Shrouded in the mists of the unknown, laced with the mystery of the orient, high priced, exotic, praised as the finest and most rare of Neoregelias, the Takemuras spread their cloak of intrigue over the bromeliad world like a James Bond novel.
What, exactly, are the plants? Who was Takemura? How many of them are there, and are they seedling variations of the same cross, or of different crosses? Did Takemura himself do the hybridizing? What was the "German Connection"? How did Ralph Davis come to be the source of the plants, and why did he never accurately identify them as to their parentage, or even where he got them? Are all the Takemuras really Takemuras, or is only 'Takemura Grande', the largest, a true Takemura, and the others misnamed selfings of concentricas? What about just plain `Grande' and `Fantastic Gardens Grande'? Are they Takemuras? And with both Takemura, the source, and Ralph Davis, the receiver, departed, and Davis' records disappeared, how is one ever to fathom the truth, beyond mere speculation?
My first involvement with Takemuras came over two years ago at a meeting of the Florida West Coast society at the Anderson's spacious home and garden. Dr. Pat Logue, President of the club, had brought two plants for show and tell and they were knockouts. One was a very unusual form of melanodonta, with shorter and fatter leaves than normal. The other, the one which really stole the show, he identified as one of the Takemura hybrids which he had obtained from Ruby Davis, Ralph's widow. The plant was both huge, and spectacular, ranging in color from pinks to olive-bronze to maroon-black.
From that night on I knew l had to have one of those Takemuras. And any other Takemuras, or Grandes, or anything else similar. So began my search. Logue was willing to trade a pup of his Takemura for the one and only pup of my huge Vr. fenestralis acquired the year before on a trip to Brazil. And he was willing to trade also for his other, smaller Takemura clone, which is similar to the one we have come to know as `Takemura Princeps'. After this, the others came in rapid progression. A `Grande' from Fantastic Gardens from Hazel Quilhot, a `Takemura Princeps' from Herb Hill via Dennis Cathcart, a `Takemura Grande' from Erv Wurthmann via Hazel Quilhot, a `Ralph Davis Improved Concentrica' from Bud Martin, a `Takemura Princeps' and a `Fantastic Gardens Grande' from Charles Coolbaugh, a different `Fantastic Gardens Grande' from Ray Coleman, and another `Takemura Princeps' and `Takemura Grande' loaned for hybridizing by the Quilhots. Quite a lot of plants. All fairly similar, yet with many differences.
I began to trace the history of the plants from the beginning, and very seriously about 6 months ago in preparation for this article. The going was fairly barren. A lot of people knew a little and had heard something else, but few had gotten their plants directly from Ralph Davis, and few had any really concrete information.
Ervin Wurthmann got his Takemura Grandes direct from Davis, and supplied some information. It seemed to Ervin that he remembered that the hybridizer of the Takemuras was not Takemura, but actually Walter Richter in Germany, and Richter sent the seeds to Takemura who then shared them or seedlings of them with Ralph Davis. Of the seedlings, certain ones were very large, and these were the ones called `Grande'. Erv got principally this plant (`Grande') from Davis, and it does not color up in the center when its blooms, as opposed to `Takemura Princeps', which is smaller, narrower, more concentrica-like, with a very distinctive recurving leaf shape, which turns very dark and purplish in strong light, and turns vivid purple in the center when blooming. Nat De Leon had no concrete evidence to offer on the plants. He has a bed of concentricas he obtained from the botanic garden in Liege, Belgium, which bear a remarkable resemblance in their shape to `Takemura Princeps' but do not have quite the same brilliance of color.
Charles Coolbaugh has a whole collection of the plants and has a different clone he calls `Takemura Grande Silverado' which exhibits distinct silver banding on the leaves in addition to the usual characteristics. It is reportedly his theory that `Takemura Grande' may be part carcharodon, perhaps with concentrica.
Pat Logue doesn't speculate too much on the background of his plant, but it has now been identified as being at least a different clone of Grande or Princeps, although of which is not exactly clear. His plant, which he refers to as a `Takemura Concentrica Hybrid' is large like a Grande, but not quite as large, and much pinker in its leaf coloration, but has no prominent center coloration upon blooming. It is quite a hardy plant - about two feet wide - and his original plant yielded 30 pups!!!
After several months of research, and just as all the speculations were coming together we hit the jackpot. While at Herb Hill's place south of Tampa shooting a future cover and some centerspread shots, we asked Herb what he knew of the Takemuras, and he replied, to our stunned disbelief, that it would take him a few minutes, but that he cound get out all the correspondence between Davis and Takemura, and we could see what we could see.
There it was. Davis' files were not lost. Herb has purchased them from the estate, and preserved them for posterity, and possibly a book with which he will collaborate with his wife or a series of articles on Ralph Davis.
Now we have something more than just speculation.
Dr. Naoji Takemura lived in Osaka, Japan, was a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, and would be about 84 years old were he alive today(1978). In the early '60's Takemura wrote to Victoria Padilla stating that he wanted to trade plants in the United States, and Miss Padilla, recognizing Takemura and Davis both as private collectors with possible mutual interests, forwarded the letter to Davis from which the relationship budded.
The two men exchanged want lists, then plants. Among the plants Davis sent Takemura was Florida's most famous, Guzmania monostachia variegata, and among the things Ralph got back were the Takemuras.
It appears from the correspondence that Davis first got seeds, for around 1962 there is a listing of Takemura plants sent to Davis which is the best key we will ever find to the Takemura mystery. In it are a number of plants in common cultivation but farther down, under neoregelias are two listings of critical importance: 1) Neo. `Gigant' and then penciled after it in Davis' hand, the notation 55s, and 2) Neo johannis x `Vulcan', with the similar notation, 35s!!! Here, indeed, must be the answer. Grande and Princeps are two different crosses. A close examination of the plants reveals this to the experienced grower anyway. The larger plant, listed by Takemura as `Gigant' was changed by Davis to `Grande', the same name in a different language, and at any rate an apt description for this truly large size Neo. And `Princeps'? Johannis x `Vulcan' are an absolutely logical pair of parents, as is Richter for the hybridizer. First of all, `Vulcan' is already Richter's hybrid, so who would be more likely to use it again as a breeding plant? And `Vulcan' is a cross of concentrica x johannis to begin with. That makes `Takemura Princeps' a concentrica x johannis the cross offspring of which was crossed back to johannis again. One part concentrica, 3 parts johannis. The concentrica shape stays dominant, as has been proven in many hybrids, and the johannis is what darkens the plant down and adds the extra richness to the purple. And the notations? 55s, Gigant, 35s, johannis x `Vulcan' - probably refers to numbers of seeds, although they might have been seedlings. Also there is a reference to Richter telling Takemura to share the seeds with someone to improve the probability of them surviving, and there are later references - 2 to 3 years later - of Davis and Takemura trading on several occasions small quantities of the two plants - ostensibly different clones - back and forth with each other.
And so, to my mind anyway, the mystery is partially solved. Grande and Princeps are two different crosses. The parents of Grande we can only guess at. The parents of Princeps are johannis and Vulcan. The hybridizer was Richter. There were a number of clones of each, although certain clones are in greater circulation than others and there was probably a certain amount of variation, and all those other plants - the Fantastic Grandes, and Logue's plant, and so forth are all probably seedling variations of one or the other crosses, and who knows how many seedling variations there are floating around the country? Who really, really knows? Only Ralph Davis and Naoji Takemura. And they are not telling.