Wednesday, June 1, 2016

New Moraea Hybrids, 2016

For several years I've been experimenting with hybridizing plants in the genus Moraea. This article summarizes my favorite new hybrids from 2016. I'll also discuss what I think I'm learning from these plants.

Lots of dots. My favorite new hybrid this year was an intensely spotted flower produced by crossing Moraea 'Zoe' with Moraea atropunctata. Those flowers both have spots, and the cross between them is almost covered in spots:

Click here to see more photos, including a sibling flower that has a subtly different color pattern.

Bullseye. The other big surprise this year was the flower below. Note the blue and yellow bullseye rings in the center. I've never seen that color pattern in Moraeas before. It's a result of crossing Moraea villosa with Moraea bellendenii

More details here.

Looking for red. I'm continuing my pursuit of a fully red "Peacock" Moraea, and continuing to get shades of mauvey-purpley-orange in the process. This one is a cross between M. neopavonia and M. gigandra. Check out that hypnotic light blue eye.

More photos and a subtly different sibling here.

And this is a cross between M. villosa and M. tulbaghensis. Crossing these species continues to produce interesting colors and patterns, although sadly many of the flowers are cup-shaped and don't show off the colors as well as they could.

Details here.

Other interesting hybrids that bloomed for the first time this year:

Bright clear yellow flowers: MM 12-158.

Moraea tripetala X aristata: MM 12-141

A very floriferous hybrid involving M. bellendenii: 15+ flowers on a single plant. MM 12-119 

Moraea tripetala X neopavonia: MM 112-109

A beautiful M. villosa selection 

You can see more hybrids by clicking on the 2016 links in the archive nav bar at right (if you're reading this on a mobile device, switch to the desktop view to see the sidebar).

I've updated my list of the Moraea species that can cross successfully, here.

I'm on the lookout for more Moraea species. My wish list is here. I'm happy to trade!

Things I'm learning

Raised beds versus pots: The raised beds are winning (so far). Most of my bulb collection is in pots, but two years ago I started experimenting with raised beds. This year the difference between the beds and pots was striking. My Moraea plants in pots usually get some die-back of their leaf tips, starting in early spring. As much as half of the leaf can turn brown. In the raised beds, there was almost no leaf dieback at all. The leaves stayed long and lush until late spring, when the plants started to go dormant.
I now have two beds (one 24' x 3', the other 24' x 4'; that's about 1m x 8m if you think metric). One bed is two years old, the other one year old. You can see more details here.

In addition to the good leaf growth, there were also strong blooms from some of the bulbs in the older bed, although most of the plants in both beds are still 1-2 years away from blooming.

I built two more raised beds this spring, so I have a lot of planting to do this summer. I will try to get some individuals of every species into the beds, so I can compare their growth to the pots (also, that gives me insurance in case they die out in one place). The beds are also turning out to be the place where I grow the hybrids to blooming size.

Veteran growers tell me that bulbs in beds often decline after several years. I'm hoping that won't happen here.

Maybe the pot problem isn't soil. I've had inconsistent blooms from my potted Moraeas in the last several years. Sometimes they bloom well, and sometimes they seem to sulk. I thought maybe the problem was changes in my potting mix (I can't get the same sand that I used in past years, and the texture of the peat I use has also changed). I have experimented now with several different mixes, and the results are still inconsistent. So now starting to wonder if the issue is more about temperature and watering. The potted bulbs that get the most sun had mediocre bloom this year, even those that had fresh soil in them. Meanwhile, plants in raised beds with the exact same soil mix did very well.

Probably the next thing I should try with the pots is a plunge bed, to moderate their temperature and reduce swings in moisture. But that's a pain in the neck to build, and I'm trying to reduce my workload, not increase it. We'll see what I have the time to do this summer.

Moraea bellendenii hybridizes with the Peacock Moraeas. This is the first year I got blooms from M. bellendenii crosses, and from the look of them they definitely are hybrids. M. bellendenii is taller and blooms later than the typical Peacock Moraea, and also it's yellow. So it gives some interesting new characteristics that I can mix into the hybrids.

