Saturday, June 4, 2011

New Pets From the Netherlands - Foederer Hybrids

I just love this photo.... it is a photo shared with me by Jeff Foederer of P. sericea growing and blooming outdoors in Jeff's garden in the Netherlands. I've had the pleasure of corresponding with Jeff a few times and am currently growing one of his beautiful xBrigandra hybrids 'Ivory Falcon'. Jeff also produces some spectacular Petrocosmea hybrids, which I thought I'd tell you about.

Jeff was the first person to register Petrocosmea hybrids with the Gesneriad Society when he registered P. 'Lexi' back in 2006, followed by P. 'Milan' in 2007. Recently I received a photo in an email from Dale Martens, asking me to take a look at Jeff's most recent hybrid P. 'Helena' (pictured below). Just take a look at the flower count on that one!!!!! Magnificent!!

Jeff's hybrid, P. 'Helena' is a cross between P. menglienensis and P. nervosa. I can see the nervosa parent in the foliage and the menglienensis parent in the flowers. What a beautiful plant. 'Helena' was registered in 2010.

P. 'Milan' (begoniifolia x nervosa) is another beautiful plant. The flowers seem to dance like butterflies above the foliage. P. 'Milan' was named for Jeff's grandson, I believe.

Jeff's hybrid P. 'Lexi' (barbata x flaccida) is a small grower, looking much like P. barbata in habit, but then the lovely blue flowers emerge and it is clearly not P. barbata. I'm happy to say that I've grown this one for a couple of years now and really enjoy it. It too was named for one of Jeff's grandsons. This represented the first use of P. barbata in hybridizing.

Ornamental Value - Judging Petrocosmea Out of Bloom

WARNING: I'm going to offer an opinion in this post that you may find objectionable.... reader discretion is advised.

Please take a look at the photo below and notice two things.... First, notice the number of entries. This is the "Grown for Foliage" class for Petrocosmea at the 2009 Gesneriad Society Annual Convention Show in Silver Springs, MD. The intent of this class is to provide a place to enter those nonflowering gesneriads that possess significant ornamental value for the parts of the plant other than the flowers, such as foliage, stems, calyces, etc. There were around 30 entries in this class. It was subdivided into about five or six smaller classes due to the large number of entries. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, take an objective look at the entries on the table and ask yourself if there is anything particularly ornamental about them. Granted you cannot see them well due to the distance of the photograph from the individual entries, but is that anything about them that makes you say "wow" what a striking plant?

As a keen admirer of Petrocosmea, when I first viewed this section of the show, I said, "wow" but that was due to the number of entries. However, once I got past that, as I looked at them, I had to ask, "why are all of these entered into the foliage class of the show?" Now, remember, those plants entered out-of-bloom for judging are intended to possess some particularly ornamental quality about the foliage or the plant habit that is ornamental. At this point in the argument, people usually challenge me by saying that "Petrocosmea has an ornamental growth habit to the foliage". Granted, many of the Pet species do have a pleasing foliage habit. That flat, symmetrical, spiraled pattern to the foliage rosette is attractive, and has some ornamental value. Notice I said "some". But, many Pet species do not have this...kerrii, barbata, nervosa, often flaccida and parryorum are not particularly pleasing as they want to grow. But, others like forrestii and minor just "do that"...they generally, without any intervention from the grow, just naturally form and near-perfect rosette. But what else is there to make them ornamental...and by this I mean ornamental ENOUGH to rise to the level of a first class show specimen? I say, not much else is there in most cases. The fact is, in my opinion, in most cases the average Pet, when out of bloom is just a plain green plant. Consider other plants that do this...Sempervivum, Aeonium, Haworthia, many Primula, Bromeliads, and even many Saintpaulia hybrids do this....but do we see them on show tables entered when they are out of bloom? Usually, No if the leaves are plain green with no other coloring, variegation, etc. Why don't we see these other plants entered when out of bloom? Because they are not showy enough to win awards if they are not in flower.
Consider this blue ribbon and Best In Class winner above...P. forresttii. Other than the form of the rosette, is there anything particularly ornamental about this plant? It won these high awards based on the ornamental value of the foliage in large part..... Should it have? Do any of us believe that the grower here likely had to exert any great effort to get the plant to achieve this shape and symmetry? Probably not....P. forrestii just grows that way without any intervention.
Another first place winner above...P. barbata. Anything striking about the foliage on this one? It is a lovely little P. barbata...... but is it ornamental enough to get such a high score?

