Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Sequoias Of The Lily World"

"Imagine the first pioneers' awe when they entered the great Valley of California and discovered mighty groves of sequoias so tall that their crowns disappeared in the skies. Today's gardeners experience the same awe when their first Orienpet hybrid lilies bloom. Why not join other gardeners growing late blooming, perfectly winter-hardy lilies reaching over 8 feet? Easily grown in gardens with excellent drainage, plenty of fertilizers and at least half-day of dappled sunlight. Orienpets-the Sequoias of the lily world-produce over 20 giant flowers larger that those of the trumpet lilies and more fragrant than oriental ones.

Orienpet lilies are complex crosses of Oriental lilies (Division VII) from Japan and Trumpet lilies (Division VI) from China-hence their name Orienpets. Although their origins trace back over 50 years, they first became widely available in the garden flower trade in the early 1990s. Now there are dozens of stunning Orienpets with a wide variety of colors and shapes, available from a fairly small number of primary growers as well as a larger number of catalog houses to whom the growers wholesale their bulbs.


The original 'Black Beauty' lily was the first Orienpet. Hybridized by Leslie Woodriff in the 1940s, Black Beauty was a cross betweeen L. Speciosum var. Rubrum and L. Henryi, two wild species lilies. Black Beauty has a highly reflexed petals with dark spots and a large green nectary, but it is completely sterile in its original or diploid form. Diploid refers to the number of chromosomes a lily has. In nature, almost all lilies have two sets of chromosomes. When one lily is crossed with one another, the two sets mix and match, producing a hybrid offspring, also with two sets.

'Black Beauty'

'Speciosum Rubrum'


Botanists have categorized lilies into nine different divisions-Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet, Martagon, Species, etc. When a hybridizer tries to develop a new lily, he crosses one, say Oriental with another, by putting the pollen of one on the pistil of the other. The pollen travels down the pistil, reaching the fertilizing ovule of the other or the mother plant. Each fertilized ovule produces an embryo, which in turn develop into a seed by feeding on the endosperm, or nutrient in the embryo. Actually, in lilies, hundreds of embryos develop into a hundred of seeds in a single seedpod. When planted, the seeds develop into small bulblets which will grow into a flowering size bulbs.

When hybridizers make a cross between two lilies in the same division, the lilies are genetically so similar that the crosses are quite successful and a new fertile hybrid is created. Like mating a Labrador Retriever with a French Poodle, the result is a "mongrel" or hybrid. In lilies, the hybrid is often stronger and hardier than either parent is. But when hybridizers try crossing lilies from one division with lilies from another so called interdivisional crosses-the genetics of the different divisions are so dissimilar that the odds of producing fertile seeds are very low. It's like crossing a cat with a dog,sound and fury, perhaps, but no offspring.

In lilies however, such crosses occasionally do produce an embryo or two, among the hundreds possible in a seedpod. "Early hybridizers used 'brute force' methods by crossing hundreds of seedlings to see if any resulting lilies produce fertile offspring" said Dr. Griesbach, a noted lily hybridizer. "After all, luck is always involve in hybridizing."


However, on rare occassions when diploid Orientals and Trumpets were successfully crossed, most of the resulting embryo dies because the endosperm often aborted due to genetic incompatibility. The endosperm of a lily's egg is similar to the white of the chicken eggs readers buy in stores, it serves as the food supply of the embryo as it develops.

"The endosperm is often non-existent or abnormal in interdivisional crosses" said Judith Freeman, owner of The Lily Garden and one of the world's leading lily geneticists and hybridizers. "Under a microscope, you can see it is really 'goofed up'." Without the nourishment of the endosperm, the fertilized egg dies, be it in the lab of a lily hybridizer or the nest of the chicken.

Although a hen might only cluck over the demise of her egg, hybridizers learned that the death of a lily embryo could be avoided through a laboratory technique known as "Embryo Rescue". Under sterile conditions (difficult for gardeners), the hybridizer uses a scalpel to remove the live embryo, places it in a test tube filled with sterile jelly loaded with nutrients and hopes that it will grow and develop into a small bulblet. "Timing is the key: rescue the embryo before it dies" said Judith Freeman.


Hybridizers then faced another question-since the original diploid Orienpets were rarely fertile, how to make them fertile so they could be used for further hybridization efforts? The answer is to double the chromosome count, making the lily tetraploid. Since tetraploid Orienpets almost always have some pollen fertility and the ability to produce fertile seeds hybridizers could use the tetraploid to produce commercial quantities of fertile Orienpets with greater vigor, hardiness and flower size than the lily's parents have.

In the 1950s, Samuel Emsweller, heading the Ornamental Plants Research of the US Dept. of Agriculture and LaVern Freimann of Bellingham WA, both doubled the chromosome count of some 'Black Beauty' bulb scales, hoping for fertile tetraploid forms. They did this by soaking the scales in mashed 'Colchicum' bulbs (Fall Crocus) which contain the chemical Colchicine. With a double set of chromosomes, the resulting tetra 'Black Beauty' has a high degree of fertility, strong stems, lush wide leaves and larger flowers of intense color.

