The Proliferation of Native Australian Sarcohilus Hybrids

A PAPER PREPARED BY Neville Roper for the Australian Orchid Conference, Werribee 2009

This paper is substantially an anecdotal history of the development of Sarcochilus hybridising in Australia. It in no way pretends to be a scientific or botanical treatise and so apologies are offered to those expecting an essay with greater intellectual rigour. With this in mind the term ‘Sarcochilus’ (Sarco.) is used in this paper to refer to a group of genera including the true Sarcochilus, Plectorrhiza, Rhinerrhiza, Schistostylus, Peristanthus etc. – all predominantly cool growers plus Phalaenopsis amabilis (rosenstromii), the only Australian representative of this genus and definitely a warm grower. It is also used to refer to the ever increasing number of hybrids both within and between these genera. It will not be used to refer to a relatively small number of hybrids involving Australian native Sarcochilus and exotic genera as these are beyond both the scope of this paper and the interest of the author.

According to David Jones ( A Complete Guide To Native Orchids Of Australia )there are 47 different species in 25 genera in Australia that belong to the Aeridinae sub-tribe of the Vanda group all of which have theoretical potential to contribute to Sarco. breeding although at this stage relatively few have had their genetic potential explored. Of these 19 are Sarco. species, 3 are Plectorrhizas and 2 are Rhinerrhiza species (if R. moorei is included) that have provided the majority of genetic background of today’s hybrids. These species are native to a region that stretches from Northern Tasmania (one species, Sarco. australis) to far North Queensland (several genera and species including Sarco. hirticalcar and Sarco. falcatus).

The hybrid story began in the 1960’s when the founder of all native orchid breeding, the ‘father’ of Sarco. breeding, Ira Butler, registered the first hybrids, namely Sarco. Fitzhart (fitzgeraldii X hartmannii) and Sarco. Canary (olivaceous X hartmannii), in 1963. Anyone with an interest in these orchids owes a substantial debt of gratitude to this man of vision who realised that there are orchids other than Cattleyas, Cymbidiums or Paphiopedilums and they were natives too! Ira Butler also registered the third Sarco. hybrid in 1965 with Sarco. Phyllis. At the time of writing the latest version of ‘OrchidWiz’ #5 lists over 400 Australian Sarcochilus hybrids including more than 30 intergeneric grexes.

In the decade spanning 1966 to 1975 there were a further 9 hybrids registered registered. The standouts from this period have proved to be Sarco. Melba, Weinhart and Lois. Ira Butler was responsible for 8 of these with the other one being registered by Cannons nursery from Port Macquarie, NSW. With hybridising still in its infancy during this period much of the interest was focussed on species, particularly on finding superior clones in the wild and bringing them into cultivation. Interestingly orchid collectors during this period often annotated the location of their ‘finds’ on their plant labels and when these plants subsequently found their way into general circulation the location sometimes took on a confusing (and incorrect!) clonal or varietal significance. Many people around this time bought plants of Sarco. hartmannii ‘Blue Knob’ not realising that in most cases they were not purchasing a select clone but just one of many plants relocated from this area of Northern NSW.

The next decade, 1976 to 1985, brought 14 new hybrid grex registrations. The main ones from this period to maintain some significance are Sarco. Heidi, Pinkhart, Riverdene and Jewell. While the number of new hybrids created during this period was relatively modest the number of hybridists registering them increased from 2 previously to 8. Cannons continued their involvement while the loss of Ira Butler was, to some degree, offset by the recruitment of the ‘godfather’ of Sarco. breeding, Walter Upton and several ‘uncles’ in Ken Russell, Sid Batchelor, Phil Spence and Noel Jupp.. These men have all made significant contributions to the development and proliferation of Sarco. hybrids in this country. They provided the foundation for what was to become an explosion of interest and activity over subsequent years.

To some degree the relatively small number of grexes registered during this decade was the result of the limitations of early flasking technology but there were two major distractions. One was the continued preoccupation with combing the bush in the hope of finding superior clones of species, notably full red Sarco. fitzgeraldii and bigger rounder Sarco. hartmannii, an activity that was illegal for most of the period. The second distraction was the race to produce highly coloured Sarco. Fitzharts with many parental combinations employed to produce largely similar disappointing results. This period also saw the beginning of selective breeding of these two species along with Sarco. ceceliae, some devotees still persist in this worthwhile pursuit despite the burgeoning interest in hybrids.

