This must surely be one of the most fascinating ways of growing fuchsias. Creating something new and unique, something that no one else has, or will ever reproduce. Of course not everyone can enjoy this facet of growing fuchsias which, if you are to be moderately successful, you will need the facility of a greenhouse, preferably heated, and a lot of bench space. Patience is also an added asset. In this chapter I will be delving into the sex life of plants, which in its self, is one of the most fascinating subjects I have studied. Most of the literature available on this subject is written by academics for academics therefore if you wish to study the subject in depth, you will need a botanical dictionary to help you. The architect of modern hybridising was an Austrian botanist, Gregor Mendel, d 1884, whose work and discoveries are known as 'Mendel's Law'. I shall not delve into this aspect of hybridising, it is applicable only to pure species and in this chapter I shall be dealing with hybrids, far removed from their origins. I have seen and read many articles written on this subject, mostly theoretical. These have lacked the practical application to encourage the average fuchsia enthusiast to test their ingenuity. The authors nearly always lose the plot by expounding all the theories of Mendel's Law and delve too deeply into the science of chromosomes and genes which can loosely be described as units of inheritance. One such author actively encouraged readers to try and obtain the chemical Colchicine in an effort to double the chromosomes thus inducing mutations. This is an alkaloid obtained from the autumn crocus. It is both expensive and a very toxic poison. The amateur should never involve themselves in experimenting with dangerous chemicals or attempt to have any plant material irradiated. My interest in hybridising was prompted by my desire to find cultivars suitable for exhibition. Up to this point I had been in the habit of buying in every new cultivar introduced by nurserymen nationwide, even those imported from abroad, mostly America. I grew these new cultivars, noted their habits and growth and photographically recorded every detail. Having read the glowing reports and descriptions in the fuchsia catalogues and compared these with my own observations I became, to say the least, a little disappointed. I kept all the catalogues and after three to four years, I checked back to see how many of these wonderful new cultivars were still available in the catalogues. I was not surprised to find that some, after only two to three years, had been discarded, no longer available. I can honestly say that each year only about one in ten of the new introductions I bought were suitably different and worth keeping. Over seventy per cent were genetically unstable. Ten percent had poor quality flowers, another ten per cent were no different or not an improvement on what was already in existence, but of course there was the odd gem among them. Two of my favourite hybridists at this time were the Late Cliff Gadsby and Dr Ryle. Both these hybridists produced some wonderful cultivars which are still available and can hold their own on the show bench today. The skill, patience and dedication of these older hybridists, which include many from the United States of America, Europe and indeed from other parts of the world who have provided the modern fuchsia enthusiasts with some wonderful cultivars with which to work.When I first started to take an interest in hybridising I wanted to appreciate and understand the process of fertilisation, which included a study of the anatomy of flowers and the essentials used in the process of reproduction. Up to this point I, like many others, did not appreciate the complexity of the sexual reproduction of plant life. The more I studied the more enthralled I became. I never really appreciated just how devious and underhanded plants were and how they are able to exploit, manipulate and use to their advantage almost everything nature has provided. Wind, rain, water, light, darkness, every conceivable animal, bird and insect is used in one way or another by flowering plants to achieve sexual reproduction, to perpetuate their particular species. In addition, the human race can now be added to this list. One of their spectacular achievements in sexual exploitation is the ability to mimic some insects by reproducing, in their petal formation, a copy of a female to such exactness that it fools the male into believing he has found a receptive mate. A prime example of this mimicry and deception is the Bee Orchid which reproduced within its petals an exact copy of one species of female wasp. A male wasp on seeing what appears to be a female wasp attempts to mate with it, albeit, unsuccessfully. During this encounter a sticky disk called a viscidium laden with pollen is attached to the wasps head. The male wasp, eventually frustrated, flies off and is again fooled by another orchid but this time the pollen mass, which was attached to the male wasps head, is transferred to the stigma of this orchid and fertilisation of the orchid is achieved. The wasp receives no reward and his frustration continues. This is not always the case. If we take the fuchsia for example, both the species and varieties, have been cleverly designed to attract the tiny humming bird as its pollinator, but unlike the bee described above, the humming bird is rewarded. High in the tube of the fuchsia is nectar, a thick sweet sticky secretion. It is produced daily and attracts the humming bird. The humming bird is uniquely adapted, having a long beak and with its tongue is able to reach the nectar. This, incidentally, is the only bird capable of flying backwards. The flower only produces a minimum amount of nectar daily which ensures the humming bird, in order to satisfy its appetite, will have to visit many flowers. As the humming bird attempts to feed on the nectar it has to brush past pollen laden anthers and receptive stigma, the