By David Lowell
In October of 1989, American Rose published an article I wrote describing an interview I had with Dr. Dennison Morey, who was the chief hybridizer for Jackson & Perkins from 1951 to 1962. Dr. Morey hybridized and introduced such roses as ‘King’s Ransom’, ‘South Seas’, ‘Proud Land’ and ‘Popcorn’.
Dr. Morey was a living history book of information and views of rose hybridizers who dominated the rose world for the prior 50 years. Their accomplishments take on clear perspective when seen through his eyes. Excerpts from this article describe his views in that interview.
Dr. Morey classified hybridizers as either explorers, who constantly reach out to different roses to bring new genetic potential into garden roses, or exploiters, who cross and re-cross certain roses to obtain their maximum potential. Exploiters identify productive opportunities and develop them for everyone’s benefit. With explorers, there is little continuity of lines between generations, where exploiters have the ultimate continuity.
Dr. Morey provided enough comments on each of the world’s best-known hybridizers that a full article could have been written on each. For the purpose of that article Dr. Morey’s comments were encapsulated to describe the concepts that set each hybridizer apart. He also emphasized that his use of the term “exploiter” is in the original, positive and good sense. The following is a summary of his comments:
Dr. Walter Lammerts, trained as a geneticist, constantly worked to develop rose vigor by out-crossing. He intuitively sought heterozygosity by methodically exploring the use of new parents with divergent backgrounds. ‘Queen Elizabeth’ was the result of this goal. Another example was his cross of the German rose, ‘Crimson Glory’, with the French yellow rose, ‘Soeur Therese’, that produced ‘Charlotte Armstrong’. Dr. Lammerts was a very efficient hybridizer with a remarkably high percentage of success.
Dr. Ralph Moore was both an explorer and talented exploiter whose original program centered on ever-blooming climbers — where he had noteworthy results. He began work with miniatures as part of his overall program. Eventually, the miniatures became his main business. He also worked with moss and species roses where he exhibited great tenacity. He was the keenest observer of public taste in the industry and could anticipate what would become popular. He was not swayed by his personal preferences alone but by what the market needed.
Bill Warriner came to Jackson & Perkins as an already successful rose hybridizer who had been involved with plant production. He knew roses. He was the right man for Jackson & Perkins where a vast data base on roses had been built by Gene Boerner,
J. H. Nicholas and Dr. Morey. To this, Bill Warriner added his own knowledge. With Jackson & Perkins extensive resources and Warriner’s talent and systematic hard work, some great roses resulted. Warriner also worked on physiological problems like germination where he sought better methods.
Herb Swim was the ultimate “exploiter,” having obtained maximum results by crossing a limited number of parents extensively. An example was his use of ‘Charlotte Armstrong’. There is greater continuity in his hybridizing than is found with most other hybridizers, and his percentage of outstanding results may be unequalled.
Jack Christensen was also an extremely keen exploiter who was similar to Herb Swim in his recognition of good garden roses. Almost all of his selections were very worthy and would have more impact in the future.
Ollie Weeks was the only producer who was a successful introducer without a retail outlet. He and his wife, Verona, began their business on a shoestring immediately following World War II. In all of the years that followed, no other producer came within 20 percent of Weeks’ production of quality roses for the garden. He was the plantsman supreme of the rose industry, and his introductions properly complement his outstanding nursery skills.
Gene Boerner, Jackson & Perkins’ chief hybridizer in its eastern research facilities when Dr. Morey headed its western operation, was one of the most systematic exploiter of the American hybridizers. He relied a great deal on bloodlines and kept extraordinarily detailed records. He followed, on a statistical basis, how many good offspring resulted from particular crosses, and he had an accumulated point rating for parents. While there was no scientific basis for the system, he got good results in such areas as floriferousness.
He also influenced Jackson & Perkins to move from French hybridizers to German hybridizers to supplement Jackson & Perkins’ own research.
Dr. Griffith Buck was a real explorer of roses. Seeking hardiness, he did much work with genes from species roses. Dr. Buck pursued his goal of developing hardy roses without any thought of the difficulty or the amount of work it took to achieve that goal. He produced a large number of roses that should be better recognized. Dr. Morey felt that the American Rose Society should have done more to promote roses such as Dr. Buck’s beautiful shrub roses, even if they had limited show bench value.
Wilhelm Kordes had a major impact on the development of roses for two important reasons. First, as a nurseryman he set out to produce roses for the German climate. Such roses were scarce when he began. He reached out for the hardiness in species roses and marvelous shrubs resulted in this first stage. He used this material to develop hardy hybrid teas. As an example, he would cross a very large number of species roses with modern roses that had a different chromosome count knowing that rarely a pollen or seed would have a chromosome count that would match up, resulting in a viable seed. Second, because he was able to hybridize roses for such an extensive time — over 50 years — he was able to introduce a large number of consistently excellent roses. His roses, which were tailored for Germany, were adapted for fringe growing areas in the United States. He provided a great service for all rose growers and hybridizers.
Sam McGredy was a genius at detecting transmissability of particular genes. He sought and intuitively found the heterozygosity, which Dr. Lammerts achieved methodically. Of all the breeders’ material, his was the most heterozygous, with greater diversity than the work of any other hybridizer. This also meant that there was little vertical genetic continuity, such as with Swim’s roses.
Pedro Dot- When the American Sun Belt became the dominant U.S. market for roses in the previous 30 years, roses containing Pedro Dot material gained in importance over roses produced in Northern Europe. The Sun Belt-type climate in Spain helped Dot find roses of greater vigor, better foliage, better disease resistance and larger flowers because he wasn’t restrained by the concerns of producing winter-hardy roses. Back in the 1940’s hybridizers used all kinds of Dot material and then forgot about him.
Francis Meilland’s success improved as he moved his research facilities from Lyon south to the Mediterranean where he, too, developed roses that flourished in the warmer climates. The success of his roses in America returned considerable money to his European operation. He used the money for very effective promotion. Meilland was a master marketer with such organizations as Universal Rose Selections, and this marketing has helped his company maintain a dominating presence in European rose sales.
Mathias Tantau was a true philosopher. He approached business with a complete love for what he was doing. He did not make the same number of crosses as his peers did, but he could target highly desirable objectives so well that he consistently produced such superior results as ‘Tropicana’, ‘Fragrant Cloud’ and ‘Oregold’.
Niels Poulsen was the dean of hardy rose development. He achieved success with the difficult combination of hardiness and everbloomng qualities in roses. He also crossed Rosa chinensis into hardier garden roses to produce the early floribundas, the hardy bedding roses.
Dr. Dennison Morey concluded with his own self-analysis. He stated that he suffered from excessive curiosity in his pursuit of pure knowledge about roses, as much as saleable results. He built a database of 50,000 to 100,000 crosses per year to see what worked and what did not. He was also a pioneer in extensive self-pollination so the potential of parents could be assessed by analyzing the spectrum of offspring. He enjoyed repeating certain claimed crosses and making parallel crosses he considered more likely parents than those given. He then compared the progenies and calculated the statistical probability as to which parentage was more accurate.
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