Lyman B. Smith and Hybrids

By Derek Butcher

This paper was submitted as part of a tribute to Lyman B. Smith to be published by Harvard University late in 1999 but was rejected presumably because of its non-scientific value. However, it does show a facet of Lyman B. Smith rarely written about and gives an insight into just one section of his extra-ordinary botanical output. In any event, being part of this WEB site it will be read by a much wider discerning public than those who just read University papers and of course we have coloured pictures.

"Dry it and I'll name it" is a phrase that Bromeliad growers link to Lyman B. Smith because it was referred to in his paper on "Dry it and I'll name it" at the World Bromeliad Conference in 1982 (Bromeliaceae ole 1984 : 82). However, as Lyman Smith pointed out, this phrase was originally linked to Asa Gray, another pioneer Harvard botanist.

xQuesmea 'Lymanii' While Lyman B. Smith has been honoured by his name being used in many, many instances in both genus and species names his name will be remembered in a few hybrid names also. Interestingly these have been Latinised , they are all bi-generic, and all named by Mulford Foster. They are:
xNeophytum 'Lymanii' - (Neoregelia bahiana v. viridis x Orthophytum navioides) Named 1958
xOrtholarium 'Smithii' - unknown parentage See BS Bulletin 16:45
xQuesmea 'Lymanii' - (Quesnelia testudo x Aechmea distichantha v. schlumbergera)
The only one correctly named and described was the xNeophytum with the other two shrouded in mystery.

Regrettably few natural hybrids are preserved in herbaria and even fewer man-made hybrids. So logically one could assume that Lyman Smith had little to do with hybrids. However, he did occasionally refer to hybrids, in his three volume Flora Neotropica monograph of the Bromeliaceae.

In a small chapter on hybridisation, Smith (1974: 55) reported on a few hybrids in the Pitcairnioideae. Such limited reference to hybrids continues to this day because the primary interest rests with specialised growers rather than commercial operations or botanists. Many of the intrageneric hybrids seem fertile, whereas as far as I can gather, bigeneric hybrids have proved to be sterile. This seems to be a positive statement towards the generic boundaries as defined by Lyman Smith.

xNeobergia 'Noddy' Since the 1974 monograph, there have been many more successful bigeneric hybrids produced although some are in name only. Bigeneric hybrids are not easy to obtain and there have been many failed attempts. In the 1960's the well-known Mulford Foster experienced great difficulty in producing bigeneric hybrids and was greatly surprised that William Morris in Australia had successfully crossed Billbergia nutans with Neoregelia carolinae. In fact he "demanded" proof and after a clone had been duly sent to the USA no further comment was made. The plant is still in existence in Australia as xNeobergia 'Noddy' but at best , can only be described as an 'oddity'.

Some have been called successes but have been failures in reality. For example xOrthotanthus 'What', which is allegedly Orthophytum saxicola x Cryptanthus 'It', faithfully produces Orthophytum saxicola from self-set seed.

No one has been successful in obtaining hybrids between genera in the separate subfamilies. In 1974 there were no recorded bigeneric hybrids in the Pitcairnioideae and even today there are only three, xDyckcohnia, xPepinia, and xPucohnia. The nothogenus xPepinia is fundamentally based on the premise that Pepinia and Pitcairnia are separate genera. Smith separated them as sub-genera based solely on seed shape . While this is an important factor in taxonomy, some botanists have named new species without knowing the seed shape. Most herbarium specimens are of flowering rather than fruiting material. The nothogenus xPitinia 'Coral Horizon' is Pitcairnia rubro-nigrifolia x Pepinia corallina but seed shape is unknown for Pitcairnia rubro-nigrifolia. Information to date suggests that xPitinia is infertile in line with all other bigeneric hybrids. Here, hybridists could help the botanist in supplying missing data such as seed shape.

In 1977 we saw the first attempt at a listing of man-made hybrids in the Tillandsioideae (Smith 1977). While Dutrie (see Bulletin Horticole, Liege, Belgium) wrote widely on this subject in 1946-1948 there is no definitive list and rarely did he give full reference to previous publications. The same applies to Chevalier who wrote in a similar vein in Monographie des Bromeliacees - Tillandsiees, and there is sometimes conflicting evidence when Dutrie and Chevalier are compared. In Smith's lists there is a predominance of European hybrids produced from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century. These listings of references are valuable to the researcher because many of the hybrids are still in circulation to this day. Some regrettably are wrongly named and only by referring back to these original descriptions can we find the correct answer.