female organ, on the end of the pistil. Pollen is collected on the breast of the bird and each time it visits a flower unwittingly pollinates it. In this instance both flower and bird are satisfied, albeit, in different ways. It is worth noting that, although fuchsias grown here in the U.K. are visited by our bees, wasps and other such insects they are very poor pollinators and in their attempts to gain access to the nectar scratch and damage the flower petals. One particular insect, I'm not sure whether a bee or wasp, has a nasty habit of cutting through all the filaments and the style in its efforts to reach the nectar. A point for both exhibitor and hybridist to bear in mind. In addition, flowers damaged by insects in this way detract from perfection and will be penalised if the plant is exhibited at specialist shows. The process of sexual exploitation by the plants, briefly described above, was only recently discovered. In 1916 a French Judge, M. Pouyanne, a keen amateur naturalist living in Algiers, had, over a period, been observing the relationship between a wasp and a particular species of orchid when he realised that the orchid was exploiting the male wasps sexual drive for its own ends. He published his observations and theorised the possibility of plants using all manner of subterfuge, including mimicry, to effect sexual fertilisation of their seed. This was at first dismissed as fantasy and it took several decades before his work was eventually accepted. The sex life of plants has now been fully researched, recorded and accepted. This subject makes fascinating reading. One point I continue to ponder is, how are plants able to develop within their petal structure the ability to mimic, and exploit virtually everything nature has provided. How does the orchid know of the existence of the wasp it mimics. The fuchsia the humming bird, the antirrhinum the weight of one species of bee that is able to pollinate it and so on. These feats are extraordinary and to date defy rational explanation.In this chapter I shall be dealing exclusively with fuchsia cultivars and shall once again be examining and destroying some of the myths and taboos associated with raising new cultivars from seed.When and where to start. Quite simply the starting point is your imagination, your minds eye. To even consider this facet of growing your imagination must have been stimulated by seeing and working with some of the beautiful flowers already available, mainly created by a dedicated band of enthusiasts whose only motivation is to produce something new and different for others to enjoy. If your motivation is making money, then I would suggest you choose another hobby. The sheer pleasure and excitement in creating a new flower, something totally different to what is currently available, is a wonderful experience. In this instance of course we shall be dealing with fuchsias. This will test your patience, resolve and ingenuity to the limit. To be successful you will require the facility of a greenhouse, preferably heated, a lot of space and spare time.Once you have determined what you would like to achieve, start by keeping notes and record your ideas on how best to achieve them. Although we have a large number of colour combinations and great diversity in shape and size of cultivar, there is still progress to be made. For instance we do not have a true white fuchsia, a yellow, a blue that retains its colour through to maturity or a range of corollas with defined picotee edges in various colours. There is also plenty of scope for improvement to some of the cultivars already available. Increasing the number of flowers produced in the leaf axils for instance. Strengthening the pedicel of double flowered cultivars to prevent the flowers being lost in the foliage. The removal of some of the genetic imperfections in petal formation. Everything can be improved the only limit being your imagination and what nature will allow. My ambition has always been to produce a yellow double
My ambition ?
On one occasion, in my quest to achieve this, I was offered the opportunity to have a batch of seed irradiated in an effort to induce mutations, hopefully a yellow fuchsia but, after careful consideration and mind searching, I felt this was both ethically and morally wrong to subject living tissue to the rigours of radiation. I declined the offer. The resultant plants would most likely have been sterile and of little use for future reproduction purposes, therefore nothing would have been achieved. Having determined what you wish to achieve the next step is choosing suitable cultivars. This may not be so easy and could involve searching through catalogues, viewing photographs and visiting specialist nurseries. A visit to a specialist fuchsia show may also help. If all this seems a little too complicated and is ignored then your chances of real success will be remote. Just selecting ripe berries from your current stock and searching for the odd seed will, in nearly all instances lead to disappointment and a lot of wasted time. Remember one thing, you are the worst judge of your achievements. Your chance seedlings will appear far better than they really are. Fuchsia folk may be friendly folk but they are also very discerning and fickle about what they like and grow. Assuming you have found the plants best suited to your needs you must now nurture and pamper them. They will be at their best for breeding purposes at two or more years old so take extra good care of them. Whilst these are growing away it is now time to examine and understand a little about the different parts of the flower and their role in the reproduction cycle of their species. These are essentially the ovary, the seed pod between the pedicel and the tube, the stamen to which the anther is attached and contains the pollen sacs, the male reproductive organ and the style, a long slender stem which connects to the ovary at one end and the stigma, the female organ, at the other.
