Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moraea MM 10-03

Seed parent: Moraea gigandra
Pollen parent: Moraea MM 99-00 (atropunctata x neopavonia?)

As I've found in other cases, mixing an orange flower and a purple usually (but not always) produces a pale orange one. So the color in most of these plants does not resemble M. gigandra, but other characteristics show up.

The flowers have a moderate amount of pollen and may be fertile.

Compare these flowers to the flowers from the reciprocal cross, MM 10-16.

MM 10-03a is most notable for the distinct yellow ring around the center of the flower:

MM 10-03b has a small blue eye, reminiscent of M. gigandra:


MM 10-03c has a bluish dot where the eye would normally be:

MM 10-03d. Holy toledo, what's going on here? Flower breeders have all sorts of words for flowers that are almost but not quite red: burgundy, plum, old rose, etc. I think this one is plum-colored. Whatever word we use, it's interesting to me not just because of the color, but because there's nice contrast with the blue eye and orange center. This flower looks pretty promising to me.

MM 10-03e. This one is pale orange with no hint of yellow. I like the intricate dot pattern in the center.


How to Pollinate Moraea Flowers

There was a question on the Pacific Bulb Society mail list regarding how to pollinate a Moraea flower. It's a good question which confused me a lot when I got started, so I thought it might be useful to post something about it.

The two parts of the Moraea flower that you need to find are the anthers (the things that hold the pollen) and the stigmas (the places where you put the pollen).  In general, there are three anthers in every Moraea flower, and three pairs of stigmas (or stigmatic lips, as I've sometimes seen them called, because they look a bit like tiny lips or flaps).  Here is a diagram of a typical Moraea flower:



There's often a contrasting color spot on the flower that tells a pollinating insect where to go (the botanists call it a nectar guide; I call it an eye for short).  On the flower surface facing the eye you'll find the anther, which is usually a contrasting color and easy to spot because it has pollen on it (once the flower is fully open).  Just above the tip of the anther are two little flaps of tissue. These are the stigmas. Usually they are not a contrasting color, and they may be hard to spot.  You want to put the pollen on the inside of those flaps.

Sometimes the flaps may be stuck to the surface of the flower. If needed, you can pry them open with a very small camel's hair brush.

For a presentation, I once dissected a Moraea polystachya flower and photographed the parts.  I felt like a barbarian, but it was in the name of education, OK?

Here is the poor unsuspecting flower prior to surgery:

I have pulled off the outer tepals (if you're an iris grower, you call these the falls).  The anther is the dark purple vertical strip in the middle. It hasn't opened yet, so you don't see any pollen on it:

Now the anthers have been removed using tweezers:

The stigmas are labeled here:

Here's a closeup of a flower of Moraea gawleri that has been pollinated. The pollen is bright orange, so it's easy to spot:

Here are a few more examples. In Moraea gigandra, the stigmas are at the outer end of the central crest (this flower has been pollinated with orange pollen):

In Moraea neopavonia / tulbaghensis, the stigmas are small horn-like flaps at the end of the central crest. These have been pollinated:

In Moraea atropunctata, the stigmas are near the outer end of the crest:


How to transfer the pollen.  I like to use a small camel's hair brush; others favor a cotton swab. Or you can just use tweezers to rip off the anther and rub it on the stigma of the target flower.

If the flowers you need to cross do not bloom at the same time, you can store pollen in the freezer. I use small plastic film canisters for storage. If you live in a humid climate, putting some dessicant in the container is probably a good idea.


These flowers usually don't self-pollinate. In some Moraea species, the anther curls up and over the stigma, spreading pollen all over the place. I used to focus on removing the anthers before the flowers could self-pollinate, but after some tests I realized that most of the species I grow are not self-fertile. They need pollen from another individual to set seed, so all you have to worry about is bees and other insects (see below).


Watch out for bees. If you're serious about breeding Moraeas, you'll need to be careful about accidental pollination. It's no fun to grow seedlings for three years only to discover that they were pollinated by a bee with the wrong pollen.

In my garden in California, honeybees are attracted to the purple Moraeas (Moraea polystachya and M. villosa in particular). They don't bother the white and orange flowers, but if I don't protect the purple ones, the bees will pollinate them for me.

As the sequence below shows, the bees can be very persistent.  In this case, a bee is forcing open a flower of M. polystachya. In the process of fighting its way in there, it will spread pollen all over the place.




If you want to make a protected cross, you can either invest in making a screened cage, or pull off the outer tepals of the flower as it first opens (as illustrated in the dissection example above).  Without the outer tepals in place, the bees have no place to land, and the flower does not get pollinated.

Usually, because I'm lazy,  I do not bother to pull off the tepals. I just make sure I pollinate a flower before any bees get to it. I figure my pollen will probably dominate if it gets in there first, and I use a lot of it. A truly professional breeder would be appalled.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Moraea mm 11-161

Seed parent: MM 99-00b (atropunctata x neopavonia?)
Pollen parent: MM 03-99a (neopavonia x villosa)

This cross was pure experiment; I wanted to see what would happen if I crossed these two orange hybrids.

