How are new plants created? Well, here’s one way. Jelitto
, the international seed company headquartered in Germany, recently launched a new series of hollyhocks (Alcea
), the Spotlight Series, in four distinct colors. Seed is available now, but they’re starting to be taken up by some of the big growers so before long there’ll be the option of buying plants.
But how did they do it? Georg Uebelhart is their General Manager and plant breeder. Here he explains how he created the four individual colors in the Spotlight Series. This post is longer than usual, but it really gives an insight into the development of new seed-raised plants.
“Breeding work began back in 1992 when Jelitto Perennial Seeds
moved to its new location near Hanover. Sales have always been good with the two mixed coloured items, Alcea
Rosea-Hybrids ‘Simplex’ and Alcea
Ficifolia-Hybrids but these two strains always included a wide variation in colour. The task was to develop consistent strains in individual colours for a series similar to the double Chaters Series.
“It started when one of our good customers in France sent us seed collected from his own plants - open pollinated seed collected from a yellow plant, a white plant, a pink plant and a red plant with the comment "it would be nice to have straight single colours some day".
“Among all the seed we had saved in our gene bank, seeds from Russia, and the seed from France where sown to start with. Other sources have been added over the years. Not many had flowered the first year after sowing and by the second year it was not really surprising that every batch flowered in mixed colours.
“We began to isolate two plants of each colour and pollinated them within this colour group; we came up with easily twenty different colour variants. Seed of these was sown again and for the next three generations repeating it the same way, again taking only two plants with the same colour.
“Then we have started to back cross these with the parent plants and from then on we saw a slight improvement. Also more plants flowered the first year from seed. In addition we have only used plants which have overwintered so our plants will be perennial and not short lived.
“Another problem was that plants which flowered for the first time have not produced a good seed set that year as they flower two months later than overwintered plants and it became too late for seed to ripen. All flowers needed to be bagged (a polystyrol bag was put over each flower stalk) and each bag needed to be opened each day for hand pollination. Also each colour needed to be identified with the use of the RHS colour chart to look for the consistent colour over the years.
“A lot of problems have been faced as some lines while improving the colour became almost sterile. Other lines changed color at some stage, for example red suddenly became black purple and yellow started splitting into dirty apricot. The most difficult colour is pink as these always split into reds, pinks, and whites whatever is done. This is a missing colour in our series but we are working on it!
“Some colour lines stopped improving. The size of the flowers changed from rather large to very small. Tall lines became short and short lines became to tall. Foliage shape changed while improving the colour but all the plants in a series have the same foliage type.
“Another problem is producing the seed. Since Alcea
are very popular plants in the area where we producer our seed places have to be found where there are no alceas for at least a 3 km distance to avoid cross pollination by insects. Pollen from one wrong plant can cause our new lines to become mixed colours again.
“Rust resistance is still a target for the future, so far we have only achieved rust tolerance. We have tested almost every Alcea
on the market and none has been rust resistant, not even rust tolerant.
“We kept back from introducing our Spotlight Series as we felt the series is not complete without a good pink. But the market changes quickly these days and we had to move forward. Other colours in the works include: apricot, blue purple, soft pink, bright pink, lavender, cherry red, and bicolours.”
Thank you Georg Uebelhart, General Manager of Jelitto Perennial Seeds
, for sharing this fascinating story. We appreciate it. And we look forward to the new colors.
You can buy seed of Alcea
Spotlight Series anywhere in the world from Jelitto Perennial Seeds
US growers will be able to order plugs from Walters Gardens
US growers can find out how to grow Alcea
Spotlight Series in Garden Product News