Photograph of a dissected flower
Firstly, the ovary, more commonly known as the seed pod, houses the placenta to which the ovules, unfertilised seed, are attached. I shall be describing the fertilisation process of these ovules a little later on. The other two very important items are the anthers, top item and the stigma below, shown in the photograph above. When the anther ripens it divides into two then again into four compartments, each of which contain the pollen grains. The pollen is not a sperm as often believed, it is a spore similar to those found in ferns and mosses. Inside each grain are three cells two of which are sperm cells within the spore. I shall describe their function in detail a little later. Next the stigma, the female organ. This, as the close up photo' shows, is generally much larger than the anthers and has a fascinating role to play in the fertilisation of the ovules in the seed pod. The photograph below shows a sectioned seed pod exposing the placenta and a host of unfertilised seed. It is important to understand the different parts of the plant, their proper names and their functions. It makes learning much more fun and adds a further dimension to your hobby.
Close up of an anther and stigma
The seed pod, placenta and ovules
The next step in the quest for a new fuchsia cultivar is when to start cross fertilising the flowers on your selected plants. From many years experience I have found that the most productive time to start is the later part of August and into September. At this time of the year the natural fall in temperature and reduction in light intensity and daylight hours seem to be more amenable to the fuchsia in retaining the seed pod whether it contains fertilised seed or not. During the early part of the normal flowering season, late June, July and the first part of August, the plants are quite happy flowering and making new growth and will, for the most of this time, abort the old flowers including the pedicel and seed pod. It is therefore a waste of time to start hybridising too early, impatience must be curbed. Once into August, do not supplementary feed your plants or pot them up into larger pots. They must at this time be root bound and aware of the onset of winter. The lower temperatures and light factors triggers the urgency for them to reproduce sexually to produce fertile seed, the means by which the species is perpetuated and strengthened. Use this knowledge to your advantage and you will be more likely to succeed. It is now time to understand a little more about sexual behaviour and taboos of the fuchsia cultivar. Very little has been written on this subject and what has been written has been more assumption rather than fact. I will not delve too deeply at this juncture. As we progress into the subject it will be self explanatory and easier to understand. One simple and very important point to bear in mind at this stage is that in nature nothing is absolute. Starting with the fuchsia flower, the essential parts having already been described above, it is now time to examine its behaviour from the bud opening to the spent flower being aborted, hopefully with a seed pod containing a percentage of fertile seed. The fuchsia flower generally has a life of about ten days. It starts to degenerate after five days but of course this can be variable depending on the time of the year and the weather. As the flower bud develops it encloses the petals, style, stigma, stamens and anthers. Once the bud reaches a certain stage of development it divides into four sepals to expose the petals which form the corolla. The style stretches lowering the stigma to a point below the anthers. From the moment the sepals open, the stigma, within a matter of hours becomes receptive for pollination, but the pollen contained within the four segments of the anthers remain inert for another five days after which they burst open exposing the ripe pollen grains. The question I wanted answered was why, when the stigma was ready for pollination, did it take five days for the anthers to produce ripe pollen. The answer of course was simple and obvious, the flower did not want to be fertilised by its own pollen. If, after five days, pollen from the anthers did adhere to the stigma there would be insufficient time for the pollen to germinate and fertilise seed in its own ovary before the stigma degenerated effectively prohibiting fertilisation of its own seed. This does not mean that pollen from another flower on same plant will not be allowed to germinate, far from it, It can sometimes be prudent to use pollen from a sister flower to fertilise seed. This is commonly known as 'selfing'. It can sometimes result in latent recessive genes becoming dominant inducing the characteristic or feature you are looking for. A little understanding of the process of fertilisation and a closer examination of the anthers and stigma is important. This knowledge will almost certainly increase your chances of being successful in your quest to raise a unique new cultivar.Firstly the anther, which is the male organ, is situated at the tip of the filament and is known as the stamen. These stamens can number between six and eight per flower. Each anther, has two sections held together by what is known as a connective. The pollen is formed inside four compartments. Each grain of pollen has three cells, two sperm cells and one pollen tube cell. The photograph below show both unripe and ripe anthers smothered in pollen. If you are in any doubt as to whether the pollen is ripe use a magnifying glass.