The years between 1986 and 1995 saw a massive 89 new Sarco. hybrids registered. These were credited to 22 hybridists. Of interest during this time was the number of crosses registered by people other than the originator (ie. the hybridist). Most notable was Florafest nursery of Toowoomba, Queensland who registered several crosses that were the creations of Lorraine Fagg, Izzy Klein and Clarrie Wuth. Some other hybridists to appear on the scene during this decade who have made substantial contributions to Sarco. development were Ted Gregory, Stan Harper, Frank Simpson, Kevin Wilson, Neil Finch and myself. Some of the more important hybrids from this period are Sarco. Star Struck, First Light, George Colthup, Cherie, Cherie Snow and Burgundy On Ice.
While the main excitement in the for growers was the increasing array of new hybrids that were rapidly appearing for hybridists it became somewhat of a race to create new grexes and thereby secure naming rights. For me the real breakthrough in breeding red coloured Sarco.s began in this period when Ken Russell, Dungog NSW, made yet another 2 Sarco. Fitzhart crosses using his best red centred ( Numinbah type) hartmanniis and most intensely coloured fitzgeraldiis. These were identified on his catalogue as ‘Fitzhart 769’ and ‘Fitzhart 776’. A large number of individual clones from these crosses were superior to previous Sarco. Fitzharts however they did not display the much desired intense red colouration of the fitzgeraldii parent. The breakthrough was completed when Ken made a cross between 2 of the 769 siblings which ultimately enabled the seedlings to express their, to this point, recessive red genes. Many of the plants resulting from this sibling cross have been good forms with highly coloured flowers, several have been awarded. The late Howard Tozer , a superb grower of this genus, had considerable success with seedlings from this cross. The Sarco. Fitzhart ‘769’ and ‘776’ to some degree but the sibling ‘769’s in particular have been instrumental in the development of many of today’s red hybrids. Sarco.s, . Cherie, Burgundy On Ice, and Jeanne are grexes from this period exemplify this colour breakthrough which has continued into the next decade.
The second decade of this the middle period witnessed the ongoing interest and activity with 111 new Sarco. registrations being recorded in the 1996 – 2005 period.. The personnel responsible increased to 18 and included some new names such as Ray Clement (Tinonee Orchids), Royale Orchid Nursery, David Butler, John Woolf, D.U.N.O. and Grant Garrett. The greater variety of potential parents from which to choose, the excitement created by the first highly coloured hybrids and the increased access to flasking facilities were the driving forces behind the proliferation of Sarco. hybrids during this period. Some of the more outstanding grexes produced during this time include s Sarco. Velvet, Duno Nicky’s Twin, Duno Judilly, Yvette, Fairy, Dove, Highton Magic, Fizzy Dove, Snowhart and Topaz. The reliability of producing seedlings that produced flowers highly coloured in pink and red tones was consolidated during this period largely due to the inclusion of some Sarco. Fitzhart genes.

In the period since 2005 the interest in Sarcochilus breeding has continued with 58 new hybrids being registered between 2006 and the early part of 2008 (note that the orchid hybrid registration process through the R.H.S. has been streamlined considerably but the publishing of new registrations can still take some months and hence the time lag) with 9 new additions to the hybridists list including Connelly, Jackson, Leafberg, Doney, Whitney, Walsh, Abell, Barrita Orchid nursery and Santa Barbara Orchid nursery. Some of these ’newer’ hybrids to display show bench or breeding potential are Sarco. Roberta, Galaxy ,Peace, Daybreak, Bessie, Edith and Kulnura Dragonfly . An as yet unregistered pairing of Sarco. hartmannii ‘Noelene’ with Sarco Yvette ‘Jakes Pride’, the result of a joint collaboration between Melbourne growers Keith Moss and George Ingram is showing considerable promise with round, heavy textured flowers in colours varying from pure yellow to bright red. The level of enthusiasm for Sarcochilus hybrids displayed during these last few years would indicate that the proliferation of hybridising is set to continue. There even seems to be an opening for commercial production of hybrids for sale to the public as pot plants with at least one nursery, Barrita Orchids from the Central Coast of NSW, supplementing their cymbidium trade by supplying flowering Sarcochilus to K Mart chain stores.

Sarcochilus and AOC Awards
The above potted history of Sarcochilus breeding has focussed on the variety of hybrids developed since the 1960’s and the expanding list of participants in this endeavour. Until now I have made little mention of the advancement of horticultural (read ‘show bench’) merits of these hybrids.
According to the AOC Awarded Sarcochilus List (available on the AOC website) there have been 92 quality awards granted to Sarco. hybrids up until 2008 and there have certainly been more awards granted but are still in the process of being ratified. Prior to 1995 only 2 Sarco. hybrids had been awarded, the first being Sarco. Fitzhart Wollumbin HCC/AOC in 1982 (Frank Simpson), however 18 species had been awarded in this same period. Between 1996 and 2005 there were 49 AOC awards granted to Sarco. hybrids while the period from 2006 to 2008 resulted in 35 AOC awards plus several more to be ratified. This explosion in awards is a credit to the skill of the hybridists and to the 30 or so successful growers as well as to the potential of this group of wonderful plants.

