Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year and New Discoveries

First, I have to say Thank You! to all of those who have read my blog this year! I cannot express how much I appreciate the comments I've received about it from many of you. It was a bit of a self-indulgence on my part, but I hoped that it would find an audience among others who loved Petrocosmea as I do, and that it might be helpful for those who are learning about them and wish to know them and grow them I do. Today, after only four months the blog has had over 900 visitors from 34 countries. I am amazed!! It has been a lot of fun to put together and I will forever be appreciative to all of you for reading it. I hope that 2010 is a wonderful year for all of you!

The new year is bringing still more new discoveries for me about Petrocosmea. First, the one species which I have found the greatest challenge to flower, finally is beginning to flower! What a great way to start a new year and a new chapter of exploring the wonders of the genus Petrocosmea! Petrocosmea sp. 'Yumebutai' came into my collection as a gift from a great friend and expert Petrocosmea grower, Paul Kroll of East Aurora, NY. This plant was first grown by a grower for the Yumebutai Nursery in Japan and was given to an accomplished gesneriad grower, Mr. Toshijiro Okuto. Mr. Okuto then gave the leaves to growers here in the USA and one of them was Paul. The plant appears as a large form of one of the Petrocosmea rosettifolia group, and initial DNA studies are showing that it is a close relative to that group. Leaves are quite thick and have a heavy substance. They are deep forrest green, with a lighter center. The hair on the leaves is bristle-like and stiff, giving the leaves a very rough texture. The leaves, for me, have not gloss to them, the have a dull appearance. Leaves tend to cup downward.

As I said, it has been a reluctant bloomer. Blooms are quite unique....the resemble those of the rosettifolias, but have only four petals as opposed to the usual five. Flowers are purple, with a creamy white throat. The two upper petals form the typical short hood of members of the Section - Anisochilus. Peduncles are purple, with up to five buds each. It is forming lots of buds, so it appears it will be floriferous. Mr. Okuto's photo of a plant in bloom does show a heavily-flowered plant, however, I cannot see the flowers well enough to determine petal count. I have not used it in hybridizing.....YET!

Petrocosmea sp. 'Yumebutai' finally flowers. Bud and bloom count appears to be high. Flowers have only four petals, making them appear elongated.

Another surprise came this morning, very early, as I went down to the plant room in my basement to check on the Pets. I have been growing two plants of P. minor veined leaf form under humidity domes, in preparation for using them for hybridizing. This morning, as I lifted the dome from the tray, a spicy floral fragrance wafted up from the tray! WHAT? A fragrant Petrocosmea?!? Sure enough, several more "sniffs" of the flowers confirmed that they were indeed quite fragrant. I then began to smell other Petrocosmea in bloom. I also detected a similar, although fainter fragrance on P. sericea. A seedling from a cross between P. sericea x P. minor veined leaf form also has a mild fragrance. Admittedly, I have never checked for fragrance on the flowers of Petrocosmea, so had not noted it before. I will be checking more Pet flowers in the future. If you have these species in flower now, you must check them for fragrance. I suspect that the fragrance was intensified by the humidity dome covering the tray, but I could still detect it later in the day after the tray had been uncovered for a while. A new discovery!

Petrocosmea minor veined leaf form....the flowers of this species have a spicy floral least to my nose. If you have this species...give it a sniff!
Last evening, as I was examining some dissected Petrocosmea flowers under a microscope, I noted that the flowers of P. rosettifolia #3 had four stamens. Most Petrocosmea flowers have two stamens and two staminodes...or no staminodes. This species clearly had four. I checked the flowers of P. rosettifolia #1 and #4 and they two had three or four anthers each. I then went back to double check flowers of several other species...begoniifolia, flaccida, duclouxii, minor, sericea...all of these species have two stamens. What does this mean? I don't know. But it found it interesting. The stamens of rosettifolia constrict to form a "beak" as the anthers are all attached to each other. This is a trait of the species in Section - Anisochilus.
I have sketched the flattened flower of P. rosettifolia #3 below to show the arrangement of the four anthers...pardon my rather crude artistic skills.
A quick sketch of the flowers of P. rosettifolia #3 shows the four stamens encircling the base of the ovary and pistil. The filaments on this species are often crooked with an "elbow" at the midpoint of the filament. The filaments of most other Petrocosmea species are straight.

Last, I would like to honor and pay tribute to a dear friend to all who love gesneriads.....Frances Batcheller. Sadly, in November , 2009, we lost Frances at the age of 96. I was honored to have met and become friends with Frances in 2000 when I attended my first Gesneriad Society (then the AGGS) convention in Tampa, Florida. I had read articles by Frances Batcheller for years. She was a self-taught botanist, and form many years, was THE expert on them. Frances was also an active and accomplished hybridizer of gesneriads and established the judging program for the Gesneriad Society. She was the first Judges Chairman of the Society and many judges remember judging with Frances and learning from her. I was so excited to finally get to meet Frances face to face. We became friends and exchanged letters by mail for several years after that. She always treated me as if she'd known me for years.
Frances Batcheller, in earlier years.

Touring the showroom of the 2000 AGGS convention with Frances Batcheller. I tried to absorb everything Frances said...when Frances spoke, everyone listened!!!!
While at my first Gesneriad Society convention, I won the coveted "Tour of the Showroom with Frances Batcheller" traditional item in the live auction. I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to "learn from the Master". I still recall trying to absorb every word Frances said about every plant she discussed as we toured the showroom. Frances had a knack for summing up the key points about any exhibit in the gesneriad show with a few, well-chosen words. She had a great sense of humor and was such a wealth of knowledge about every plant. The thing I admired about Frances was that on the rare occasion when she encountered a gesneriad that she did not know, she would turn and immediately admit that it was a new plant to her and she would begin to ask questions about it from anyone who she thought might know the plant. She was always eager to learn more about gesneriads. She always said that a good judge should not fault the exhibitor for the judge's ignorance about a plant.

As Frances' health began to fail in the last few years, a convention never felt the same without her. Frances taught me that I should always strive to learn everything I could about the gesneriads I love. I think of her often as I work with and study my gesneriads. Rest in Peace, Frances.