Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Post 136 Orange Echinacea

In 2008 I started to take an interest in Echinacea as a species of perennial that might be decoratively useful in my garden. Echinacea are native to the continental USA and there are a number of species which are all short lived deciduous perennials. So the foliage dies away in autumn and is likely to reshoot from the tuber in the next spring, but less likely the next year and  unlikely the year after. They rely on constant reseeding to keep going in the long term and are ready 'volunteers' in the right conditions. They will also flourish in a wide variety of conditions including here in SEQld.

The most prominent species used is purpurea which has a pink/purple row of petals around a coppery coloured spikey head. The flowers can go from slightly reflexed to more full reflexed. In the extreme a fully fertilised flower it can look like a shuttlecock.

There is a white version, I think also a purpurea, which is seed stable - that is you can be confident in germinating a white flowering plant from the seeds of a white flower.

This white is almost fully pollinated and as the seeds in the head develop it swells to give the characteristic coneflower reflexed appearance.

There is a yellow flowering species called paradoxa. Its is a much more sparsly petalled and reflexed flower. This one is a hybrid but very close in colour and shape to a paradoxa.

Now the interesting thing is that in the US they have overlapping ranges and have been noted to cross-breed creating interesting variations. Over the last 10 years in Europe and the US there have been active programs to unlock the colour spectrum by crossbreeding the species. This has been very successful and now every colour of the rainbow is available, but only as tissue cultured plants. To get seed stability of a particular colour you need 7 to 10 generations of back and forward and self crossing. If you cross different colour plants you will get a wide variety of colour progeny.
Because tissue culture is the only reliable source of gauranteed likeness along with the challenge of importing plants into Australia, the new hybrid colours are generally unavailabe in Australia.
As I said, back in 2008 I started to take an interest, buying seeds of the species and starting a hybridisation program. Normally in such an endeavour you'd do a cross and grow hundeds of seedlings to find one of interest. I don't have that space but with the space I do have and a few years have produced some interesting results. I have a good line of yellows, near reds and mixed pastels and this year got my first quality orange.

It is a very clear strong orange colour. The flowers remain fairly flat and the plant has produced multiple flowers.

It's a very pretty plant and no doubt one of the best that I've been able to produce since starting. Part of the attraction of this game is that it is ephemeral, like so much of what we do only more quickly, and the only way I have of preserving it now is to make further hybrid crosses which will carry some of its genes forward. Of course there's always tissue culture but that just isn't an economic proposition. So it's a matter of enjoy it now beacuse it may not re-emerge next spring. A clear orange echinacea is a rare proposition in Australia and this may be the only one you see for a long time.
In another three of four generations of crosses I'm hoping to produce seeds which have a higher probability of producing this colour so that tissue culture isn't the only way to enjoy coloured enhinacea. The advantage we have here is that because of our long growing season I can flower, cross and re-seed seedlings in a yearly cycle rather than in two years which might otherwise apply.

There's a new page to the blog today as you will see on the menu bar above. It's a compilation of links to the most viewed posts on the blog. Have a look and you'll see an interesting pattern emerging.

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