Hostas in the Twenty First Century

 

Having worked with hostas for over twenty years now, I have come to realize that perhaps one of the greatest dangers we face, is  “reinventing” the same plant over and over again. As a hybridizer, I want to be able to offer the public new plants that are superior in as many ways as possible. Some believe, a hosta must be recognizable from a distance. That is one goal. However, so many of the older plants lack certain positive attributes, that I believe another goal  might well be  to work toward new “look-alikes” which have improved characteristics. For example we might develop a hosta that looked like H.‘Kabitan’, but had “slug resistant” foliage and fragrant blooms. Or how about a plant that looks like H.‘Aphrodite’ and blooms every year, even in cooler climates. Perhaps a montana ‘Aureomarginata’ that emerges two or three weeks later - well, you get the picture. Of course, everyone is looking for the elusive “red” hosta. While we work on that we should be developing better plants that have red petioles and scapes, in combination with a strong upright form which better displays the red coloring. Upright plants with red stems are rare, along with plants having leaves which remain bright yellow for all of the season. Low, nearly flat hostas, with heavy rippling and strong clean variegation might be a worthy goal. Or perhaps two tone plants with intense blue and green variegation, or a program to explore the potential in tetraploid conversion; all are worthy goals.

 

 One of my personal goals is to help change the prevailing thought about hosta blooms. I believe that the potential is there for developing blooms with a much wider range of color, form, and size. Why has there been so little work done here? I think that it has to do with the time involved. Many of the best parents for initiating this kind of endeavor will be the green foliage hostas. In order to see all of the potential, it would be necessary to grow and bring into bloom thousands of green-leafed hostas. That would mean maintaining and observing an ever-growing number of hostas for many years, until they had reached their best age for maximum “show”. Only a few of the best of these would be selected and kept. It is a big job! I know. I have been attempting just such a program for a few years now.

 

Some of my criteria in selecting plants for such a program are: plants having flowers which display a wide range of color, parent hostas which have superior bloom arrangements on the scape, and plants with a large number of scapes. Using parent plants with flowers densely packed on the scapes, or plants with branching scapes and simultaneous multiple bloom are also desirable. In working on this project, I have found that there is excellent potential in another area: the area of patterning. There are two-tone effects that can be “brought out”. Some of my current hybrids display strong bi-color markings and white stamens that project past the tips of the petals. This has shown me another “need”. As most of these markings are in the interior (face of the flower), it is necessary to work toward plants that hold blooms in an upright or horizontal position.....or perhaps have two tone patterns on the buds themselves. Of course, all of these would be nice attributes, but if we could add some fragrance here and there, so much the better. Scape and bud sheath color can be a very important part of the overall appeal of hosta blooms too.

 

 I often hear folks in the garden center ask what color fall fruit is on a Flowering Crabapple. Why not the same question about hostas? In my garden there are hostas with pods that display almost every color. Some of these are colors are intense and quite striking. I suggest that we could use more work here. There are, depending on who is doing the counting, somewhere between 32 and 42 hosta species. Each of these is a bit different genetically .We have so much to work with.... and to work toward. Best of all, the task is available to everyone who is interested in making contributions.

 

For those with vision, the excitement is just beginning.

 

Ran Lydell

Dunkirk, New York

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