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Breeding Fuchsias Part 2 Banner

Breeding fuchsias: Part 2: Hybridisation

In the second part of his article Jack Wilson looks at the hybridisation programme.

I have always considered that fuchsias were good garden plants because of their long flowering period and in general, their lack of enemies in the open. In greenhouses however, they are prone to infestation by white fly. Much of the hybridisation of the fuchsia family has been aimed at greenhouse plants and, the Americans particularly, have carried out a breeding programme with the object of producing bigger and better blooms. Many named varieties are now available, some say as many as 3000, but until the late W.P. Wood started his breeding programme, very few new hardy ones had been raised.

In 1967 I started my hybridisation programme with the intention of producing some new hardy varieties. I used the varieties I had in my garden, but I soon realised that my methods left much to be desired. My interest had been aroused by one or two good seedlings and I resolved to be more systematic and much more selective in my parent fuchsias. I decided to use the oldest varieties I could obtain as they would be closer to the original species, and in all probability they would exhibit a greater degree of hardiness. This was easier said than done as many of the older ones were not available in commerce.

It is essential before starting a hybridisation programme to know the flower and understand the functions of all its various parts. The pedicel or stalk supports the flower and is the channel by which nutrients are passed to flower. This joins the flower at the ovary, or seed container, below this is the tube. This protects the sexual parts of the flower and leads down to the sepals which protect the flower proper. Beneath the sepals is the flower which is known as the corolla and may be single with four petals, or double with a greater number of petals. The corolla contains the actual sexual organs of the flower. The stamens are filament-like stalks which are terminated at the end by the anthers, pads which produce pollen, they surround the style and this is terminated at the stigma. The male parts of the flower are the anthers, the female part is the stigma which, when it is ready for pollination becomes very sticky.

The first thing I did was to list the objects of my hybridisation programme. These were - in no particular order:

  1. Hardiness
  2. Upright growing with strong stems and close branching
  3. Freedom from disease
  4. Early flowering (late June/early July)
  5. Larger flowers than is usual in hardy fuchsias
  6. A good range of colours
  7. An overall good constitution.

The last of these objects is just as important as the first as a hardy fuchsia with a poor constitution is of little value in the garden.

The next important point in my programme was to ascertain the dominant and recessive characteristics in the fuchsia family. From my own experience, I had found that red and purple were dominant and red and white or purple and white were recessive. This was confirmed by W.P. Wood in his book A Fuchsia Survey. This in fact means that the resulting seedlings of every cross-pollination made had to be allowed to flower along with their siblings so as to grow on the resulting seedlings. In other words, the Fl seedlings which would have the dominant characteristics must be allowed to cross-pollinate, and then the resulting seedlings would show the recessive characteristics to a greater or lesser extent. In general, fuchsia seeds if sown in March/April will flower the same year, but in some cases flowering does not occur until the second year. So, to be able to produce the F2 generation it is necessary to grow the new seedlings for at least two years. I make no selection of seedlings until the F2 generation has flowered. I find this is a difficult task, and I usually ask a knowledgeable fuchsia grower to assist me.

Initially in my hybridisation programme I tried to do the pollination out of doors but found the weather and birds caused me many problems. It was difficult to get the flowers in the right condition to accept the pollen in wet or humid conditions and the small bags - I used polythene bags initially - became a target for the sparrows. I finally used small muslin bags, but even so, it was difficult to attach them securely. All these problems made me resort to carrying out the pollination in the greenhouse.

My method now is to select the plants I wish to cross pollinate, then pot them up into 5in (13cm) pots and grow them on until the flowers appear. The first flowers on the parent fuchsias are allowed to flower normally - they are used to provide the pollen for the later flowers which are used as the seed parents. Next I select a bud on both parents which is about to open, pop the bud between my fingers - this must be done very gently - the flower is then emasculated by cutting off the anthers with a sharp pair of scissors. The stigma, style and the corolla are left intact - if the corolla is also removed it does not seem to affect the pollination. I do not pollinate immediately, but enclose the flower in a muslin bag - this prevents pollination by insects.

I do not use polythene bags because I have found that condensation causes the style, stigma and ovary to rot. The stigma does not become tacky for several days. To ascertain when it is pollen receptive, I inspect it regularly until it is sticky to the touch. At this stage I cut off one of the early flowers, check that the pollen is ready - lightly touch the anthers to see if the pollen grains adhere to the fingers. The muslin bags on the selected female parents are now removed and the pollen is dusted on to the stigma until they are covered with pollen. The muslin bag is replaced over the pollinated flowers as quickly as possible to prevent insect pollination. Each cross is made in two ways. Plant A is pollinated by Plant B, then Plant B is pollinated by Plant A. This ensures that if say, Plant A is not a good seed parent and Plant B is, the resulting seeds may carry the genes required.

The final act in the hybridisation story is the labelling, this should be done on completion. The label should give the date of pollination and the names of the two fuchsias which were involved.

The seed parent's name first, i.e. - Plant A x Plant B and Plant B x Plant A. I also keep a book just as a check - labels can be lost - plus a plastic label in the pots. After pollination, the flower and sepals fade and drop off - they should be removed - and the fruit will swell and ripen. The bags should be left on to catch the fruits when they eventually drop off.

As soon as the fruit falls naturally the seeds are extracted. The fuchsia seed has four well-defined segments and these are spliced open in turn using a sharp knife - I use either a small kitchen knife or a rose budding knife. The seeds are then removed with the tip of the knife and placed on a double fold of absorbent kitchen paper and placed in an airy dry place to dry off. When thoroughly dry the seeds are placed in an air tight container to await sowing in the following spring, as described in the previous article.