National Geographic : 1978 May
W HENanewtulipis offered to the gar dening public, few people realize that at least 20 years may have passed since it was hybridized. To create a new flower, first its parents must be chosen. Mod ern hybridizers seek plants that may produce bright, unusual colors or patterns, as well as carry characteristics of disease resistance, good bulb produc tion, long-lasting blooms, and strong stems. Once the parents are chosen, the hybridizer carefully cuts away from the intended mother flower the immature anthers (painting, left) to prevent self pollination. When the stigma ripens, pollen from the selected father is brushed on meticu lously (top). In three or four months two to three hundred seeds can be harvested from a single pod. The following year the seed lings appear as small grasslike plants (right) that give little hint of future glory. The plant will grow larger each year until, usually in the fifth year, it pro duces its first flower. If the new variety shows promise, the hy bridizer must now test it for several years before submitting it to the Royal General Bulb growers' Association for ap proval and inclusion in its inter national register of tulips. By now ten years may have passed, but the new tulip is still not ready for sale. Enough bulbs must first be produced to meet possible demand. A mature tulip bulb contains the embryo of a plant-stem, leaves, and a flower complete with all its reproductive parts. After the plant flowers, the original bulb begins to disinte grate, leaving two to four new bulbs that have developed within the skirts or layers of the original. Thus tulips multiply. And only thus can enough stock be accumulated to offer the new cultivar to the public. Since 1967 a hybridizer has been able to register for plant breeder's rights, similar to a patent. Now when he sells to another grower, the latter must pay a royalty on bulbs he raises and sells. Of course, if while he is growing such flowers, a plant with different characteristics should appear, the new flower, known as a mutant, or sport, belongs to the grower in whose field it appears. In an attempt to discover some of a bulb's pos sible mutations, hybridizers may send bulbs from their new cultivars to the Institute for Atomic Sciences in Agriculture at Wageningen. There scien tists expose the bulbs to X rays. The results can be seen the fol lowing spring (right), when a technician checks two mutants of the cultivar growing in the row to his left. Bright ribbons of tulips, along with swaths of hyacinths and daf fodils, decorate the fields of Hol land in spring (overleaf).