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Hybridizing Demystified: Part 1

Updated on December 27, 2014
Shirley's Pick (Nyikos 2005) This was my first daylily with a watermark.
Shirley's Pick (Nyikos 2005) This was my first daylily with a watermark. | Source

My hybridizing abilities are the ultimate beginning spark for my writing interest. I had become known for my ability. When people toured my nursery conversation would inevitably turn to how I produced these wonderful new plants. When I found that I was answering the same questions I thought I could save myself some time, take an item off of my bucket list and who knows make the New York Times best seller list. Well, I did take an item off of my bucket list. I still enjoy answering hybridizing questions to visitors.

The first troublesome area I had was that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my seedlings. I made numerous crosses. I compared the seedling to each of its parents. I discovered over the years that each parent contributed attributes. In many cases, often over the objection of some scientists, I found that the characteristics seemed to be influenced by whether it came from the pollen (father) or pod (mother) donor. Most traits were part of both of the reproductive aspects of the plant. Still, I found that as a general rule, the trait was stronger or more dominant in one sex or the other.

Uncle John (F Nyikos 2001) One of my early blues. The parentage is Blue Splendor x Halcyon
Uncle John (F Nyikos 2001) One of my early blues. The parentage is Blue Splendor x Halcyon | Source

The Plan That Works

For example let me tell you how to produce a BLUE hosta. I found that the intensity of the color blue in hosta is paternally dominant. This means I choose hosta with the bluest intensity and use the pollen to fertilize my pod parent. It does help that the pod parent is also blue. I have found that a larger percentage of seedlings that had an intense blue pollen parent will be intensely blue.

This technique is not perfect. Nothing in life is. Still this is a method that will help the home hybridizer reach their goal more quickly. It should save uncounted years and effort to achieve the goals you have set. We are fortunate enough to have a vast immediate source of data right at our fingertips. I did not discover this method until many years after I had begun experimenting. I had to see many generations of seedlings before I discovered a faster more reliable method to achieve my goals.

The first thing you need to do is to decide just what it is you want to achieve. You are going to need a goal. For today’s purposes let’s investigate the goal of producing small hosta. This is an area I think I have figured out. As long as I am writing this hub I might as well do a bit of research to verify my hypothesis. I believe that in order to produce a small hosta, the mother or pod parent should be small. In other words, I believe that small-ness is a more dominant trait in the mother or pod parent. This is what we need to investigate. The internet will be our research data base.

Queue (F Nyikos 2005) Here was one of my first good small hosta as well as serrated.  It is venusta x Teaspoon
Queue (F Nyikos 2005) Here was one of my first good small hosta as well as serrated. It is venusta x Teaspoon | Source

Strategy and Resources

Now here are some Mathematical properties to keep in mine. The larger your sample the more accurate your predictions will be. Also, once you choose a large sample size you want to randomly choose each data sample to include in your analysis. Still, to get a good idea for today’s discussion we will just look at the first 10 small registered hostas that begin with the letter G. I randomly chose the number of hosta to research. I also chose those hosta cultivars that begin with the letter G. Do not include species that begin with G because they reflect the species as a whole so looking at the parentage is useless. This sample size is small. You should choose to confirm these results with a larger sample, especially if the resulting statistics are too close to call.

I used the official registrar’s site at for recorded cultivar information. Because it made my life easier, I found hosta listed in the 2014 Hosta Finder for the first 10 hosta listed at 8 inches tall or less. I only chose those cultivars that had listed parentage included with the registration. I filled in some missing information from The Hostapedia: An Encyclopedia of Hostas by Mark R Zilis (c. 2009). The genus hosta is a newer popular herbaceous perennial. Some information is not included in one easy to access location. I think it is remarkable that as much work has been accomplished for hosta. There is really only about 40 years of good reliable research recorded.

Table First 10 Hosta From "G"

size in ( )
Pod Parent
Pollen Parent
Ganny Sandy (8)
Beatrice (11)
hypoleuca (15)
Giantland Sunny Mouse Ears (3)
Blue Mouse Ears (5)
Abiqua Drinking Gourd (16)
Gold Edger (7)
Blue Cadet (15)
Blue Cadet (15)
Gold Ribbon (7)
Kabitan (10)
Anne Arett (10)
Golden Hawk (6)
Hadspen Hawk (8.5)
Hadspen Hawk (8.5)
This table only shows those in G that had both a pod and parent listed in the registration. A trend can be identified but sample should be expanded for better analysis.

A Concrete Example

It turned out that I went through nearly all of the G listings to produce this table of 10 hostas. You will notice a few of the listings have an unknown paternal pollen donor listed. This is quite a common feature for this genus as well as others. It is easy for people to collect seed. That means they know who mom is. Open pollinated plants are one of the easiest ways to hybridize. The second table shows only those cultivars where we know both the mother and the father.

What you can notice is that in all but two examples the mother is smaller than the father. The two cases that don’t fit the pattern have the mother and father as the same size. Even though this is a really small sample I hope you can see that if I want to produce a smaller hosta I need to have the mother be smaller than or equal in size to the father. The smaller the mother is then the smaller the children seem to be.

Aeromedi Lifestar (Nyikos 2006). The parentage of this is (Sea Chest x Pittsburgh Golden Triangle) x Matt
Aeromedi Lifestar (Nyikos 2006). The parentage of this is (Sea Chest x Pittsburgh Golden Triangle) x Matt | Source

Works For All Plants

These simple statistical samples work with other plants. One of my favorite daylily types have what is known as a watermark. A watermark is the absence of an eye zone. It is a washed out area where an eye zone would normally be. This was the last genetic relationship I found before turning to the internet to research a trait before initiating a hybridizing program. Now, I don’t have to experiment as much. Experimenting results in years of waiting. If I want to enhance a trait all I have to do is find out where and how it occurred. I can look at other examples with the same characteristic and find out what their ancestry is. I want to look at both sides of the family. Then I want to make some of my own crosses to verify and begin encouraging selected traits.

This is an unspoken process for all fledgling hybridizers. They may not know this is what they are doing. It is a sign of the truly great hybridizers none the less. For example, Don Dean the current President of the American Hosta Society is one such hybridizer. He keeps incredible records. He does the right and proper steps to report and record the parentage of his seedlings.

Yes, I have heard the concern that if parentage is recorded at the time of registration others will be able to recreate their program. Perhaps you saw the somewhat recent movie called Hidalgo that centered on the stud book for a families horse breeding program. There are unscrupulous people in all walks of life. There is a very good reason to include parentage. It takes many years to bring a seedling to the size of introduction. This means that the hybridizers program is probably several generations further down the line by the time of registration. For example the average number of years from seed to introduction for a hosta (for me) is 8 to 10 years. I can easily have great grandchildren from this plant before I make it available for others to grow.


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    • hostaguy profile image

      frank nyikos 3 years ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      Thanks Iris. I've been hybridizing for over 20 years. And, being lazy, I always look for the easy way out.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      What a great article! I love science. I was waiting for a punnett square but your table works for me. :)