The pistil, of which there is only one, is the female part of the flower and consists of a stigma and ovary. In fuchsias these are connected by a style which include the tube and nectary. The stigmas of fuchsia vary in size, shape and colour and are coated in a sticky glutinous substance which has an extremely complex chemical structure. It prevents the germination of 'undesirable' alien pollen which may have attached itself to the stigma. This is known as tasting, only allowing desirable pollen to germinate. Even after germination, there are many other devices constantly testing the reproductive nuclei as it makes its way inside the pollen tube towards the ovary. Of the many thousands of pollen grains adhering to the stigma only a tiny percentage ever reach the ovary to fertilise ovules. The photograph below shows two pollinated stigmas fully coated with ripe pollen.
As previously explained, the best time to start hybridising is from mid August through to late September. Several days before you start hybridising, carefully remove all the open flowers on the plant /plants selected to be the female parent. This includes seed pods and pedicels leaving only unopened buds. The plant/plants to be used as the male parent must not have the open flowers removed, some will already have anthers sporting ripe pollen ready for use. To recap, it takes approximately five days for the anther on a fully open flower to produce pollen. Only when this is available can you start. Once your plants are ready choose a warm sunny day and check the air temperature. Ideally, it needs to be above 15 deg C - 60 deg F for best results. Have to hand a notebook and pen, a pair of tweezers and some means to identify the seed pod of the flowers to be pollinated. I have used various methods in the past including small sticky cassette labels. I have also used coloured wools tied to the pedicel. Once the flower is aborted leaving the seed pod and pedicel behind it may take another week or more before the seed pod containing the seed falls from the plant onto the bench. These need to be collected before they degrade or are devoured by slugs, snails and even wasps. One other essential before you start hybridising is to have in place some form of code for plant identification. For example it is extremely difficult to write on a tiny label attached to a pedicel all the information you need to record regarding the identify and fertilisation details of each seed pod. This code must essentially include the names of the plants used in the fertilisation process. The method I use is very simple. Having selected the various plants I intend using I use a single letter in place of its true name. If I intend using Ting a Ling I would use the letter 'A' to identify it. Joy Patmore would be 'B' Frank Unsworth 'C' Katie Elizabeth D and so on. Therefore if I crossed a flower of Ting a Ling using it as the female parent with Joy Patmore as the male parent on 1st. September, 2004, the tiny label attached to the pedicel would read A X B. 1. 1.9.04. If I did the same cross with more than one flower the second label would read A X B. 2. 1.9.04 and be attached to the pedicel. The third would read A X B. 3. 1.9.04 and so on. Each seed pod having its own unique identification. Again, if I crossed Ting a Ling with Katie Elizabeth the first cross would be A X D. 1. 1.9.04. A simple and easy method. One important point to bear in mind, always identify the female parent first in all your records. Its importance will become obvious when comparing any sibling back to its parents. All this may seem a little complicated but once you start using it, it becomes very easy. The photographs below illustrate the method I use. The labels on the two flowers below have been written using waterproof ink. They are wrapped around the pedicel, the date is on the reverse. These labels can also be printed provided the ink is waterproof.
The next stage is how? All the literature I have studied regarding plant breeding, in particular fuchsias, recommend starting by emasculating the flower to be used as the female parent. This, quite simply, means removing the anthers leaving only the style and stigma. The reason proffered is to prevent pollen from the same flower fertilising seed in its own ovary. This is totally unnecessary. What had not been realised by these authors is the fact that nature has already taken care of this point. They have just copied or reiterated what they have read elsewhere. The flower does not want to be fertilised by its own pollen therefore does not allow the anthers to produce ripe pollen until five days after the stigma has become receptive for pollination. With this delaying mechanism in place there is insufficient time for pollen to fertilise seed in its own ovary. Quite simply, forget all about emasculation, nature has already taken care of it. An example of an emasculated flower is shown below, the anthers have been completely removed.
