'Longwood Debutante' Ready for Debut

By Alan Petravich, on
close up of a bunch of bright yellow clivia flowers

Clivia miniata 'Longwood Debutante’. Photo by Alan Petravich.

After 35 years of clivia breeding, Longwood Gardens is releasing its first named clivia when the North American Clivia Society holds its International Symposium and Show at Longwood Gardens March 19 and 20, 2011. Clivia enthusiasts from around the world will be in attendance when ‘Longwood Debutante’ makes her debut into Clivia Society in the elegant Longwood Ballroom. Scarlet O’Hara would be jealous!

man standing next to multiple in bloom yellow and orange clivia flowers

Inside the research greenhouses.

Back in 1976 when the breeding program started, clivias were commonly orange. The yellow flowers existing at the time were not impressive and rare, so Longwood decided to initiate a breeding program to produce a superior yellow clivia. ‘Longwood Debutante’ has achieved the goal of the breeding program with its luminous yellow flowers that rise above the dark green foliage. Her flowers are slightly fragrant with petals that overlap to produce a beautiful floral display. This is the first release in a series of Longwood clivia cultivars.

close up image of two bright red clivia berries

Clivia berries containing seeds.

Why did it take so long to release the first plant?  Thirty five years is a long time to wait. A good number of current students and employees  at Longwood were not even alive when the program started! One factor that slowed the program was the extended time it takes for a clivia seedling to mature.  Seedlings can take up to eight years to bloom from the time the seed is planted, so patience is needed. 

light tan bunch of clivia seeds removed from the berries

Cliva seeds removed from the berry.

Longwood speeds up the process in our research greenhouses by keeping the seedlings actively growing all year long, rather than allowing them to go dormant in the winter. The trick is to get the seedling to mature quickly—and maturity occurs when the plant produces 13 leaves.  Once the plant has 13 leaves, it is ready to produce a flower.  Then, when you finally have a blooming plant, the plants are slow to multiply.  It can take years for the parent plant to produce offsets. Results are slow in clivia breeding! While breeding for the superior yellow flower, interesting mutations began to occur.  Both yellow and orange flowers began to exhibit a raised area, or keel, in some petals.  The term "keeling" refers the shape of the keel of the boat. The keeling petals add extra depth and interest to the flowers. We decided that the breeding program would also focus on accentuating the keel, in hopes of producing a multi-petal flower.  The normal number of petals on a clivia flower is six, but if the keel separates from the petals, a flower with nine petals can result.  Keeling flowers are interesting by themselves even if they don’t have extra petals. We now have some potential keeling cultivars in the works in our research greenhouses. Longwood decided that a perfect venue for the release of ‘Longwood Debutante’ would be at the North American Clivia Society Show and Symposium. We have lined up an international cast of speakers including: Ken Smith from Australia, who manages the clivia registry; James Abel from South Africa, who is an expert on clivia in the wild; Harold Koopowitz, who literally wrote the book on clivia; Jim Comstock, who dazzles with a 3D clivia slide show; and Dr. Robert Armstrong, who started the clivia breeding program at Longwood. Longwood's visitors can enjoy the clivia show March 19 & 20 in the Exhibition Hall, as well as a special display of 'Longwood Debutante' in front of the Music Room. Everyone can register for the conference—you don’t have to be a member of a Clivia Society.  Conference attendees are invited to a dinner and auction of rare clivia plants on March 19. You can enter your plant into the show, too! This is your chance to show off your clivia plant.  A limited number of ‘Longwood Debutante’ will be available for sale in the Gardens Shop starting on March 20. We will also have orange and yellow bi-colored clivias for sale. You can own your own piece of Longwood history!

close of a bundle of clivia yellow flowers in bloom

Clivia miniata 'Longwood Debutante'.

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