MM 11-161A is about what you'd expect: it looks like a pale form of Moraea neopavonia.

MM 11-161B was a huge surprise. In person it's more of a mahogany color than this photograph suggests, but still it feels like a step in the path to a red Moraea.

Moraea calcicola

Known from just a handful of locations near Saldanha, South Africa, this one is rarely offered on the seed lists. It's not as spectacular as some of the other Peacock Moraeas, but it's an elegant-looking flower, and the plant is easy to grow.

It's native to summer-dry zone B4, a mild desert with little frost. Comparable cities are Alexandria, Egypt; Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico; and Illapel, Chile. For more information on the zones, click here.



This form has a smaller, lighter eye at the center. Also note the strange yellow-green color at the center of the flower. The only other species that has something like this is M. loubseri.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Moraea MM 10-23

Seed parent: MM 03-98a (Moraea atropunctata x calcicola, spotted tepals)
Pollen parent: MM 03-98b (Moraea atropunctata x calcicola, plain tepals)

This is my first second-generation (F2) cross of the nicely-spotted MM 03-98. Looking for interesting recessive genes here...

MM 10-23a. To my surprise, the first plant to flower was a throwback to its Moraea calcicola grandparent. I'm happy to have it, though, as I lost the grandparent. It's nice to know that its genes are still around.

MM 10-23b. The second plant to bloom looks like one of its grandparents. So those recessive genes so far are a bust. We'll wait for more offspring to flower.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Moraea MM 10-13

Seed parent: Moraea MM 03-04a (aristata x calcicola)
Pollen parent: Moraea villosa (probably form C)

This isn't a spectacular cross, but I think it's an improvement over the seed parent. The flowers are a bit larger and whiter, and the eye is more brightly colored. I like the very flat tepals of this one, compared to the reflexed ones of many Moraea species.

MM 10-13a. A nice respectable-looking flower.

MM 10-13b. The eye is a bit darker, and there may be a bit more veining in the tepals (hard to tell from the photo).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Moraea MM 10-16

Seed parent: Moraea MM 99-00 (neopavonia x atropunctata?)
Pollen parent: Moraea gigandra

MM 10-16a.  This is another part of my continuing effort to mix orange and purple Moraeas. As in so many other cases, the first result turns out to be a light orange flower. About the only Moraea gigandra characteristic you can spot in this flower is its velvety, mottled black center.

MM 10-16b. This one has a faint purple-mauve blush to it.

MM 10-16c. This turned out to be another plant of 10-16b. Sorry for the confusion, and let's move on...

MM 10-16d. Now for something completely different. The tepals are bright orange, overlaid with purple veins that blend into a reddish-mauve color. The eye is very bright blue, and the central cup is bright orange with dark markings. Many of my crosses come out with pastel colors, so I love the intensity of the colors in this flower.


MM 10-16e. Pale yellow with a little mauve mixed in near the eye. TH=his photo makes the yellow look brighter than it really is.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Moraea MM 10-02

Seed parent: Moraea villosa
Pollen parent: Moraea tulbaghensis with green eye

The results from this one were very interesting. I love the vibrant color schemes, but the flowers are a bit small.

MM 10-02A is a vibrant orange flower with a blue eye. I like the contrast with the white style arms.

MM 10-02B is weird but significant. Seen from a distance, it looks mustard-colored. Up close, it has very interesting details, including an area near the green eye that looks red. This is the first time I've done an orange x purple cross where the colors actually mixed instead of the orange dominating.

MM 10-02C is the most spectacular offspring of this cross so far. The flower has a nice bright blue eye, and the tepals are covered in speckled dots that seem to be tracing the veins. I’ve seen occasional photos of wild Moraeas with this sort of color pattern, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in person.

Needless to say, I made a lot of crosses with this one, especially with other flowers that have spots or veins on them.



MM 10-02D. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a very good photo of this one. (This photo makes it look yellower than it really is.) In person it looks like a lighter-colored version of MM 10-02b.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Moraea tulbaghensis

This species officially includes a fairly diverse selection of orange flowers with contrasting central eyes. For the purposes of gardening, I've continued to use the names of two former species that were merged into M. tulbaghensis. The original M. tulbaghensis, which I describe here, has cup-shaped flowers with eyes that are usually green, but sometimes blue or slate. From a distance, the flowers look like little orange teacups, the size of thimbles, perched at the tip of the stem.

The former Moraea neopavonia (now officially part of M. tulbaghensis) has much larger wide open flowers and blue or black eyes. Now it's referred to as the "large form" of M. tulbaghensis, but I grow it separately because it looks so different and is a bit easier for me to grow than its cousin (in my garden, it seems to tolerate more sun).

These plants are native to bulb zone D3 (link). Think Fowlers Bay, Australia; Mendocino, CA; or Izmir, Turkey.

Here's the green-eyed form of M. tulbaghensis. I guess you call that green; it's kind of hard to judge. These things are very hard to photograph because the flower never fully opens. The second photo shows a lighter orange flower that definitely has a green eye.


