The Elusive Purple Hardy Waterlily
The dream of creating a blue or purple hardy waterlily was just that for many, many years. All of the legendary waterlily hybridizers like Kirk Strawn and Perry Slocum, not to mention my father Brad McLane and uncle Bruce McLane, had all found it impossible. It took the creation of Nymphaea 'Siam Blue Hardy' by Pairat Songpanich to turn the dream into a reality. The path he used to create a purple waterlily was one thought impossible by almost all but himself, crossing a blue or purple tropical waterlily with a hardy waterlily.
Like many others I had always been told and believed that it was impossible to cross a hardy waterlily with a tropical waterlily. In 2007 Pairat Songpanich opened up a new world of possibilities when he announced that he had made such a cross and was able to create a blue hardy waterlily offspring, Nymphaea 'Siam Blue Hardy'. Not only did he announce this exciting new waterlily, but he also had the DNA proof to back up his claim! Around the same time Carlos Magdalena was crossing Australian waterlilies with both day and night tropical waterlilies. He created several spectacular plants like Nymphaea 'Kew's Electric Indigo'. Mike Giles has spent the last several years working in his greenhouse and ponds making the impossible ideas come true, also. Currently, he has over 500 different plants from a wide variety of different waterlily crosses, many of which are purple hardy waterlilies! Mike achieved his first purple in 2009 with seed collected in 2008 and is a wealth of information on the subject. It seems the world of hybridizing waterlilies is changing rapidly with the new possibility of hybridizing between Nymphaea subgenera. These instersubgeneric hybrids allow for new waterlily variety and colors that were once thought to be impossible like the elusive purple hardy waterlily!
After watching Pairat's speech on how he developed N. 'Siam Blue Hardy' at the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society's symposium in 2009 in Chicago, I became inspired to try this idea on my own. (Pairat just won the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Societies new waterlily contest 2011 with his new creation Nymphaea 'Siam Purple', which is a light purple hardy waterlily.) In 2010 I chose 1 female hardy parent with which to work with and made several crosses with different unnamed purple male parents from our tropical waterlily hybridizing pool. Several of the crosses produced seed and I collected the seeds to germinate. Included in these seeds were some large ones and some small ones, but the majority were a midsize seed that is smaller than a typical hardy waterlily seed. These waterlily seeds were saved in a water filled container until they sprouted in the spring of 2011.
As the waterlily seeds started to sprout, I became excited to see that the pads demonstrated different leaf colors on the same immature pad. Even if I wasn't able to get a purple hardy, these waterlily seeds looked like they could still be interesting. I carefully removed the sprouted waterlily seedlings and placed them in a seed tray with very shallow water. After several weeks, surface pads began to emerge. Some of the pads were still multicolored and you could begin to see the color on the underside of the pads. Sure enough, some had a purple backing to them and some had reddish pink backings to them. In tropical waterlilies, a purple backing typically leads to a purple flower. At this point, the excitement began to grow. The larger sprouted waterlily seedlings with surface pads were then removed and planted in 4.5" fertilized pots to help speed along growth. The waterlilies were separated into 2 groups based upon the backing color of the plants. Approximately 20 of the plants had a pink backing and 10 of the plants had a purple backing.
Now came the hard part, patience. The waterlilies were nurtured along and fertilized until finally, blooms began to emerge. As luck would have it the first plants to bloom were pink. Some looked like regular hardy waterlilies, but some were different. At this point, I was positive that the cross had worked and I would have a purple hardy waterlily. At last a bloom began to emerge from one of the plants with a purple backing. It seemed as though it took weeks for the first flower to open, and when it finally did, it occurred on a weekend. So I had to pack up the family and make a trip out to the nursery to see. It was well worth the trip because when I arrived, there it was, a purple hardy waterlily!
After this first purple waterlily the rest began to bloom. I ended up with the majority of the waterlilies being pink, 3 reds, and 10 purples. Several of the waterlilies have some noticeable deformities in the leaves, and or the flower. I believe this is from the difference in chromosome numbers between the subgenera. At this time, I have 5 purple hardy waterlilies that do not have any deformities. All of the purple waterlily hybrids have hairy pedicels and peduncles and also have horizontal rhizomes similar to other hardy waterlilies. The main differences in these ISH crosses are the flower and the waterlily pad shapes. Two of the purple waterlilies resemble a tropical flower in appearance and are held high above the water. These waterlilies tend to have stamens that resemble a tropical waterlily also. One of the waterlilies resembles a hardy flower in appearance and is held closer to the waters surface. The other waterlily hybrids have traits of both parents. All the waterlilies exhibit a solid purple petal color with no fading. The waterlily pads on all the plants are slightly more oblong and pointed than that of a typical hardy waterlily. They still remain very thick and fleshy which is similar to normal hardy waterlily pads. An exciting new attribute of some of these purple waterlily hybrids is the bloom frequency. Several of the purple plants will have multiple flowers open in a day and bloom almost continuously throughout the summer. This blooming trait is similar to that of tropical waterlilies and is a great addition to the hardy waterlily line.
Throughout the summer I have continued to make crosses and gather more waterlily seeds. There are large differences in flower shape, color, and size in the original hybrids even though only one maternal parent was used. This fact leads to the excitement of never knowing what new and exciting waterlily is going to be next. I have gathered seed from approximately 20 waterlily seed pods so far this year and have planted a large number of newly sprouted waterlilies to date. Recently, I have started to branch into additional hardy mother plants, although the majority of the crosses were still using the original hardy mother waterlily. My new crop of waterlily seedlings is starting to produce surface pads and I have begun to separate and plant them into 4.5" pots based on the color of the underside of the leaf pad. Next year should continue to bring a number of new additional purple hardy waterlilies! Stay tuned to the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Societies annual waterlily contest to see what new and exciting plants will be entered.
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