Web Review of Modern Canna Cultivars

One of the most perplexing and aggravating problems in marketing canna lilies or buying canna rhizomes from the retail market is the practice of renaming canna cultivars of old or new hybrids with illegitimate names. One reason merchants rename canna lilies is to offer the public an apparent new canna choice to plant in the garden. Another reason is to rename a canna that has fallen out of favor to the gardening public. This practice of renaming flowers is not just a recent phenomenon, but it began with the Victorian Era. Plant taxonomists also have given many arguments about the proper rules for the naming of native canna species. For instance, William Bartram reported the discovery of Canna lutea, page 153, of Travels, at Fort Frederica, Ga., in the year 1773, as growing luxuriantly, but modern taxonomists have renamed his canna, Canna flaccida. Bartram also reported in his book, Travels, pages 424, the discovery of a red flowering, 9ft.- tall canna growing near Mobile, Al, but Canna indica, named after the American Indians by William Bartram, has now been arguably renamed. This confusion has not been beneficial to the development and marketing of canna lilies.

Modern canna cultivars might, in one respect, have begun with the Luther Burbank back-cross of the wild, native American, Canna flaccida, onto Madame Crozy. Burbank was a forward thinking hybridizer who realized that the Victorian Era canna cultivars displayed large blooms with many bright colors but he also knew that his gold medal, award winning canna, “Tarrytown,” that later received a name change of “Florence Vaughan,” dropped clusters of old flowers, leaving the blooms stalks looking fresh. The Victorian Era, canna stalks appeared to generally retain its old flowers on the bloom stalks, sometimes were loaded with unsightly, brown clustered flowers that no one liked. Burbank noted the desirability of the canna stalks that released their spent blooms to fall to the ground. Burbank also saw the value in developing canna flowers into softer, pastel colors. This was apparent in his white creation, “Eureka,” canna, and his pastel colored canna hybrids were named collectively as, 'Burbank'.

Modern canna hybrids are best discussed as groups, since most good and reliable growers were developed by intelligent canna programs of hybridization, rather than random selection of chance, natural hybrids that showed outstanding features for selection. Some collectors and travelers assembled choice canna hybrids from around the world to be multiplied and made available for distribution and sales to wholesalers and mailorder companies.

The Dupont family of Delaware Chemical fame, established a permanent garden for plant collections, that dated back to the late 1700's, later the garden was named, Longwood Gardens. A beautiful pastel pink, large flowered canna still grows there, named after the wife of one of the late founders, Mrs. Pierre Dupont. Today Longwood Gardens lists 23 cultivars on its Internet site and has its own hybridization program that has distributed its canna creations for testing for retail sales at garden centers in various parts of the U.S. The verdict has not been yet rendered as to whether or not these canna hybrids will be acceptable to the gardening public for the long term, but they have been made available recently on some Internet sites.

American Daylily and Perennials Co. from Missouri has released a series of canna cultivars called 'Futurity', that appear to have been absorbed into the marketing strategies of some wholesale suppliers and into a use for containerized garden centers to some extent. It is unclear as to which named canna hybrids were actually released by American Daylily and Perennials Co., or which additional names have been added by canna hybridizer pretenders by renaming old cultivars with the 'Futurity' Tag. One Internet mailorder company claims to have for sale.

Ms. Rosalind Sarver of California was one of the most notable suppliers of high quality canna rhizomes to the wholesale trade in the 1980's. Her chief business interest was in the azalea plant which she marketed on a huge scale. Mrs Sarver's azalea interest was heightened by her travels to the Orient, that resulted in the introduction of many new azalea cultivars into the United States. While visiting Beijing, China, she discovered a strangely colored and variegated canna that she exported to California in large numbers. That canna was named, Cleopatra, that grows to a height of 5-6 feet and the bright, waxy-green leaves appear to be somewhat immune to most canna problems with insects and diseases. The bright yellow flowers are randomly striped with red, sometimes randomly with red or pink dots. The leaves are randomly striped with maroon and occasionally a leaf will be one-half colored maroon or on rare occasions completely maroon colored in its entirety. The maroon coloring can twist into bands around the stalk toward the top where it is translated into the individual flowers as red marks on yellow. A rare Cleopatra canna plant can mutate occasionally, and then can divide into a completely, maroon colored canna to produce a plant called “Ty Ty Red,” in which the coloring covers the entire leafy surface and the flowers are completely maroon, about twice the size of the blooms of the Red King Humbert. The Ty Ty Red canna plant is dwarf, 3-4 feet tall and has never reverted back to any green variation that was apparent in the original Cleopatra -remaining entirely maroon in both flower and leaf. Other very important canna cultivars distributed by Ms. Sarver were :Eilleen Gallo” named after the wife of an heir to the Gallo Wine fortune in California, Crimson Beauty, Rosalinda, named after the First Lady, Rosalind Carter, and the famous 'Cleopatra,'the oriental hybrid that probably developed as a mutation of “The Humbert Canna.” original series.