As a positive example, let us look at Vriesea xKitteliana which is listed as "barilletii x saundersii" and where we would expect an erect inflorescence. However, the plant under this name in cultivation in America, Belgium and Australia had a semi pendant inflorescence and seemed to have links to a plant called Vriesea HoelscherianaVriesea Kitteliana Vriesea xHoelscheriana in Australia. This particular plant can be traced to America and to Germany, having been imported into America in the 1950's. The reference in Flora Neotropica to V. xHoelscheriana Richter, Bromeliaceen 270, 1962 is a dead end, although there are strong indications it is yet another Georg Kittel hybrid in the late 1800's. Remember he did create Billbergia xHoelscheriana. Information in the International Checklist (1979) that the parents are V. heterostachys rubra and V. simplex rubra is suspect because the source of this information is unknown. Georg Kittel did use V. guttata in several of his hybrids, and therefore, it is likely the parentage of V. xHoelscheriana is V. guttata x saundersii. What does the true V. xKitteliana look like? Reference to Wittmack, Gartenflora 39: 326 fig 62, 63, 1890 revealed a branched, erect inflorescence. Thanks to Josef Bogner of the Munich Botanic Gardens, this information is now known in Australia, America and Belgium.

Vriesea 'Sanderiana' Vriesea 'Sanderiana A negative example may be the case of Vriesea xSanderiana but because of Lyman Smith's references the true identity was resolved. This cultivar was being grown in America and Australia as V. saunderiana (sic) but had no links to the species V. saundersii. Could the hybrid be V. xSanderiana as listed? The parentage was given as barilletii x ( carinata x psittacina ) but our plant appeared to have V. guttata in its make up and was different to V. xHoelscheriana. Forever the Doubting Thomas, I again prevailed upon Josef Bogner of the Munich Botanic Gardens. Smith's reference to Wittmack, (in Gartenflora 46: 377, 1897) is correct but the proper parentage was V. guttata x xWittmackiana and we also had drawings of what it looked like.

Remember, this was 27 years after the formation of the Bromeliad Society in America where in 1951 there was the proud boast "Much more hybridising can and will be done" Much hybridising was done but very few records were kept and nobody thought about controls. It was left to Lyman Smith to collate records for future reference. It was not until 1979 that the Bromeliad Society produced its first Check-list of hybrids entitled 'International Checklist of Bromeliad Hybrids'

The year 1979 also saw the final volume of the Flora Neotropica monograph published. Here, more recent references to names of hybrids are listed. It can be clearly seen that billbergias were popular in Europe in the late 19th century and it was not until the 1960's that neoregelias started appearing in ever increasing numbers.

Lyman Smith has left the hybridist with tangible evidence of past work. It is up to the Bromeliad Society International to continue on with this work and encourage a more scientific approach to hybridisation and the keeping of records. The production of a second edition of a world check list is a step in the right direction. This is entitled "The Bromeliad Cultivar Registry" (BCR) compiled by Don A. Beadle June 1998.

Herbarium specimens and formal descriptions only seem to be prepared for species rather than natural hybrids. All are part of the evolutionary process and yet to the layman it seems strange that taxonomists seem to prefer to ignore the presence of natural hybrids rather than taking notes or even preparing specimens for future appraisal. Natural habitat is being destroyed and fragmented by man at an alarming rate and there appears to be an increasing incidence of hybridisation in the wild. This is evident in the genus Tillandsia and no doubt occurs throughout the Bromeliaceae.

May I make a plea for a more scientific approach to this ill-defined area of evolution? Please keep man-made hybrids separate from natural hybrids. One case in particular has yet to be resolved.

Vriesea xMorreniana hortus ex E.Morren

To the layman, it is strange that Lyman Smith decided that the type specimen of Vriesea xMorreniana, a recognised hybrid, exists in the form of a botanical painting. There are many other hybrids of similar vintage to V. xMorreniana with well documented descriptions and botanical paintings and that must also occur in the wild. What makes V. xMorreniana special? Certainly this taxon is rare in cultivation compared to other Vriesea hybrids of the same era and it is here where the problem starts.

Vriesea 'Morreniana' Vriesea flava In Australia we had a plant named Vriesea Xmorreniana being used as a hybrid parent and acting like a species. It linked roughly with the description in Smith and Downs (1977 : pp1128-1130). In 1994 we received a slide of Morren's painting from Dr. Gilbert Samyn of the Belgian Research Institute which bore little relationship to the description in Smith and Downs (1977). Further investigation revealed that Reitz had described a V.Xmorreniana in his 'Bromeliaceas' (1983) but which he considered was a true species. This was undoubtedly the plant being grown in Australia. No further action was taken by botanists and although Costa (in Bromelia 3 : pp9-13 1997) did confirm our belief, no action was taken to correct the error, indicating that further studies were needed. We understand that this plant will eventually become Vriesea flava. At the present time we have a Vriesea Xmorreniana in Australia which is not a true V. Xmorreniana although we are on the look-out for the true hybrid!

In hindsight it may have been better not to compare man-made hybrids with putative natural ones in line with current practices.

References: Derek Butcher
Fulham, S. A. 5024