This advancement in Sarc. breeding has most often been recognised in the following 6 grexes-
Burgundy On Ice , 16 quality AOC awards
Melba, 10 quality AOC awards
Fitzhart, 7 quality AOC awards
Fizzy Dove, 4 quality AOC awards
George Colthup ,4 quality AOC awards
Weinhart, 4 quality AOC awards

Novelty Type Sarcochilus
While the rather serious business of breeding for the show bench was being conducted there was some experimental hybridising being carried out. These crosses featured the smaller or star – shaped sarcochilus and/or other genera in the Sarco. group to produce some very interesting plants that rarely conform to judging standards but would if award points were allocated for cuteness. I have a personal predilection towards breeding these ‘left field’ gems that has been thwarted by the limited fertility common when attempting to produce intergeneric hybrids. Sarco. hybrids which have as parents Sarco. spathulatus (as in Perky), ceciliae (Lois etc), australis ( Shooting Star ) are unlikely to win major prizes at shows but they never fail to win admiration.
In a similar vein combining Sarcochilus with Plectorhizza to create a Plectochilus has resulted in some little beauties such as Kilgra ( Sarco falcatus X Plecto tridentata), Gem ( Sarco. Fitzhart X Plecto. tridentata) and Rumrill ( sarco. ceciliae x Plecto. tridentate) to name just a few. The combination of Peristanthus hillii and Sarco. falcatus resulted in Peristerchilus Olive Grace a lovely novelty with masses of cascading tiny flowers. Combining Rhinerhizza with Sarcochilus results in Rhinochilus ( as in Dorothy, Rhinerhizza divitiflora X Sarco. hartmannii)which have been typified by colourful, if relatively short lived, starry flowers on very long pendulous racemes. Unfortunately the Rhinerhizza traits seem to be lost after a couple of generations with offspring favouring the Sarcochilus traits however further experimentation may remedy this. Sarconopsis is the result of combining Phalaenopsis rosenstromii with any of the Sarcochilus, the results are much larger flowers of varying show bench merit but are relatively rare, prefer to be grown under heat in southern Australia and, in my experience, are not reliable flowerers. There are several more Sarco. intergenerics than those indicated here, they are mostly in limited numbers and most often encountered in the collections of native enthusiasts.
As stated in the introduction to this paper there are 25 native Australian genera in the aeridinae sub-tribe(Vanda group)all of which could be used to create greater array of interesting if not spectacular hybrids. The hybridist fortunate enough to achieve these new combinations will get to name the new genera as well as the grex!

An interesting way to bring this short history to a close would be to identify the achievements that have been gained through hybridising since Ira Butler started the ball rolling in 1963. To this end the following list may be worth some consideration;
Hybrids have increased the variety and availability of flower colours with white, red, pink and yellow prevailing while art shades are beginning to appear.
Hybrids have increased the length of the flowering season. Through breeding with Sarco. hirticalcar and some early flowering clones it is common to have flowers year round rather than just spring. I am able to bench Sarco.s at every monthly meeting of the two societies where I participate.
Hybrids have provided improved flower shape. Judges prefer rounded , well filled-in flowers and new hybrids have moved away from the ‘ping pong bat’ shaped segments typical of most species. These advances are evidenced by the increased representation of Sarco.s on award lists.
Hybrids have created a variety of flowers with interesting shapes. For those who are not overly enamoured with show bench competition but motivated by the ‘cute factor’ there are the novelty style hybrids.
Hybrids have, for the most part, become much easier to grow. This is simply the hybrid vigour factor which enables growers of varying levels of expertise to experience successful culture.
Hybrids, due to the above factors, have experienced a surge in popularity and are now grown by a large number of enthusiasts; in a small way hybridists have enriched the lives of many humans.
Hybrids through their desirability have taken pressure off the wild stocks of native Sarcochilus species. The once common sight of small pieces of wild collected species for sale in plastic packs in department stores is now, thankfully, a rare sight.
The immediate future of Sarcochilus hybridising seems certain to experience increasing activity and interest from both the hybridising and the growing fraternity. The fertility problems in this group, especially with complex hybrids, presents a restricting factor to producing a greater number of hybrids. Appendiced is a table originally compiled for an AOC judges class which may be useful to Sarco. enthusiasts, possibly more so in the years to come as the hybrids we grow become more distant from the original species.
Neville Roper, Sydney ,2009

Upton W., 1992, Sarcochilus Orchids Of Australia, Double U Orchids
David L. Jones, 2006, A Complete Guide To Native Orchids Of Australia, Reed New Holland
A.W. Dockrill, 1992, Australian Indigenous Orchids, Surrey Beatty & Sons
John and Joan Sheath (ed.) 2007, The Wonderful World Of Sarcochilus Orchids, J.&J. Sheath
Neville Roper, 1999, Where Did The Colour Go? Australian Orchid Review, 64 (4)
Neville Roper – various internet pages including-
The Mystery Of Sarcochilus hirticalcar
The Five (or so) Best Sarcochilus Crosses
Awarded Natives Of The Early Years
at Sutherland Shire Orchid Society Inc.,
OrchidWiz Encyclopedia 5.02 (database), 2009, OrchidWiz, LLC

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