A series of canna hybrids came from Ty Ty Nursery, mostly dating back to the 1980's: Journey's End, a bi-color of red and pink dots on yellow petals; Malcolm's Red, a dwarf red canna with yellow petal margins that encircle all the flowers; Maudie Malcolm, a rare lavender colored bloom; the Red Stripe, a bright green leaf with maroon veins and mid- vein; Rosever, a rose, large bloom with maroon leaves; and Ty Ty Red, a stable mutation with orange flowers and wine leaves, that mutated from Cleopatra.

A host of variegated leaf canna cultivars has been offered to modern markets. The world canna lily expert, Englishman, Ian Cooke, suggested that the widely marketed and patented, 'Tropicanna', a striped leaf canna with orange flowers and leaves of orange, yellow and red stripes, that he described as “the most exotic and outrageously colored canna”, was introduced into England in 1994 under the name of Durban and also Phasion. This renaming and misnaming has been repeated in many other variegated leaf canna cultivars, such as Striped Beauty, also renamed as Nirvana, and Christs Light that produces lemon yellow flowers with a pure white cross in the center with variegated white stripes on light green leaves.

The renaming fate of Pretoria canna was originally named, Bengal Tiger, that produced orange flowers and orange stripes on medium green leaves. The variegated canna cultivar, “Stuttgart” was marketed briefly with nice photos of a white, angular, random striping on green leaves. That canna was a dismal flop in the garden, most rhizomes showed no variegation, but the ones that did, grew into distorted, contorted , weedy, throw-a-ways, unfit even for the garbage pile. The Pink Sunburst was a beautiful creamy-pink flower with leaves of indescribable beauty and attraction. The leaves were delicately striped with a kaleidescope of aesthetic shades of color blending: green, cream, pink, yellow and orange. Unfortunately this fabulously desirable plant was infected with a virus that totally eliminated it from the United-States retail markets, even through some merchants have claimed to have it in stock, orders were returned unfilled. This may work out for the best, because even though this may be the most beautiful and desirable canna ever hybridized, it was cursed with a weakness that made it ridiculous to continue to salvage. No, gardeners do not need to be faced with the challenge to nurse a plant that was doomed to fail from the attacks of a virus for which there is no remedy and no recovery.

Modern Hybrid Canna Lily Improvement

Written by Patrick Malcolm, Ty Ty Nursery

Modern canna cultivars (varieties) began appearing 250 years ago with the collection of native wild cannas that are technically referred to by botanists as “species.” Canna wild species produced large leaves that were fast growing with a tropical appearance in the landscaped garden. The flowers of wild canna species were small and in gardening circles were viewed as of insignificant notice as a garden subject except for the lush leaves that were highly valued in exotic landscape setting. The flowers were colorful but small and of short duration. The wild canna species were easily inter-crossed to combine widely variable genetic characteristics, until in the year, 1870, Monsieur Crozy inter-crossed an undisclosed number of wild species, that resulted in a celebrated hybrid that he named after his wife, Madame Crozy. Luther Burbank called this matching of genetic material the beginning of modern canna hybrids, after which Burbank and another plant hybridizer, Wilheim Pfitzer, also entered their own charming canna hybrids.

Luther Burbank, the notable American botanist and prolific hybridizer, was well aware of the phenomenon of back crossing various related canna lilies, and he was determined to achieve a rapid advancement in hybrid vigor by a recombination of desirable and variable plant genetic characteristics. From this large pool of variations in canna lilies, such as color, size, vigor, insect and disease resistance and cold hardiness, the plant breeder could select outstanding canna flower and leaf hybrids to market as newly named cultivars in the world of horticulture. The fact that a cross between two wild species from different continents resulted in sterile canna hybrids was also noted by Luther Burbank and was considered an advantage. When canna hybrids result in fertile (seed producers) cultivars, the plants energy is focused on seed production, and the blooming process will slow down or completely stop. Gardeners want plants that will flower continuously, and therefore, sterile canna hybrids are more desirable than seed producers. It appears that the crossing of widely divergent canna species will usually produce sterile canna offspring.

If a canna plant is a non-seed producer, it is said to be sterile, however, it may only be considered sterile when examined as a female seed producer, but frequently the pollen (male) from a “so called”, sterile male canna species and a backcross onto a fertile female may result in further hybridization with increased hybrid vigor. Those canna offspring may be either seed producers or non-seed producers. This fact was well understood and applied by Luther Burbank who introduced vast improvements in American horticultural crops of flowers, fruits, grains, and vegetables.