So then, why are these plants getting such high awards and why are we seeing so many of them entered for Ornamental value in shows? My thoughts are that we are still getting over the "new and rare" effect that we so often feel and see when new species and hybrids are introduced. Most Pet species in cultivation in the USA and Canada right now have only arrived within the last decade or so. Prior to that we grew P. parryorum, P. flaccida, P. nervosa and P. kerrii. P. formosa came along around 1998. Then in the years following that we had P. forrestii, P. minor, sericea, rosettifolia, etc, etc. So for many growers we're still infatuated with the "new-ness" of these plants. Yes, they are charming, and interesting ,and new, and rare, but are they strongly "ornamental" when not in bloom and when you exclude those factors? No... in most cases it's a plain green leaf...sometimes with a bit of silvery hairiness, or a curled leaf margin, or a bit of yellow central veining as in some of the rosettifolia clones, but do they rise to the level of Episcia 'Cleopatra' or Pearcea hypocyrtiflora, Gasteranthus atratus, or Smithiantha cinnabarina? THOSE are the plants the ornamental foliage classes were intended to accommodate in shows... plants that you can spot from across the room due to the striking foliage.

Lets consider, though, that I am being a bit harsh, and lets accept the argument that it is the foliar rosette, and that flat, perfectly symmetrical form and habit to the growth pattern that IS the ornamental quality which makes a Petrocosmea ornamental when out of bloom. Okay, lets explore that. Granted, the public often approaches a Petrocosmea in a showroom and says "WOW, look at that!... Look at how perfect it is!" I've spent a great deal of time standing near the Petrocosmea section in a showroom with the sole purpose of observing and studying the public's reaction to my favorite genus. I've seen and heard this reaction many times. So, in fairness, yes, there is something quite ornamental about the form or habit of the plant itself. If we are then to accept and make room for this , then certainly one should expect near perfection in this regard for the blue ribbon Pet entries. But we're not seeing that. Think back to the last few shows you've attended or photos you've seen of award winning Pets that were out of bloom.... were those plants on the table the best of the best with regard to form, symmetry, even pleasing shape and habit? Were they mature plants in all cases? To rise to the level of a show specimen, they should exhibit evidence of maturity, careful and consistent care, shaping, training and grooming. Given the ease with which most Pets naturally shape-up as they mature, judges should be requiring a first place winner to be perfection in most every regard. The form of the rosette should be a perfect circle without gaps in the leaf pattern.

Take a look at this first place winner above... P. menglienensis. It appears to be little more than a starter plant, with a rosette that is weak and open, and asymmetrical. There are gaps and it certainly is not a perfect circle. Leaves are really pretty much plain green leaves. Why a blue ribbon? Giving such a plant a blue ribbon does not do the exhibitor or the public any favors. There is often the argument to "be kind" in judging and just reward the effort to bring it in for the show. Huh? Awarding such entries high awards misrepresents that standard and potential for the plant, as well as misrepresenting the basis of the whole judging process. That does no one a favor. Better to take such an opportunity to educate the exhibitor and the public. That is the duty of the judges in such a This is a healthy, young plant, with great potential to become a large, attractive flowering plant which will demonstrate the true potential of this beautiful species. But, P. menglienensis is a plant that most likely will always perform best as a show specimen when in bloom..... it possesses nothing particularly ornamental when out of bloom, whether large or small.

So, there it is. The opinion of someone who has spent a lot of time over the past few years learning about, and growing to love the genus Petrocosmea. I grow them, I bloom them, I hybridize them, and yes, I even fail with them. I also judge them as a master judge for the Gesneriad Society and I DO exhibit them.... Almost without exception, I enter them as either a "New Species" when that is the case, or as "New Hybrids". Perhaps I'll enter them as a collection to show the variation within the genus. They certainly are excellent plants for educational exhibits because we are learning so much about them everyday.. BUT, I am very hesitant to enter them when out of bloom for ornamental value. I simply feel as a judge, exhibitor, hybridizer, and most importantly, as their greatest admirer, even at their best, they lack significant ornamental value if they are not blooming. My purpose in this post is to begin to spark thought and consideration on the part of exhibitors and judges about the current manner with which we treat these entries in shows. I feel that the standard for awarding non-flowering Petrocosmea entries should be re-evaluated. It is kinder and fairer of the judges to educate than to give awards that lack substance. Now, I'm going to go and water my Petrocosmeas......