The next point also recommended is encapsulating the stigma once pollinated. This quite simply is covering the stigma with a small capsule. The reasoning behind this is supposedly to prevent pollen from other flowers germinating on the stigma and fertilising seed in the ovary different from what you had intended and messing up your records with regard to the male parentage. This again, in the confines of an amateurs greenhouse can be completely disregarded. What was not realised was the fact that the pollen on the anthers of the male parent is probably already contaminated with pollen from any number of different fuchsia plants. This is circulated by air movement and visiting insects. Of course this contamination of the pollen can be to your advantage. It may well be that the pollen from the male parent you wished to use to fertilise the seed of your selected female plant, is sterile or that the two plants, for many and varied reasons, are just not compatible. Therefore the foreign pollen contaminating the male parent pollen may well fertilise seed on the female parent. It could well produce a better cross than what was intended. The use of contaminated pollen must bring into question all the records regarding the male parentage of many of our cultivars. The only occasion when the male parent can be established without doubt is if the cross fertilisation process is carried out in a controlled environment, a laboratory, where only the two plants co-exist and there is absolutely no chance of contamination. Only then can it be established that pollen from plant 'A' fertilised seed on plant 'B' and that all the siblings are the direct result this cross. It is only under these controlled conditions that emasculation of the female parent could be an advantage preventing flowers from being pollinated by sister flowers on the same plant. In the photo below, the flower on the right is still attached to the plant whilst the flower on the left, the male parent, has been removed and taken to the female flower. A safe and simple method of cross fertilisation.
There are many ways to pollinate the stigma of the selected flower. The one most hybridists advocate is to use a small brush to collect the ripe pollen then brush the receptive stigma ensuring it is completely covered. I have used this method but now prefer the simpler more positive method above which is to remove the flower selected for the male parent and take it to the plant whose flower is to be used as the female parent. Select a flower with fully developed anthers covered with ripe pollen. This is easy, simple and very positive. Just gently coat the receptive stigma with pollen from as many of the anthers as possible until it is completely covered. See photo below:-
It is more effective than using a brush which can easily damage the delicate surface of the stigma. The brush must be thoroughly cleaned before and after each occasion it is used.Once your selected combinations of cross fertilisation have been completed and your work recorded it is now time to make sure your female plants are not neglected. A variety of conditions such as your plants drying out, an attack by wasps which will cut away both style and filaments to gain access to the nectar or a rapid fluctuation of temperatures can cause your fertilised seed pods to be aborted before the seed is ready to harvest. Take precautions and pamper your plants, any mistakes at this time will take a further twelve months to rectify. Once the stigmas have been liberally coated with fresh pollen, the pollen, like a seed will attempt to germinate on the surface of the stigma. This surface is so sensitive that only a very small percentage, if any will be allowed to germinate. In this initial stage the acceptable pollen will germinate with the pollen tube nucleus growing through the stigma to the style where it continues to wend its way to the ovary. As the pollen tube wends it way the two male generative nuclei follow close behind. On reaching an ovule the pollen tube ruptures allowing both male nuclei to enter the ovule. One will fuse with the egg cell whilst the second fuses with the endosperm cell. See my line drawing below. After fusion, the embryo plant develops within the protective outer shell called the testa. Once fertilisation is achieved the endosperm feeds the developing embryo until the new seed is fully developed with a full complement of genes from both parents. It will now remain inert until the conditions are right for it to germinate. These are fully described below. Study the second line drawing below to appreciate and understand the composition of a newly developed seed which now undergoes a dormant or resting period.
If you have been successful with your fertilisation the seed pods should start to ripen and become very plump within ten to fourteen days depending on the weather conditions. The cooler the weather the longer it will take. Don't be impatient and attempt to remove the seed pods from the parent plant too early, allow them to fall naturally. You must check your plants daily and collect the seed pods from the bench before they are eaten or damaged, especially by slugs and snails. The ripened seed pods can vary in colour from black through red to pale green. The pastel flower shades seem to be dominantly green. The collection of seed from the seed pods is not as easy as it may seem. There are various methods such as crushing the seed pods in a glass of water. The ripe seed should sink to the bottom of the glass leaving the placenta and other material in suspension. This can be poured away and the ripe seed recovered from the bottom of the glass. I have used this method but favour gently crushing the seed pod in the palm of the hand and extracting the ripe seed with a pair of tweezers. If you gently rub the placenta with your finger you can feel the ripe seed. Remove them with tweezers and place them onto a fresh tissue remembering to include your identification code with different batches of seed. The photo below illustrates just how few ovules are actually fertilised within the ovary. The top two placentas have only eight viable seed between them whilst the bottom pair have none. It therefore pays to duplicate, even triplicate your work, by pollinating several flowers on the female parent plant with the pollen from same male parent. If these crosses are all successful then you will have a much greater chance of achieving your goal.