Luther Burbank noted in his book, Flowers, Vol VIII, page 41, one of his eight volumes of horticultural writings: “Just now white cannas of very good quality are appearing and every desirable quality in plant and quality are being brought forth.”

It was reported on page 33 that Burbank's hybrid canna “Tarrytown” won the grand gold medal, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y. as the best canna exhibited at the time.

This canna had a special feature of flowers that dropped to the ground unlike “many canna lilies that tended to hold their blossoms, thus having an untidy appearance.” Burbank crossed the Crozy canna, a large flower with varying color (yellow and orange) with Canna flaccida, a native yellow canna flower with large flowers that are not long lasting.

This native Canna flaccida was discovered growing by William Bartram in 1773, the early American explorer and writer, growing in salt water ditches near Fort Frederica, Ga. On the island on St. Simon's as reported on page 153 of his book, Travels, “What can equal the rich golden flowers of the Canna lutea,” today identified and renamed, Canna flaccida, “which ornaments the banks of yon serpentine rivulet, meandering, over the meadows?” Canna flaccida still flourishes in salt water ditches there and on the black banks river near the Cloister Hotel at Sea Island, Ga., where it grows near the water beautifully, being used as an ornamental in many yards as a marsh garden plant. These native plants appear to have no insect or disease problems. Mature seeds from the golden-yellow flowers fall into the water and float downstream to establish new canna colonies. Canna flaccida will grow in ordinary gardens if adequate water in available.

William Bartram also reported in Travels, page 424, that he found a native Indian canna with small scarlet flowers that grow up to 9 feet in height, then identified as Canna indica. Many southern gardens today still grow this vigorous clumping canna giant as a privacy hedge. Seed pods are many and this canna is readily crossed with the pollen of hybrid non-seed producing cannas. This plant appears to have a high resistance to bugs and disease. Several reports of Canna indica in the literature do not appear to be the same Canna indica, as described by Bartram in 1773 growing at Mobile, Alabama. An excellent drawing of Canna indica (wild Indian canna) is located on page 218 of Bartram's, Travels. Luther Burbank does not report whether he used Canna indica in his hybridizations, as he had used Canna flaccida (Canna lutea) in his hybridization of the gold medal prize winner at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, N.Y. In 1901, that he called, “Tarrytown,” was judged the best canna shown.

Thousands of canna cultivars have been introduced into the world of gardening. It has been quite easy to produce new canna cultivars, for instance, if a dusting of pollen is placed on the female part of a canna flower a seed pod can be formed with several seed, and if multiple flowers of canna plants are pollinated, multiple seed pods can be formed. Any gardener can perform this simple procedure of seed production.

For many years gardeners allowed the canna seed to dry, turning black, and a hard shell eventually developed that would prevent the seed from germinating into a plant unless an iron file had been used to open a hole in the round seed about the size of an olive seed to initiate germination. If a file was not used it might take two years for the canna seed to sprout normally. A technique has been developed that avoids the cumbersome seed germination procedures of the past. The seed pods are harvested as soon as the outside green cells begin to change color to yellowish. The seed inside will vary in color from green to light brown or beige, and should be soaked overnight in a solution of fungicide to control rot. The seed then can be placed in a small cloth bag and allowed to be drenched in running water for 12 hours. If these seed are then soaked for another hour in fungicide and are placed in a flat pan at a sunny warm location they will begin sprouting in a few days. As soon as the seed sprout they may be individually transferred into separate containers to grow, and after the first leaves appear a mixture of miracle-grow will rapidly mature the sprouting seed into flowering plants. TyTy has been successful in growing flowering canna plants only 60 days after sprouting the seed. It is very interesting that when leaved canna plants are crossed, about 25% of the seed will grow into red leaf canna hybrids. This red leaf color is apparent only a few days after sprouting.

It is of great interest to the gardening public that new canna cultivars should feature flowers that fall to the ground after a day or two to be replaced by fresh opening blooms that leave the plant with a fresh appearance, otherwise, withered brown flowers are unpleasant to the eyes of most gardeners. Amateur hybridizers should also keep in mind that most gardeners do not want to experience a canna that must be continuously cared for or nursed, requiring spraying, constant watering or dead-heading.

The popularity of canna lilies has been apparent from the huge plantings at the U.S. Capitol and The White House grounds; serous plantings at Disney in California and Orlando, Fl, and extensive landscapes along U.S. Interstate highways and in city boulevards and parks.

By Pat Rick