Monday, September 7, 2015

Anthurium no. 0338 "Anne Fibian"

With some of these Anthurium-seedling posts, I've been trying to answer a question that I don't think anyone is actually asking: "should I try plant-breeding, too? Would I like it?" I mean, obviously the answer is going to depend on your personality and what kind of resources you have available, and even if I knew those things I still probably couldn't answer it very accurately. But it's been sort of fun to contemplate how plant breeding as a hobby is different from growing houseplants as a hobby, and the sorts of rewards (and penalties) that belong to one but not the other.

Not that I'm finished doing that; I mention it because, one, the seedling of the day is not very interesting so I'm going to need to talk about something else, and two, because I'm about to come up with another take on answering the question. But let's do the seedling first.

So Anne is: not great. At least so far. This is possibly a case where I should wait to make a decision until the second bloom. The first bloom, though, is a little spadix-heavy (or a little spathe-light, I suppose), and since it's also in the second most common color (red / yellow), I'm not really into it at all.

The foliage could be nice, if it weren't all pockmarked. I still haven't figured out what causes that. I assume it's the result of insect or mite damage on developing leaves, but I usually can't see any actual insects or mites, and from time to time, plants appear to grow out of it completely, which you wouldn't expect from a pest problem.

The overall habit1 is decently compact, though for a two-and-a-half-year-old plant, I'd expect more leaves than this. At least Anne's trying to offset.

I could imagine keeping Anne around, if she started to produce some better leaves, and if the second bloom is a little more normal-looking. I'm not in any rush to throw her out, at least. But I'm guessing she won't still be in the house in five years.

As far as the "should I try plant-breeding?" question:

Long ago, when my only real source of information was houseplant books -- and I read a lot of houseplant books -- I would never have had any idea that a lot of plants even could be grown from seed, because the authors never mentioned it. Presumably some of this comes from the assumption that readers would want exact duplicates of the plants they already had, and growing plants from seed won't usually give you that. Plus space is limited in a book, and growing plants from seed is a pretty niche interest. Growing plants from seed indoors is going to appeal to even fewer people, and you want people to buy your book. So I get it.

With that said, though, few books even mention that it's possible. Of the seven houseplant books I have handy,2 only two (Toogood, Griffith) so much as mention that Schlumbergeras can be grown from seed, and both of those are specialty books, one aimed at large-scale plant producers (Griffith) and the other specifically about plant propagation (Toogood). The situation is slightly better for Anthurium (Toogood, Kramer, Crockett, Griffith) and Spathiphyllum (Toogood, Kramer, Griffith), though none of the books have much to say about how one would grow either from seeds, or how one would get seeds to sow in the first place: they just note that it can be done. A surprising number of books fail to mention Coffea at all, and of those that do, only Crockett bothers to mention that they can be grown from seeds.3

So for the longest time, I assumed that there was no way to get more of certain plants I really enjoyed, like Anthurium, aside from the long, slow process of waiting for offsets.4, 5 So one of the incidental benefits of plant-breeding, at least when it comes to the Anthuriums and Spathiphyllums, is that it's opened up new things I can do with old, slow, or boring plants.

Sometimes that doesn't exactly pay off, as with Anne. But trying things is more interesting than not trying things.


1 Am I the only one who occasionally has a quick mental picture of plants as nuns and/or addicts, when reading about their "habits?" Just me? Okay.
2 • Stuckey, Maggie. The Houseplant Encyclopedia. The Philip Lief Group, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1993.
• Crockett, James Underwood. Crockett's Indoor Garden. Little, Brown & Company, Canada, 1978.
• Simons, Paul, and John Ruthven. Potted Histories. BBC Books, London, 1995.
• Powell, Dr. Charles C., and Donald M. Vining. Ortho's Complete Guide to Successful Houseplants. Ortho Books, San Francisco, CA, 1984.
• Kramer, Jack. The Illustrated Guide to Flowering Houseplants. Peerage Books, London, 1985.
• Toogood, Alan, ed. Plant Propagation. DK Publishing, Inc., New York, NY, 1999.
• Griffith, Lynn P., Jr. Tropical Foliage Plants: A Grower's Guide. Ball Publishing, Batavia, IL, 1998.
3 In fact, it usually seems to be taken for granted that if you have one Coffea, you're not going to want any more. I disagree, but you're probably not going to want a lot more. They do get really big.
I think I've read somewhere that Coffea can be grown from cuttings as well, though I've never tried it, and I'm pretty sure none of the books mention it. No idea where I might have seen that, but I keep meaning to try it some day, just to satisfy my own curiosity about whether it's possible.
4 Sucker production used to be something that breeders selected for, both because a plant with a lot of suckers looks fuller and can produce more blooms at once, and because the more suckers there are, the faster you can propagate a plant asexually. Now that tissue culture is the industry standard for propagation, suckers matter less: if you want a full plant with lots of blooms, it's easy enough to pot several tissue-cultured plants together.
That said, suckering has probably never been the main thing Anthuriums were selected for, and if your hybrid could resist bacterial and fungal infection, produced lots of large flowers on long, straight stems, had a novel bloom color, shipped well, and lasted a long time in a vase, you had a gold mine, whether it suckered a lot or not. Consequently, cultivars available in stores now vary tremendously in how many offsets they will produce, and the speed with which they will do so, so if you buy a plant you really like with the expectation of dividing lots of suckers from it, you may or may not find yourself disappointed.
5 Plant books usually don't mention that you can take top cuttings of Anthuriums either, though in that case it kind of makes sense: the plants that have been cut back recover slowly and may not rebloom for a couple years, and my experience has been that cuttings fail a lot more often than suckers do. (Usually they root in water fine, but then fall apart after getting moved to soil.)

1 comment:

Daniel McClosky said...

Oh I've personally propagated Coffea from softwood cuttings. It's definitely possible.