There is always the off chance that the parents you have chosen may not be compatible for one reason or another. This is true of all human, plant and animal life. Nothing is absolute therefore it pays to add several options and variations to your plans. Change the female then the male and always try 'selfing'. This is where pollen from one flower pollinates the stigma of another flower on the same plant. This has the tendency to allow recessive genes to become dominant and produce some interesting results. Again, try crossing two or more flowers from the resulting seedlings this can also be a viable proposition. Once all the seed has been harvested, it must be dried naturally. Ignore any advice advocating the use of a radiator, airing cupboard or warm oven to dry the seed. I have heard this advice advocated on more than one occasion. It will reduce or destroy the viability of your valuable seed. Dry your seed as naturally as possible, on a tissue in a warm room out of the reach of children or house proud wife. I have lost seed to both these causes. Once the seed has dried, package it in small envelopes with the details of its parentage recorded on the front. Add the date it was packaged for future reference. Fuchsia seed, if not properly packaged will degrade rather quickly. On the one hand it may dehydrate if kept too dry and on the other hand, if kept damp it will be prone to attack by fungi. Its viability will also degrade with time therefore don't delay too long before sowing. It can be sown almost immediately, but I prefer to sow about the second week in January in a closed thermostatically controlled propagator with a bottom heat of 68/70 deg F - 20/22 deg C. Sow the seed sparingly in seed trays of damp compost, I use ordinary potting compost, passed through a fine riddle, mixed with some fine perlite for sowing and cover the seed with finely sieved compost, just sufficient to cover the seed. Water the seed in using a small spray containing Cheshunt fungicide diluted in warm water as recommended by the manufacturer. Use a fine spray to minimise disturbance of the seed. The seed should be sown at least 3 to 4 cm. apart if using seed trays or better still sown individually in one of the manufactured micro cell trays which are now currently available at most Nurseries. This minimises root disturbance and damage when potting up, a major cause of losses. Always bear in mind, if you are propagating cuttings from an established plants it matters not if you lose the odd cutting these can always be replaced, but it you lose just one of your seedlings, it is a disaster. It could well be the one that is absolutely unique, the true yellow, the perfect blue or the pure white. You will never know. The lesson to be learned is to be meticulous in everything you do. It is a distinct advantage to use a covered heated propagation frame. I have found that 20/22 deg C. - 68/72 deg F gives the best results. But here again a word of warning. If your seed is sown during the early part of the year, January or February you must be aware that once your seeds start germinating they must be individually removed, preferably planted into another seed tray or small 5cm pot to be hardened off and allowed to acclimatise to the lower temperatures of your greenhouse. This must be on a daily basis. Place them as near to the glass as practicable to ensure they have access to maximum amount of light but avoiding direct sunlight. Increase their exposure to the lower temperatures progressively returning them to the heated propagator each evening until you feel they have been fully acclimatised. The complete transition, being removed from the heated frame into the lower temperatures of the greenhouse, without first hardening them off, will almost certainly cause the demise of some of your seedlings. They will undoubtedly succumb to botrytis which, with a little knowledge, can be avoided. The other factor to be reckoned with is the imbalance in temperature and light. High temperatures and low light will induce unwanted elongation of your seedlings and make them weak, more prone to attack by both insect and fungi. My line drawings below illustrate and describe the process of seed germination.
Don't be disappointed if your seed does not germinate as quickly as you would expect. Seed from annual or biannual plants can germinate in several days but with perennial plants such as fuchsias it is a different matter entirely. The germination of fuchsia seed, if properly sown, can vary from as little as one week to six months. This is normal. In its natural habitat the seed enclosed within its berry will, when ripe, fall to the ground. If not ingested by browsing animals or birds it will await for the right conditions to germinate. Germination is controlled and regulated by three factors, heat, oxygen and water. Any imbalance in these three essentials will inhibit germination. Too much or too little heat, too much or insufficient moisture or over compacted compost excluding essential oxygen are the main causes of failure. Once these three factors are in balance the process of germination can start. With fuchsias. similar to many other perennial species of plants, germination of seed can be very erratic. There is of course, a very good and valid reason for this behaviour. Inside each tiny seed, protected by its outer shell called the 'Testa' is a genetic blueprint covering all aspects of growth and development of a new cultivar. In addition, each tiny seed has a built in timing mechanism, a virtual clock, which predetermines when germination should start. This is different in every seed and can vary from as little as one week to six months. This germination differential is absolutely critical for the survival of the species. If all the seeds germinated at the same time they may well be eaten or destroyed by browsing animals, destroyed by fire, flood or drought. This built in erratic germination factor is a safeguard which ensures survival and perpetuation of the species should the initial seedlings be destroyed. One interesting point I have observed over several years is the fact that the first seeds to germinate are usually very vigorous and more prone to be single in various shades of the dominant fuchsia colours red and purple. Those slower to germinate tend to be doubles and lighter pastel shades. The lesson here is simple, continue to care for and do not discard your seed trays for at least six months. The first photograph below shows seedlings in various stages of growth being acclimatised during the daytime.
