Friday, July 13, 2012

Moraea Hybrids

I thought it would be a good idea to document my results so far with Moraea hybrids.  You can find mention of some hybrids in Goldblatt's book on Moraeas, but none of the hybrids are currently available commercially, and you can't find pictures of most of them online.

There's only one named Moraea hybrid that I'm aware of, a plant named "Zoe" raised by Bill Dijk in New Zealand.  Zoe is a hypnotic-looking flower heavily striped in purple.  It opened my eyes to what might be possible with the Moraeas.

This is a descendant of M. "Zoe."  It's not as stripey as the original, but still remarkable.

I've been crossing various Moraeas for several years now.  I haven't raised anything as pretty as Zoe, but I'm learning a lot, and some of the crosses are starting to look promising. 

MM 10-19 (In case you're wondering, the numbering scheme is my initials, followed by the year and then a number I assign to each cross when I plant them.  So MM 10-19 is the nineteenth cross I planted in fall of 2010.)

This is a new cross that bloomed for the first time in 2012.  It combines two common Moraea species from the Homeria group, Moraea flaccida and Moraea ochroleuca.  The result was a nice apricot-colored flower with a yellow center.  I wanted to cross these hybrids with themselves to bring out the recessive genes, but none of the crosses worked.  The pollen looks great, but the plants do not set seeds.  I also tried pollen from this on other Homeria species, with no success.

It was nice to see that this bloomed in only two years.  Most Moraea crosses take three years to bloom.

MM 99-00

This is the first cross I made, and probably the most boring.  I know one parent was the "neopavonia" form of Moraea tulbaghensis, but the tag broke and so I don't know the other parent.  It could be M. atropunctata or maybe M. loubseri.

Although this cross is not spectacular, it has led to some interesting children, as I'll show you below.

MM 03-04

This is one of several crosses I have done with Moraea aristata. In this case it was crossed with M. calcicola.  A pattern is starting to emerge -- the petals are a mix of white and whatever color the other parent has, while the nectar guide is not as spectacular as M. aristata.  This one cries out for an F2 cross, but the pollen is terrible (it looks like dried paint), and the plants are not not self-fertile.  Fortunately, in the last couple of years I've been able to cross pollen from some other species onto this one.  I can't wait for those to bloom.

MM 09-01

Another ourple and white cross, this time M. aristata and M. loubseri.  The petals on this one are pale purple, fading to almost white in the sun (as shown in this picture).  So far this one is a complete bust for follow-on crosses -- bad pollen, and it doesn't set seeds with anything.  However, Bob Werra identified some garden crosses of the two species, and they appear to be fertile.  So there may be hope.

MM 09-02
This was a surprise.  I was expecting the appearance to be a mix between the parents, M. villosa and M. aristata.  Instead, the hybrid looks almost exactly like M. villosa, but with a larger flower than the species (look at the US quarter next to it for comparison).  The size of the flowers is very exciting, but even better, they appear to be very fertile.  In 2015 I hope to have some interesting seedlings from them.

MM 03-98

One of my favorites.  Moraea atropunctata is a cream-colored flower with brown freckles at the center.  Cross it with the purple M. calcicola, and you get a flower with purple freckles.  It also has purple dots on the backs of the petals.  This hybrid blooms well, and sometimes sets seed.

MM 03-99

Moraea neopavonia crossed with M. villosa.  I wondered what would happen if you crossed a purple Moraea with an orange one.  The answer so far is that the orange color dominates.  However, I didn't keep track of the version of M. villosa that I used for the cross.  All I wrote was "weird Moraea villosa," meaning that I thought there was something funny going on with the color or shape of the flower.  Naturally, I've now forgotten exactly what was weird about the flower.

I am redoing this cross with better record-keeping.

In the meantime, this is a very handsome flower.  03-99A has wide petals like M. villosa, darker orange toward the center of the flower, and a big black nectar guide.  03-99B, which bloomed for the first time in 2012, has a similar but duller color scheme.  However, it sometimes gives me chimera flowers that have a flange growing out of the center of each petal.  I'm trying to make some follow-on crosses with this one.

MM 03-05
This one was a pleasant surprise.  I crossed Moraea aristata with the hybrid MM 99-00.  They produced a variety of flowers.  03-05A looks like a pale yellow version of M. aristata.  Unfortunately, it is not very fertile, but it does make a lot of offsets, so I hope I'll be able to share it around in a couple of years.

03-05C is pale orange with a narrow bluish nectar guide.  Not the most spectacular plant, but it blooms enthusiastically and sets seed well.  I hope it'll be the parent of some interesting follow-ons.