Here's a blue-eyed form:

This is the slate-eyed form. Or maybe it's very dark green. I thought it was gray when I took the photo.

The eye in this one is very unusual. I guess you'd have to call it chartreuse.

Moraea gigandra

This is supposedly the largest of the "Peacock" Moraeas, and it blooms slightly later than most of its cousins (April in San Jose, CA). Honeybees in California are strongly attracted to this plant (they like purple flowers), but they don't seem to know what to do with it once they arrive. They wander around for a bit and then fly away. The anthers are held so far above the base of the flower that the bees don't pollinate them. In South Africa, botanists say, these flowers are pollinated by pollen-eating beetles. The color pattern in the flower apparently looks a bit like a beetle that's ready for love (at least, it looks that way to another beetle).

These bulbs are native to bulb zone D3 (link). Think Fowlers Bay, Australia; Mendocino, CA; or Izmir, Turkey.

The plants you usually see in commerce are purple with a black fuzzy center and a narrow blue eye (or "nectar guide," as the botanists call it). Here's the typical form:

Among some plants I received from a friend, there's a second form, even larger than the typical one. It's paler purple and has almost no blue eye. Instead, there's a white ring around the center. (The one you see in this photo had just opened; after a day in the sun they fade to a much lighter color than the typical form).

In the past I've occasionally had some strange M. gigangra flowers that bloomed one year and then did not reappear. I do not know if they were one-time chimeras, or plants that died after blooming.  This one looks a bit like the white ring form, but with even more reduced eyes:

This one had very distinctive pointed tepals. They remind me a bit of a North American wildflower, Calochortus lyallii. Unfortunately, I've never seen this flower again, and I lost track of which pot had this bulb.

According to Goldblatt's book on Moraeas, M. gigandra also occurs in white and orange forms. I've never seen them in commerce or photos. If you have, please post a comment.

Moraea MM 09-04

Seed parent: Moraea MM 99-00
Pollen parent: Moraea MM 99-00

This is my first successful hybrid between two siblings of the same cross; I think the breeding professionals call that an F2 hybrid. These crosses are important because they let recessive genes peek through, and that's definitely what happened here. I've gotten blooms from three offspring of this cross so far, and others are on the way in 2013.

MM 09-04a was a delightful surprise: a brilliant lemon yellow color, something not found in any of its grandparents. Its main flaw is that the flowers are small, but it's vigorous and very fertile, so I was able to make a lot of crosses from it (it's 4 of 6 as a seed parent and an amazing 17 of 21 as a pollen parent). I hope to combine that color with bigger flowers and other patterns.


MM 09-04b looks very much like its parents.


MM 09-04c looks a lot like M. neopavonia, one of the grandparents of this cross. This specimen is a misshapen flower that was also battered by hail. It made only one flower in the first year of bloom; I'll be interested to see if all of its flowers have four tepals in the future.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Moraea MM 09-01

Seed parent: Moraea aristata
Pollen parent: Moraea loubseri

Cross a white Moraea with a purple Moraea and what do you get? A pale purple Moraea, duh. These are vigorous plants that put out many flowers, but they're not all that exciting visually. They're also completely infertile so far: 0 for 9 as a seed parent, and only one attempted cross as a pollen parent because the flowers have virtually no pollen (the cross failed). I'm afraid this particular cross is probably a dead end for breeding.

It does raise an interesting question, though. In terms of shape, the flowers below look a lot like the flowers of MM 99-00, a cross that I thought was between M. neopavonia and M. atropunctata. I wonder if those bulbs might actually be M. neopavonia x M. loubseri. I am repeating both crosses to find out.

Anyway, here's how the flowers look when they first open:


After the flowers have been in the sun for a few days, the tepals fade to almost pure white:

Moraea MM 09-02

Seed parent: Moraea aristata
Pollen parent: Moraea villosa

Visually this isn't the most striking hybrid, but in other ways I think it's important. This is the most vigorous Moraea I've seen to date.  The corms produce about two offsets each per year, the leaves are notably bigger and darker green than the other Moraeas, and the flowers are huge. So M. aristata added vigor to the cross, but not appearance: the flowers look pretty much like upsized versions of M. villosa.

MM 09-02A: As you can see from the quarter I'm holding, this is one very big Moraea. Its pollen is fairly fertile (4 successful crosses out of 7 attempts), and it's a pretty good seed parent (4 out of 6, including a successful self-fertilization). The blue eye in this flower fades to bleached-out purple after a few days in the sun.

MM 09-02B: I thought all of the 09-02 offspring would look about the same, but to my surprise they have different color schemes. I presume that means that my Moraea villosa plants have some interesting recessive genes in them. This one has a blue eye and yellow center, like a giant form of Moraea villosa b.

MM 09-02C: This opens with tepals a bit lighter than 09-02A, but otherwise it's quite similar. The blue eye does not fade in the sun.

MM 09-02D: The eye on this one is nearly black (in person it's extremely dark blue).