seller. This is where we have problems with Bromeliaceae because of their promiscuity and fecundity where every seed raised has the potential to be “different” in someone’s eyes. Culling is always urged but rarely put into practice because its meaning differs amongst individuals.

We have problems especially with Guzmania, Cryptanthus, and even more so with Neoregelia because of the amount of crossbreeding that has occurred with a small number of species. We know that in the wild, plants evolve to species but there are always natural hybrids being produced which may or may not evolve into new species. Generally speaking, gardeners accept the broad description of a species and only rarely is an aberrant form given a cultivar name. This is usually linked to variegations appearing in a species and not being described under the ICBN Rules.

Plants in cultivation hybridise much more readily and this is sometimes assisted by hybridists! To my mind a hybridist is one who seeks to produce a plant that is outstanding from what can be found in the wild. We know that crossing a species with a species will give a plant with hybrid vigour but the seedlings from the same seed batch will show certain similarities. If you obtain seedlings in the next generation – F2, you will get many variations and it should be easy to select the best. F3 will get less variations, F4 even less and so on. Many of the Neoregelia hybrids being made these days are at higher levels than even F4. To my mind many Neoregelia hybridists do not check the lineage of the parents they use to see what the possible outcome might be and, as such, they may be better served by taking seed from a hybrid that has been fertilised “naturally”. In other words, they are good growers of seed rather than intentional hybridists.

We now come to the next problem where the seedlings are mostly similar not only in that seed batch but with other seed batches with different hybrids as parents. In many cases the seedlings are good plants, the only problem is their similarity! But these, “hybridists” still look for differences however minute and these are registered. A true hybridist would only be registering the most outstanding and destroying the rest but in reality we have a plethora of look-alike hybrids where if any lose the label there is little hope of finding its proper name.

The Registrar treads a narrow path between the thousands of named plants out there not registered and the few thousand that have been. How many growers keep labels near their plants? I have had one Nurseryman boast that over the years he had named and sold some 60,000 plants without registering one. What I find interesting is NOT one has been referred back to me with an identity crisis. This means to me that the plants could not have been that outstanding in the first place for purchasers to want to propagate them further. This also shows that you do not need to register every seedling you obtain and a very true sayings is “Quality before Quantity”.

The relevant articles in the ICNCP rules are:

- 2.2 A cultivar is an assemblage of plants that has been selected for a particular attribute or combination of attributes and that is clearly distinct, uniform and stable in these characteristics and that when propagated by appropriate means retains those characteristics.

- 2.4 Cultivars differ in their mode of origin and reproduction, for example as described in Art. 2.5 Whatever the means of propagation, only those plants which maintain the characteristics that define a particular cultivar may be included within that cultivar.

- 2.5 Plants of the same clone (which are asexually propagated from any part of a plant) may form a cultivar.

- 2.8 Plants of a clone which are derived from aberrant growth may form a cultivar.

- 2.11 An assemblage of individual plants grown from seed derived from uncontrolled pollination may form a cultivar when it meets the criteria laid down in the Art. 2.2 and when it can be distinguished consistently by one or more characters even though the individual plants of the assemblage may not necessarily be genetically uniform.

Bromeliad Societies around the world play a vital role in this selection process when they conduct Shows and issue Newsletters, and check the Cultivar Register to see if the plant name has been registered. How many registered plants turn up on Show benches? How many are unregistered or just have a formula?

Updated 12/07/08