As you can see from the bottom photo, 03-05C produces some flowers with four petals.  This happens with about a quarter of the flowers.  I have no idea why it does this, or if I'll be able to breed the trait into anything else.  But I'll try.

MM 03-07
This is another cross made with MM 99-00, this time with Moraea villosa.  The flowers are medium orange, fading in the sun to the peach color you see here.  In 03-07A the nectar guide is relatively small, but there is a nice bright orange ring around it.

In 03-07b the petals are uniform color, but there's an outrageously big blue nectar guide in the middle.  There are also tiny maroon freckles on the backs of the petals.  This hybrid blooms enthusiastically for a long time, so it is one of my favorites.

These flowers have good-looking pollen and sometimes set seeds when crossed with other species.  But they will not breed with each other, unfortunately.

MM 09-04

This is my favorite surprise so far.  I crossed MM 99-00 with itself.  One plant looked a lot like the parent (so much so that I forgot to take a picture).  Another plant looked remarkably like M. neopavonia (see the center photo of MM 09-04C, battered by a hailstorm).  And then there's the third one, which came out a bright pure lemon yellow.  This was a big surprise, since at the time I made this cross I didn't have any yellow Moraeas in my collection.  So this is a genuine recessive characteristic coming out.  Better yet, this plant has fertile pollen and sets seeds easily.  So I can try to get that yellow color mixed with some other interesting things.

What I've learned

I'm just getting started with Moraea hybridization, so please treat all of this as preliminary guesses.  But based on what I've seen so far, I think...

--Crossing white and purple flowers yields pale purple flowers (in other words, one color does not dominate over the other).

--Crossing orange and purple produces orange flowers.  (Orange is mostly dominant.)

--Crossing a 24-chromosome Moraea (villosa, tulbaghensis) with a 12-chromosome Moraea (everything else) often produces fertile plants, something that is supposed to be almost impossible.

--Some of the hybrids show instability in their number and shape of petals.  I wonder if it might be possible to breed this tendency into producing fully double Moraea flowers.

--The books on plant breeding all tell you that the most important step is to create F2 hybrids.  (F1 is the first generation of the cross you make; F2 is when you breed those seedlings with themselves, or with each other.)  The F2 cross causes recessive genes to show themselves, producing a wide variety of results.  Unfortunately, most of my Moraea hybrids refuse to make F2 crosses.  Instead, you have to cross the F1 hybrid with another species.  That lets some recessives show up.

--Most of the "Peacock" group of Moraeas can be crossed with each other and with other plants closely related to the group.  Species that appear to be generally cross-compatible include Moraea aristata, calcicola, neopavonia, atropunctata, tulbaghensis, villosa, loubseri, tripetala, gigandra, lurida, unguiculata (maybe), 'Zoe,' and bellendeniiMoraea fergusoniae and polystachya don't seem to be willing to cross with any of these, alas.

In the last couple of years I've been increasing he number of Moraea crosses I make.  But they take three years to bloom.  So you should expect to see up to 10 additional hybrids in 2013, and then a flood in 2014 and 2015.


  1. Very interesting and gives one a good idea of what to expect when hybradizing Moraea plants. There is very little to non-existing information on the web for hybradizing Moraea plants. Excellent!!
    I will most certainly be revisiting your blog as a reference as I have just started hybradizing Moraeas. Love this site!!

    (South Africa)

  2. Thanks, Cheryl!

    You're only the third person I've ever heard from who's hybridizing Moraeas. Good luck! Please let me know how your experiments work out. I think we can all make progress faster if we share our findings.

    You can find my contact info here.


  3. Wow. This is exactly what I was looking for for several hours! My question is this: have you crossed moraea with Dietes (what used to be called M. bicolor or iridoides)? I think some dietes are 40 chromosome, and some are 28 which could show some potential with some SCIs and also some siberians. I wonder if anyone has tried that. Anyway, it would be so amazing to take the reblooming traits and color patterns and bud counts of these and bring them into iris intrageneric hybrids. Its like the new frontier.... a stella d'oro of iris so to speak. Please keep me updated with your program! I'm looking to do a lot of similar stuff. I'm starting a breeding program for blue roses, blue daylilies, red reblooming iris, and making an everblooming intrageneric iris ... I would love to trade some serious stuff with you once I get on my feet .... likely by this summer. Contact me. :)

  4. wow.. fascinating,, inspiring.. and re affirming i'm not the only one who forgets data.. great work/ fun.would love seeds if you eva sell them.vesta (nz)