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stolons, Zippers and Buttons

Most of what we know about cultivating Petrocosmea is still pretty new information. Many, or rather most, of the species we are growing now only arrived on our plant stands and show tables within the last decade. As we are growing them more, and our time spent with these plants is increasing, we're seeing for the first time in many cases, just what sort of peculiarities these wonderful Pets are capable of. Zippers, buttons and stolons are just three of the manifestations my Pets have produced in the last few years. Since these may be new to growers, exhibitors and judges of Petrocosmea, I thought I would discuss them in a short post.

Buttons ~~~

The photo above is Dale Martens' photo of a "button" that appeared on her plant of my hybrid 'Keystone's Bantam'. There was a recently lengthy discussion on this phenomenon on Gesneriphiles, when a plant exhibited with such a button was marked down in judging . The judges, who were all expert and seasoned judged, had not encountered this anomaly before. One of them contacted me to ask if Pets "normally" did this. I've seen several plants of P. rosettifolia do this during the winter when I was resting them by keeping them drier than usual and cool. 'Keystone's Bantam' does this often, and since it is hybrid of P. rosettifolia, I suspect it inherited this trait from it's rosettifolia parent. I have also seen this once on P. forresttii.
In all cases, the plant produced a new whorl of leaves from the center of the "button" and the plant regained full and attractive symmetry within the rosette with the next cycle of growth.

Above is my photo of 'Keystone's Bantam' at it's first flowering. You can see the center button in the photo. The button appears to be a dense tuft of golden yellow hairs and does not represent poor culture or a rotted or diseased center. It appears to be a normal, although not that common feature of these plants. It is my opinion as a grower and judge that it should not be faulted or penalized in judging unless in the opinion of the judges, it detracts from the overall ornamental value of the plant. But, that's just my opinion...and opinions are like noses....everybody has one.

Zippers ~~~

The next phenomenon in Petrocosmea growth patterns is what I call zippering or zippers. A healthy plant, usually with a few years of age, suddenly starts to produce a center growth point within the crown of the rosette, that begins elongate into a linear growth point. The normally circular rosette can often become more oval in shape, and if grown on, the plant often splits into two or three crowns. Eventually these will totally split or separate producing two or three new crowns. I see this occur often in P. forrestii, and it's hybrids, as well as the rosettifolias and their hybrids. I have seen it occur once in P. minor also. In all cases the plants were three years old or more when this happened. See the photo below of P. forresttii at five years of age, with a zippered crown, which eventually became three separate crowns. The plant flowered very heavily during this period. It appears to me to be more a factor of age that a cultural flaw.

P. forrestii with a zippered crown.

Look closely at the plant in the center of the row on the left above....the one with the yellow ribbon. This photo shows a group of P. 'Short'nin' Bread' entries at a convention show a couple of years ago. The third place winner was a plant with a zippered crown..... it beat out some other specimens with more typical round crowns. This judges, in this case, did not penalize this plant for the zippered crown..... which again, they should not do unless it detracts from the ornamental value of the entry. Good judging in this it demonstrates a panel of judges who were familiar with the habits of these plants. (P. 'Short'nin' Bread' is a P. forrestii it likely got this trait from its forrestii parentage.)

Stolons ~~~

Stolons are yet another trait of healthy Petrocosmeas which we are seeing from time to time. I've seen it on several species and it appears to be possible on just about any Petrocosmea. I have not identified what might be triggering it other than the plant deciding that it wants to make some stolons.... I find it a "cute" phenomenon on most Pets.

Congratulations to B. J. Ohme of Perfect Petals for his first place winning entry of P. 'Short'nin' Bread' at the recent AVSA convention in Cherry Hill, NJ. Wisely, the judges recognized the additional ornamental interest that the stolons provided to this entry and gave B.J. his blue ribbon. P. 'Short'nin' Bread' is a plant that, in my opinion, is most ornamental when shown in bloom. But traits such as stolons can add ornamental interest. (Photo courtesy of Dale Martens..... "thanks, Dale!!!!!" )

So, there they are, the quirks that our Pets are capable of conjuring up to keep us fascinated and infatuated with them. These may be just the beginning of the wonders we will unlock as we enter into a new era of hybridizing with this genus.