Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Moraea tricolor (and color forms)

Several years ago the dean of Moraea-growers in the US, Bob Werra, gave me a pot of Moraea tricolor seedlings. He and I both expected them to all be pink, the standard color for that species, and the only color that either of us had ever seen in cultivation. Here's what the pink ones look like:

But to my surprise, when they started blooming, they came up in a wide variety of colors: orange, purple, mauve, and various intermediate shades.

Neither of us knows what happened. Bob thought they might be accidental hybrids, but I've tried some cross-breeding experiments with M. tricolor and some related species, and so far the results don't look at all like these flowers.

The other possibility is that these are unusual color forms of M. tricolor. Goldblatt's book The Moraeas of Southern Africa says they can come in shades of pink, yellow, and light purple; and South African bulb breeder Gordon Summerfield tells me they can have even stranger colors, such as green. So maybe Bob got a batch of seeds that happened to be in mixed colors.

If any Moraea experts have an opinion, I'd love to hear it.

In the meantime, I think they're beautiful, and I'm trying to build up stocks of each color so I can share them.

This bicolored one looks the most like some of my hybrids.

I love this bright orange one:

Moraea MM 12-143

Seed parent: Moraea macronyx

Pollen parent: Moraea tricolor

Moraea macronyx has a beautiful white and yellow flower. Moraea tricolor is usually bright pink with yellow nectar guides, and subtle striping on the tepals. Put them together, and here's what you get:

The parents are both low-growing plants whose flowers last for only a single day. In captivity here in California, they tend to bloom in early spring on the first sunny day after they're watered, so I have set my drip irrigation system to water on Friday night, giving me a better chance of seeing flowers when I'm home over the weekend. The plants bloom on and off for several weeks to over a month.

These cheerful little hybrids have subtle variations between individuals: A little more red on here, a bit more yellow there. I have tried to sort them into lettered selections, but it's hard to do accurately, especially since the individual flowers last only a single day. Better, I think, not to worry about the classification and just enjoy a cluster of them when a sunny day brings out a flush of flowers. They're especially welcome since they bloom before most of the other Moraeas (February in my part of California).

MM 12-143a.

The outer tepals are yellow, with some dark red streaks on them. The inner tepals are are mostly dark red with a yellow background, while the style crests (the upright things in the center) are white, veined with dark mauvey red. It's not exactly beautiful, but I think it's very interesting to see how the colors combine, and I can't wait to see what will happen with further breeding.

These plants first bloomed as two-year-old seedlings, still in the seed cup.

MM 12-143b.

MM 12-143c. 

MM 12-143d.

For the reciprocal to this cross, see MM 12-55.