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Breeding & Plant Releases

Breeding and plant releasing started soon after Longwood became a public garden. Some plants have been developed by breeding projects undertaken by us, and others have been developed and/or released in conjunction with our plant exploration program. 

There’s a consistent effort at Longwood to provide our guests with the opportunity to see plants in a different way. Breeding projects aim at creating superior plant varieties, while focusing on optimizing flower production and drawing out recessive traits to create a striking new cultivar as explained in the following examples.

A 40-year Pursuit of Yellow Clivia

Robert Armstrong, Research Horticulturist, in 1982Robert Armstrong, Research Horticulturist, in 1982

Longtime Longwood researcher Dr. Robert Armstrong began his work with clivias in the 1970s with the goal of breeding a high-quality yellow variety that could stand up to its more common orange cousin.  Due to the clivia’s slow breeding process, about 5 years from seed to flowering plant, this project saw Dr. Armstrong well into his retirement and continues at Longwood today. In 2011, we produced the first yellow clivia ready for prime time—Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Debutante’—a large yellow flower with petals that are large and overlapping. Recently we released Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Fireworks’, a smaller flower than its predecessor that resembles its name. Our current project—which we hope to release in the next couple years—is a yellow clivia with a flower that keels. We now also have a green-flowered form which is very exciting in the Clivia world.

Developing a Camellia for All Seasons

 Camellia azalea in tissue cultureCamellia azalea in tissue culture

Much of our research focuses on improving the quality of the flowers our plants and shrubs produce. In the case of the Camellia, researchers are working to develop a variety that is cold hardy, easier to grow, and blooms for the whole year. It’s an effort that has been made possible by the discovery of the Camellia azalea Wei in China in 1986. This variety of Camellia blooms year round and is very different from other members of the genus in that all stages of growth, from small flower buds to fully open flowers, are almost always present. However, it is indigenous to zone 10 and grows poorly outside of its native soil. Longwood is working to combine the ever blooming trait of this plant with the improved hardiness and plant vigor of native species. Since 2008, Longwood has made more than 5000 crosses. Of these, a Camellia azalea and Camellia japonica hybrids have shown the most promise.

Our researchers credit the progress of this project to their tissue program, which makes it possible to save poorly developed seeds that wouldn’t normally have survived.  We are also the first and only known organization using embryo rescue and somatic embryogenesis — highly advanced breeding techniques — to develop new hybrids with Camellia azalea