The jury is still out on Moraea lurida. I've now gotten flowers from several crosses I made onto M. lurida, and so all look exactly like M. lurida. Flies are strongly attracted to M. lurida in my part of California, and I think they probably selfed the plants. I have tried some crosses of M. lurida pollen on other species, but until this year none of them had set fertile seeds. (M. lurida blooms later than the other Moraeas, so to make crosses with its pollen I have to store the pollen for 11 months.) This year for the first time I got some seeds using stored lurida pollen, so there may still be hope for a hybrid. I'll know in a few years.

I don't understand the genetics for yellow. A few years ago I started getting occasional yellow offspring when I crossed hybrids that had orange and cream colored flowers in their ancestry. Great, I thought, the yellow color is a recessive gene that shows up when you dilute the orange genes. But then I crossed a yellow and a cream colored flower, and this year it produced a light orange flower (link). That implies that the gene(s) for orange were still present in the yellow flower. So what is it that makes a Moraea flower yellow? Is there a separate gene that switches off the orange color, or that converts orange to yellow?

A post in Darren Abbey's excellent blog talks about how the combination of pH and pigment can alter the color of plants. I wonder if something like that might be involved. Maybe if I spend enough time reading his blog I'll be able to figure it out.

Crosses between Moraea and Homeria continue to be hard to achieve. Last year I had flowers from my first successful cross using Moraea pollen on a Homeria plant (MM 11-91). That cross produced just a few seeds, one of which grew into a Homeria plant and two into hybrids. I theorized that a small amount of Homeria pollen had gotten onto the flower, causing it to set seeds with the Moraea pollen as well. So this year I experimented with using heat treatment in a microwave oven to kill Homeria pollen, then applying a mix of the killed Homeria pollen and Moraea pollen to the Homerias.

I'm told this approach works in some other genera. But I made about 20 crosses this way, and none of them set any seeds at all.

Next year I'll experiment with very small amounts of live Homeria pollen.

(By the way, crosses using Homeria pollen on Morea plants haven't produced viable crosses so far. I'm still trying, though.)

Trends I'm seeing in Moraea hybridization:
  • Crossing an orange plant and a purple plant still usually produces a light orange plant, but infrequently you get a mauvey-purple one that looks a bit reddish.
  • Crossing anything with M. tripetala usually produces a flower that's shaped a lot like tripetala, but often the colors are dominated by the other parent.
  • Crossing anything with M. tulbaghensis almost always produces relatively small, cup-shaped flowers.
  • Crossing anything with M. villosa often produces flowers that look very much like M. villosa.
  • Crosses with M. atropunctata often have thick, relatively short stems. They resist falling over in the rain.
  • Crosses with M. gigandra sometimes have tall thin stems, and can easily fall over in rain or wind. (Which makes me wonder, if I cross atropunctata and gigandra, can I get a tall plant with a thick stem? I made three such crosses in 2012, but they haven't bloomed yet.)


  1. Great work, Mike,

  2. On the topic of yellow...pigments can be influenced by a lot of factors. I mean the blue pigment from cornflowers and the red pigment from roses is the same pigment cyanin just different ph. (granted that is simplifying a bit there are other pigments that can also be red in roses but they aren't always there).

    With the homeria cross are you only using flaccida? Or have you tried with others that have more closely aligned chromosome numbers, I know you had elegans so possibly try with that?

  3. I believe that you are right, that moisture will be fluctuating in the pots- as well as temperature, causing premature dormancy. Perhaps you could try shading the pots and putting slightly more organic material in the soil mixture for the pots, as opposed to the raised beds. I find that this approach works well for Crocus.

  4. Thanks, Juno! I built a plunge bed for about 80 of the pots last summer. I'm hoping that will regulate the moisture and temp better. If not, I'll try your suggestion.


  5. P, belated thanks for the suggestion. I have tried crosses with elegans about 20 times, without success so far. However, since the flaccida cross was kind of a fluke, I will continue to try crossing both species.