However, breeders of waterlilies have not yet been able to
develop a series of genetically dwarf tropical lilies which grow
and bloom easily, while staying small. Naturally, we would want
a small plant with BIG flowers!
Among the few dwarf lilies that I have stumbled across in
my seedlings, they all shared three unhappy traits: they were
very slow growing, they were poor bloomers, and they were difficult
to propagate. Not exactly what I had in mind. They might have
become potential parents for future hybridization ... if I could
have grown them long enough to work with them. Perhaps vigor
and dwarfness are mutually exclusive genetic traits. So the thought
occurred to me: maybe I can play a little trick on Mother Nature?
Growers of ornamental plants have been using various growth
retardants for decades now, to produce plants that are more compact
while retaining normal flower size. Growth retardants such as
Bonzi, Cycocel, B-Nine, etc., have been used as a spray or drench
on commercially produced floral crops such as mums, poinsettias,
Easter lilies, bedding plants, etc. These growth regulators work
by reducing the length of the stems, producing compact plants
with dark green leaves.
Perhaps the most common example is the dwarfed Hibiscus,
sold in six or ten inch (15 or 25 cm) pots. Note that the plants
are called dwarfed, rather than dwarf,
to indicate that they have been artificially reduced in size.
They may retain their compact habit for an entire growing season;
or, in more tropical climates, the plant may outgrow the dwarfed
habit after three or four months, and resume its normal growth
pattern. The effect of these growth retardants is a temporary
one, not a permanent alteration.
I asked myself: what would happen to tropical waterlilies
if they were treated with a commercial growth retardant? Would
it reduce the size of the plants? Would it work on hardy lilies?
How about night bloomers? Would it damage the foliage? Would
flowering be reduced, in size or numbers? Could it be applied
as a spray or drench? Which retardant would be the best one to
use? At what concentration? And how often? Would it be toxic
to the fish in the pond? Would it be toxic to ME? If it worked
... how long would the dwarfing effect last? And, could a protocol
be established to make it feasible for commercial growers to
produce these dwarfed lilies for the trade? So many questions!
I have a surplus of Queen of Siam lilies, growing
in my greenhouse ponds. Could I turn the Queen of Siam
into Tiny Princess Thai? Idle curiosity conspired
with some free time, and invited me to do a little experimenting.
In late afternoon, I took out of the pond three Queen
of Siams which were in six inch (15 cm) pots, with lots
of roots coming out of the pots, and put them into containers
of plant growth retardant, at two tablespoons (30 milliliters)
of plant growth regulator per gallon (3.8 liters) of water. The
entire pots and crowns of the plants were covered by the solution.
The containers were then lifted into large plastic bags which
were tied closed for the night, and left on the greenhouse bench.
This enabled the roots and crowns of the plants to be submerged
in the solution overnight, while preventing their leaves from
Using the same concentration of two tablespoons (30 milliliters)
per gallon (3.8 liters), I also sprayed three Queen of
Siams in an adjacent pond, covering their leaves completely
with the spray solution.
In a third pond, I had more Queen of Siams which
I left untreated as a control. All these plants had been planted
in the greenhouse at the same time, and the light, temperature,
and fertilization was the same for all of them.
The next day, after 16 hours in the growth retardant solution,
the submerged potted plants were removed from their growth retardant
solution and returned to the pond. The plants whose leaves had
been sprayed with retardant were left as they were. There was
no sign of toxicity to any of the plants, nor to the fish in