One of the most perplexing and aggravating problems in marketing canna lilies or buying canna rhizomes from the retail market is the practice of renaming canna cultivars of old or new hybrids with illegitimate names. One reason merchants rename canna lilies is to offer the public an apparent new canna choice to plant in the garden. Another reason is to rename a canna that has fallen out of favor to the gardening public. This practice of renaming flowers is not just a recent phenomenon, but it began with the Victorian Era. Plant taxonomists also have given many arguments about the proper rules for the naming of native canna species. For instance, William Bartram reported the discovery of Canna lutea, page 153, of Travels, at Fort Frederica, Ga., in the year 1773, as growing luxuriantly, but modern taxonomists have renamed his canna, Canna flaccida. Bartram also reported in his book, Travels, pages 424, the discovery of a red flowering, 9ft.- tall canna growing near Mobile, Al, but Canna indica, named after the American Indians by William Bartram, has now been arguably renamed. This confusion has not been beneficial to the development and marketing of canna lilies.
Modern canna cultivars might, in one respect, have begun with the Luther Burbank back-cross of the wild, native American, Canna flaccida, onto Madame Crozy. Burbank was a forward thinking hybridizer who realized that the Victorian Era canna cultivars displayed large blooms with many bright colors but he also knew that his gold medal, award winning canna, “Tarrytown,” that later received a name change of “Florence Vaughan,” dropped clusters of old flowers, leaving the blooms stalks looking fresh. The Victorian Era, canna stalks appeared to generally retain its old flowers on the bloom stalks, sometimes were loaded with unsightly, brown clustered flowers that no one liked. Burbank noted the desirability of the canna stalks that released their spent blooms to fall to the ground. Burbank also saw the value in developing canna flowers into softer, pastel colors. This was apparent in his white creation, “Eureka,” canna, and his pastel colored canna hybrids were named collectively as, ‘Burbank’.
Modern canna hybrids are best discussed as groups, since most good and reliable growers were developed by intelligent canna programs of hybridization, rather than random selection of chance, natural hybrids that showed outstanding features for selection. Some collectors and travelers assembled choice canna hybrids from around the world to be multiplied and made available for distribution and sales to wholesalers and mailorder companies.
The Dupont family of Delaware Chemical fame, established a permanent garden for plant collections, that dated back to the late 1700’s, later the garden was named, Longwood Gardens. A beautiful pastel pink, large flowered canna still grows there, named after the wife of one of the late founders, Mrs. Pierre Dupont. Today Longwood Gardens lists 23 cultivars on its Internet site and has its own hybridization program that has distributed its canna creations for testing for retail sales at garden centers in various parts of the U.S. The verdict has not been yet rendered as to whether or not these canna hybrids will be acceptable to the gardening public for the long term, but they have been made available recently on some Internet sites.
American Daylily and Perennials Co. from Missouri has released a series of canna cultivars called ‘Futurity’, that appear to have been absorbed into the marketing strategies of some wholesale suppliers and into a use for containerized garden centers to some extent. It is unclear as to which named canna hybrids were actually released by American Daylily and Perennials Co., or which additional names have been added by canna hybridizer pretenders by renaming old cultivars with the ‘Futurity’ Tag. One Internet mailorder company claims to have for sale: Pink Futurity Canna, Yellow Futurity Canna, Rose Futurity Canna, Yellow Futurity Canna, Orange Futurity Canna, and Bi-Color Futurity Canna.
Ms. Rosalind Sarver of California was one of the most notable suppliers of high quality canna rhizomes to the wholesale trade in the 1980’s. Her chief business interest was in the azalea plant which she marketed on a huge scale. Mrs Sarver’s azalea interest was heightened by her travels to the Orient, that resulted in the introduction of many new azalea cultivars into the United States. While visiting Beijing, China, she discovered a strangely colored and variegated canna that she exported to California in large numbers. That canna was named, Cleopatra, that grows to a height of 5-6 feet and the bright, waxy-green leaves appear to be somewhat immune to most canna problems with insects and diseases. The bright yellow flowers are randomly striped with red, sometimes randomly with red or pink dots. The leaves are randomly striped with maroon and occasionally a leaf will be one-half colored maroon or on rare occasions completely maroon colored in its entirety. The maroon coloring can twist into bands around the stalk toward the top where it is translated into the individual flowers as red marks on yellow. A rare Cleopatra canna plant can mutate occasionally, and then can divide into a completely, maroon colored canna to produce a plant called “Ty Ty Red,” in which the coloring covers the entire leafy surface and the flowers are completely maroon, about twice the size of the blooms of the Red King Humbert. The Ty Ty Red canna plant is dwarf, 3-4 feet tall and has never reverted back to any green variation that was apparent in the original Cleopatra -remaining entirely maroon in both flower and leaf. Other very important canna cultivars distributed by Ms. Sarver were :Eilleen Gallo” named after the wife of an heir to the Gallo Wine fortune in California, Crimson Beauty, Rosalinda, named after the First Lady, Rosalind Carter, and the famous ‘Cleopatra,’the oriental hybrid that probably developed as a mutation of “The Humbert Canna.” original series.
A series of canna hybrids came from Ty Ty Nursery, mostly dating back to the 1980’s: Journey’s End, a bi-color of red and pink dots on yellow petals; Malcolm’s Red, a dwarf red canna with yellow petal margins that encircle all the flowers; Maudie Malcolm, a rare lavender colored bloom; the Red Stripe, a bright green leaf with maroon veins and mid- vein; Rosever, a rose, large bloom with maroon leaves; and Ty Ty Red, a stable mutation with orange flowers and wine leaves, that mutated from Cleopatra.
A host of variegated leaf canna cultivars has been offered to modern markets. The world canna lily expert, Englishman, Ian Cooke, suggested that the widely marketed and patented, ‘Tropicanna’, a striped leaf canna with orange flowers and leaves of orange, yellow and red stripes, that he described as “the most exotic and outrageously colored canna”, was introduced into England in 1994 under the name of Durban and also Phasion. This renaming and misnaming has been repeated in many other variegated leaf canna cultivars, such as Striped Beauty, also renamed as Nirvana, and Christs Light that produces lemon yellow flowers with a pure white cross in the center with variegated white stripes on light green leaves.
The renaming fate of Pretoria canna was originally named, Bengal Tiger, that produced orange flowers and orange stripes on medium green leaves. The variegated canna cultivar, “Stuttgart” was marketed briefly with nice photos of a white, angular, random striping on green leaves. That canna was a dismal flop in the garden, most rhizomes showed no variegation, but the ones that did, grew into distorted, contorted , weedy, throw-a-ways, unfit even for the garbage pile. The Pink Sunburst was a beautiful creamy-pink flower with leaves of indescribable beauty and attraction. The leaves were delicately striped with a kaleidescope of aesthetic shades of color blending: green, cream, pink, yellow and orange. Unfortunately this fabulously desirable plant was infected with a virus that totally eliminated it from the United-States retail markets, even through some merchants have claimed to have it in stock, orders were returned unfilled. This may work out for the best, because even though this may be the most beautiful and desirable canna ever hybridized, it was cursed with a weakness that made it ridiculous to continue to salvage. No, gardeners do not need to be faced with the challenge to nurse a plant that was doomed to fail from the attacks of a virus for which there is no remedy and no recovery.
By Patrick Malcolm
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