2000 Our Adventure With Victoria

A Very Bad Year

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As with fine wines, some years for Victoria are wonderful and some are terrible. For Victoria, 2000 was a very bad year. Each other person who produced seeds in the past had some sort of problem (all different) that prevented successful harvest of the hybrids, though Joe Summers at Missouri Botanical Garden had a huge crop of cruziana seeds. This was very fortunate since we made almost none.

We were, however, able to produce some seeds of each of the hybrids, not many but better than none. We were, as far as we know, the only ones in the world to do so. These seeds were enough to supply public gardens for 2001. Everyone else received seeds banked at the Conservancy.

We grew 15 plants, three amazonicas, four cruzianas, one 'Adventure' (a x c), two 'Longwood Hybrids' (c x a), one Longwood F2 (L x self) and one each of the back-cross hybrids, 'Atlantis' (A x a), 'Challenger' (L x c), 'Columbia' (A x c) and 'Discovery' (L x a). We produced only 7,700 seeds, most of them junk, from 138 flowers, though we cut off 50 flowers pre- or post-bloom mainly to see if it improved pad size. It didn't.

The first hint of the problems to come was from Euryale ferox. We were particularly anxious to have several going for the proposed visit of Dr. Jeff Osborn. (See 1999 Can It Happen?) We killed all our seedlings but one and put out a frantic call to the Victoria email list for additional plants. Wayne Morrow sent us a number of seedlings and Clarence Hester provided an adult plant. None survived! Somehow our one remaining seedling made it to adulthood and bloom. Jeff's trip was postponed until 2001.

Our species Victorias were sporadic in their blooming and only once during the season did we have an amazonica and a cruziana blooming at the same time. This severely limited our opportunities to made crosses for the primary hybrids 'Adventure' and 'Longwood Hybrid'. The cruzianas proved especially difficult. They never thrived.

What was going on here? We agonized and brainstormed and finally came to the conclusion that we were overfertilizing our plants. This frankly amazed us since we had always believed it was almost impossible to overfertilize Victorias. Looking back, we figured out that we had probably been feeding for the size we wanted the plants to be rather than the size they were.

We backed way off the fertilizer, saw improvement, and gradually increased it to levels about half of what we had fed before. By the time the plants came back to good health, the real breeding season was over. We began to realize this could account for problems we didn't understand with particular plants in previous years and could account for certain types of problems encountered by other growers.

Symptoms were most apparent in cruziana and Euryale though all the plants were affected to some degree. Euryale simply seemed to "burn", shrink and die. The one we saved received no fertilizer at all. Cruziana displayed rapid breakdown of rims (something we had attributed to wind in the past) and premature deterioration of older pads. Our biggest plant bloomed in fits and starts, the next largest didn't flower at all and two smaller ones only bloomed late in the season when amazonica had stopped.

Again we found that the first eight or more cruziana flowers did not set seed. And again we found that several cruzianas shrunk and died with no reason we could relate to weather or nutrition. A late-started plant bloomed into the winter though it never achieved much size. This creates speculation once more that cruziana has some sort of internal clock that determines its lifespan, possibly based on genetic memory from its habitat rather than actual conditions.

We became almost obsessed with the nutrient issue, talking with everyone we could about what was "cooking" our plants and why. We began to zero in on two things - soil types and the phosphates contained in fertilizer. Fortunately Wayne Davis of PondTabbs and several other knowledgeable people were willing to brainstorm with us.

In sand such as our local just-better-than-beach-sand, nutrients can go straight to the plant when applied but the residual disperses rapidly. We suspected an excess of phosphorous was the culprit in our "burn". The higher the component of clay in the soil, the more nutrients that can be given without "toxing" the plants. We decided that the old rule of thumb for orchids of feeding "weakly weekly" worked best for us. Learning more about this is our goal for 2001.

A bright spot in an otherwise pretty bleak year was 'Atlantis'. This was its first year in cultivation and is a very pretty plant indeed! Ours grew in a 10 gallon pot in the interior garden and bloomed non-stop until its pond went into total shade in November. It has amazonica's sloping rims but they are taller. Its petals are more tapering than amazonica but second night flower color is like its three-quarter parent, brilliant deep pink.

Another fun plant was "Skrunchy". Early in the season we had a 'Longwood Hybrid' with an unreadable lot number, making it one we didn't want to use in breeding or pass on. We stuck it, three ounce starter cup and all, in the muck in a little stream next to the seedling pool. The space was not much bigger than a standard bathtub. The plant thrived but made itself a challenge for us in making room for its new pads.

For the longest time it didn't bloom. When we finally stopped removing pads, it crawled all over itself and bloomed like crazy. The lesson learned, from "Skrunchy" and other plants damaged by wind or overfertilization, is that the plants prefer to have all their leaves in order to bloom well. We now only remove the worst ones if the plants are under any other sort of stress.

We had one Longwood F2 come along early and had trouble throwing it out as we usually do with F2's because it was so vigorous. We kept it as a space filler while other plants matured. It was interesting in that it stayed quite small. Mention has been made of "dwarfs" among F2's at Longwood Garden and we wondered if this might be one too. And if it might produce small offspring. Seeds produced from it were distributed to volunteers from the Victoria email list but few if any made it to flower. We have returned to our policy of eating F2 seeds as popcorn or salad sprouts, preferring not to risk corrupting the gene pool with "foolers".

Another highlight of the season was a very quick trip to the IWGS Post-Symposium in St Louis where we saw the magnificent collection of Victorias grown at Missouri Botanical Gardens by Joe Summers and Jon Sweeney. Their cruziana is at the top of the page and this picture gives some scale to the size of the plant.

Our Adventure Overview | 1998 The Adventure Begins
1999 The Adventure Continues | 2000 A Very Bad Year | 2001 A Banner Year
2002 An Even Better Year | 2003 We Like It Like This | 2004 Trust
2005 Recovery | 2006 Normal? | 2007 Weird | 2008 Year of the Hare
2009 Year of the (White) Tortoise

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