This second photograph emphasises the erratic germination of fuchsia seed.
The photographs below are examples of what is primarily required from any new seedling, the development of lateral growth without having to physically induce it by removing the growing tip.
There are several very important observations that should be made during the early progressive growth of your seedlings to determine which should be grown on or which should be destroyed. The ideal is illustrated by the two seedlings above. Note the uniformity and vigour of the plant where the lateral side shoots (branches) are developing as the pant grows forming a natural pyramid shape. These, irrespective of their flowers, can be used for future breeding purposes. Any seedling with misshapen or deformed leaves will be of little use and should be destroyed. Also discard any plant that has obvious genetic defects where some side shoots remain dormant or under developed whilst others in opposite leaf axils grow normally or bolt out of control. Ease your burden of selection by dispatching these early. The chances of them having superb flowers is extremely remote. Keep early records of the growth and development noting which are lax, suitable for basket work, extremely vigorous, suitable for standards and upright and semi-lax for pot plants. These notes will help you decide on growth patterns for the following year should the flowers prove acceptable. Prior to release, I test each new seedling to find its best potential either, pot, basket or standard. Where possible, test your seedlings by exhibiting them at specialist 'Fuchsia Flower Show' to see if they can compete against existing tried and tested show cultivars. A wining entry will very soon be in great demand. The date the seedling germinated will determine whether it will flower the first year or whether you will have to grow it on for flowering the following year. Normally, if the seedling germinated before the first week in April, it is safe to assume it will flower the first year. Any seed germinating later than this will struggle to flower the first year. These could well prove to be double flowered probably in the pastel shades. Doubles are inherently slower to develop and flower than the single and semi-double cultivars therefore it is extremely important to over winter them correctly. I do not let these types rest during the winter but try to keep them in foliage just ticking over. One other lesson I learned with this type of seedling was to take at least one side shoot and root it as soon as possible just in case the parent succumbs during the winter. Once the first batch of seedlings start flowering discard any with deformed flowers such as five or more sepals and any with deformed, misshapen petals and any with a combination of the dominant fuchsia colours, red and purple, unless they have some other special attribute. An example of this is the fuchsia 'May Clark', a small red and purple but it produces six flowers across a pair of leaf axils and is exceptionally vigorous, When assessing the quality of the flower always refer back to both parents and remember, any flower identical to the parent can never be an improvement, it must be different no matter how slight. One final observation, you are the worst judge of your work, virtually everything you produce you will find some excuse or reason to keep it. Have several knowledgeable fuchsia growers give an honest opinion. You must be mercenary keep only the very best otherwise your name will become synonymous with rubbish. Always test your seedling for at least three years and vegetatively propagate it comparing the growth pattern and flowers back to the original seedling. Finally, don't under any circumstances give away a cutting of any unnamed, unregistered seedling to anyone other than a trusted friend otherwise you may find someone else claiming the credit for your work.
If you have managed to create something really different and outstanding and it is your intention to distribute it you should seriously consider registering it with the American Fuchsia Society who are the international body appointed for the registration of new fuchsia cultivars and varieties. This to ensure that the name you have chosen for your fuchsia is not already in use. You will have to accurately describe, as well as other details, the colour of your new fuchsia. Ideally you will need access to an R.H.S. Colour Chart which was first published in 1966. I bought my copy when it was reprinted to order many years ago. These are extremely valuable to the serious hybridist. Unfortunately, I don't think they are currently available from the R.H.S.
Have fuchsias have fun. If I can be of any assistance or you wish to discuss my techniques please contact me at the email address above.