One of the early pioneers in this effort was Dr. Robert Griesbach, Professor of Biologic Sciences at DePaul University, where he taught Genetics and Plant Physiology. During the 1960s, Griesbach successfully doubled chromosomes counts of several lilies by treating them in his university labs with dilute Colchicine, a dangerous carcinogenic chemical. (Readers should not try this at home.) The results were fertile Asiatics, Trumpet and Oriental tetraploids of such vigor, size and color that even today, advertising a "Griesbach Tetra" brings an enthusiastic response from knowledgeable lily lovers. Retiring in 1989 after 34 years in the academe, Griesbach now lives in Delavan WI where he continues his hybridization efforts.


Griesbach crossed tetraploid forms of 'Black Beauty' with similar forms of 'White Henryi', producing one of the earliest Orienpets called 'Leslie Woodriff', with elegant flowers having pronounced green nectaries and dark red petals whose color becomes creamy white at their outer edges, it is still in great demand.

'Leslie Woodriff'

LeVern Freimann crossed a tetra 'Black Beauty' with a tetra 'Journey's End' to produce 'Scarlet Delight', the first Orienpet to be marketed in the early 80s by B & D Lilies of Port Townsend WA. It too has a highly reflexed petals, of a plum red color with narrow white red margins. Although not highly popular, B & D still offers it.

At about the same time, Peter Schenk in holland tried the same cross and developed 'Arabesque', having flat faced, slightly reflexed dark red petals and a very small green nectary. Introduced in this country by Judith Freeman of The Lily Garden in the early 80s, it is now a very popular

Popular interest in Orienpets jumped in the early 1990s when 'Scheherazade' hit the markets. An embryo rescue cross made by Ms. Freeman between 'Thunderbolt', a triploid and a tetra 'Black Beauty', 'Scheherazade' is as exotic looking as it sounds. Extremely hardy and easily grown, 'Scheherazade' has dark red, fairly reflexed petals with cream colored margins, which quickly fades to white. Reaching maturity in its third year, it grows over 8 feet tall. Like other Orienpets, it is a late bloomer, flowering between late July and late August, depending upon the summer weather. During mild summers, the author's shoals of Orienpets are often blooming on Labor Day.


Judith Freeman in the United States developed another very popular Orienpet called 'Silk Road'. It has strikingly large blooms with dark plum red centers and a very wide cream colored margins and a tremendous fragrance. A very similar lily, 'Northern Carillon' was developed by Wilbert Ronald and is available in Canada. Although these have fewer blooms than 'Scheherazade' and some other Orienpets, its size and coloration makes it a plus for any garden.

'Silk Road'

The Dutch got into Orienpet hybridization and production rather late, according to Dr. James Ault, Director of Ornamental Plant Research at the Chicago Botanic Garden. "They grabbed on, after Orienpets were started in the United States" he said. While perhaps tardy in their development of garden lilies, the Dutch made up for the lost time. One of their most elegant hybrids is called 'Boogie Woogie' offered by Van Bourgondien and Sons. It is an unusual picotee Orienpet, having soft yellow petals with pink edges and an excellent representative of the more gentle coloration of many of the Dutch Orienpets.

In this country, Judith Freeman's hybridizing efforts in the last decade have resulted in numerous Orienpets including 'Caravan', 'Luminaries' and 'Pizzazz'. Most have bold striking colors often of reddish hues representative of their Oriental lily parentage. Ms. Freeman has also developed many Orienpets of soft yellows and pinks with varying flower shapes and is working to create a pure white Orienpet. (Think 'Casablanca', pure white but eight feet tall!) She sells her lilies directly from her own nursery and also wholesales them to White Flower Farm, Wayside Gardens and Park Seed Company. She was the first to develop a pale yellow Orienpet called 'Catherine the Great'.

Finally, Van der Salm Bulb Company of Woodland WA, a wholesale operation, has produced a series of Orienpets called the American OTs. Their first introduction from this series was ' American Heritage', followed by 'American Bandstand', 'American Spirit' and 'American Dream'. These sport striking color combinations of gold and maroon, rose and white and solid yellows and reds. Van der Salm's bulbs can be obtained through retail catalog houses and internet sellers like Jung Seeds and

The result? Lily lovers can now have lilies blooming all summer, from the delicate beauty of small, early blooming species lilies that flower around Memorial Day to Sequoia-like Orienpets showing their bold colors until Labor Day.

What more could a gardener want?

This article was written by Mr. Woody Imberman, President of the Wisconsin-Illinois Lily Society and was published in the Quarterly Bulletin of the North American Lily Society in December 2005. The lily photos are taken from my garden except 'Silk Road'. It was taken from the garden of Mr. Imberman during his 2009 Lily Walk.

Posted with permission from Mr. Imberman.

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