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Thought "impossible", three stunning cultivars thrive.

The Nymphaea subgenus Anecphya x
subgenus Brachyceras Hybrids

by Kit Knotts - Click images to enlarge

The first was N. 'William Phillips'. Its confirmation by DNA analysis as a true cross between the Australian subgenus Anecphya and the mostly African subgenus Brachyceras electrified the water gardening world. Previously thought an impossible hybridization, originator William Phillips, USA, proved it could indeed be done. The Miracle Plant 

The second successful hybrid between these two subgenera was N. 'Yasuhiro', created by Yasuhiro Satou in Japan. Though not confirmed by DNA analysis, its characteristics clearly place it as intermediate between its parents. N. 'Yasuhiro' 

Recently Mohd Helmi Daud in Malaysia debuted his new and so far unnamed hybrid that is also, in my opinion, a true cross of the two subgenera. If for no other reason, this is because of the maroon stamens, present in N. 'William Phillips' (those of N. 'Yasuhiro' are orange) while those of pure Anecphya species are yellow.
Anecphya Species Images 



N. 'Andre Leu' x N. 'Miami Rose' = Helmi's unnamed hybrid


As N. 'William Phillips' was making news, molecular evidence was being gathered in Germany confirming the close relationship between Anecphya and Brachyceras, indicating that hybridization between them was possible. These papers were published in 2007, and links to these and other startling discoveries are here -- New Waterlily Family Relationships 2007

These hybrids are exciting because they revolutionize our thinking about possible crosses but they also potentially have a practical application as well. Not only is Anecphya extraordinarily beautiful but it is also notoriously difficult to cultivate. Might these crosses be easier to cultivate than pure Anecphya, allowing more water gardeners to grow waterlilies with Australian characteristics?

In late 2006 Yasuhiro Satou sent me a tuber of N. 'Yasuhiro'. Through early 2007, I was able to multiply it fairly easily. Of interest to me was that tubers produced were very like those of its pollen parent N. 'White Colorata'. In late February the plants were growing AND making tubers in very warm water with the days lengthening. Tuber formation at that time would be more typical of N. colorata -- N. gigantea would grow and not form a tuber or go dormant to form one.

The largest 'Yasuhiro' flowered in a heated pond and I decided to plant it in an unheated pond in early May. It promptly rotted but I was able to retrieve a tuber. I planted a second one in the same location in early June. It grew well throughout the season but never attained the size of its Anecphya pod parent. Was this my growing conditions (where pure Anecphya usually grows very large) or was it genetic? For those who may want smaller plants that look like Australians, this could be a big plus.

The end of July 2007, William Phillips sent me his 'William Phillips' plant as he was cutting back his operation in Memphis, Tennessee. He hoped I could propagate it or at least perpetuate it. The plant was too large to propagate - big tropicals rarely tuber or produce new plants - but it is alive in winter 2008 and I've had the opportunity to work with it. I made repeated attempts to pollinate the first day flowers with pollen from another of its own blooms, N. 'Yasuhiro' and N. immutabilis. No pods or seeds were produced. In fact it didn't really produce pollen. There was something on the anthers that looked like very small grains under the microscope but they were not viable.

N. 'Yasuhiro' on the other hand made abundant pollen. It produced a few seeds pollinated from another of its own flowers and by N. ampla. These have not yet sprouted. The plant was overgrown by early October. Neither adding sand around the crown nor, later, "turning" the rhizome could save the plant. A smaller plant in another pond produced 14 seeds from a pod I didn't breed. That plant quit in late fall without producing a tuber that I could find. That 'Yasuhiro' is fertile is very encouraging and could lead to other interesting hybrids.

Looking at all three hybrids, the primary aspect that sets them apart from their parents is their stamens. The first two have the same pollen parent, N. 'White Colorata' (a sport of N. colorata), so one might think it was responsible for the stamen color, given that 'Wood's Blue Goddess' also has maroon stamens and has N. colorata as a parent. However, Helmi's hybrid, N. 'Andre Leu' x N. 'Miami Rose', probably negates this thinking. It is interesting that a different member of Brachyceras, and a hybrid, can make a successful cross with Anecphya, opening many possibilities.


Later day flowers

N. 'William Phillips'

N. 'Yasuhiro'

Helmi's unnanmed

The pads of all three strongly show the influence of their Anecphya pod parents. 'William Phillips' and Helmi's hybrid have characteristics of N. carpentariae, of which 'Andre Leu' is a selection, nearly round and with reddish cast and reverses. 'Yasuhiro's' leaves look more like N. gigantea blue form, oval and with purplish reverses. Still, all are intermediate when compared with both parents.

It's hard to speculate yet how these hybrids will perform in the future or where they will fit in techniques for cultivation. So far N. 'Yasuhiro', for me at least, behaves more like Brachyceras than Anecphya in its growth/dormancy habit. Hopefully that will make these gorgeous cultivars less difficult for those in cooler conditions to grow as they become available. 

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