Orchid News # 34

Hoffmannseggella briegeri:
A Modern Tool for the Cattleya Breeder

  by Alan Koch
Golden Country Orchids

It was love at first sight for me…the brightness of the flowers held well above the foliage on a strong upright inflorescence. I knew right away I needed to use this wonderful species in my breeding program. Brieger’s Laelia was first described by Blumenschein in 1960 and placed in the Subgenus Parviflorae, Section Parviflorae. Recently, Francisco Miranda placed the entire Subgenus Parviflorae into the Genus Hoffmannseggella based on morphological differences. DNA evidence will show this to be the proper move. Brieger’s Laelia is one of the easiest members of this Genus to grow and flower and it is one of the warmer growers. In Brazil, it is found in the state of Minas Gerais southeast of Diamantina at 800 to 1100 meters elevation. Most of the plants in situ are tetraploid; however a few diploid plants occur with smaller, less showy flowers. The Tetraploid plants have 80 chromosomes, and breed well with the Cattleya alliance.
The rupicolous or rock growing Laelias long have been considered difficult to grow, and Hof. briegeri is no exception. This reputation has been earned with many an experienced grower lamenting the problems they have experienced with this group. To understand how they grow in situ has been part of the problem. Growers give these plants far too much light, like they receive in the wild, and this tends to burn them up. The only thing that seems to carry over from the plants natural growing conditions is their need to dry out between watering, so the modern practice is to plant them in small stones about the size of a pea, although some people are successful in bark mixes as well as sphagnum. We like to pot ours in clay pots to insure that they dry well between watering. We back off on the water in the fall and winter and get a far better flowering in the spring, which makes it even more desireable in breeding. In the Northern Hemisphere, Hof. briegeri flowers in May thru June. Even though the plants grow with warm days and cool at night, they will still grow and flower well in warm climates such as South Florida.
Knowing that the showy plants have all been tetraploid, we have been careful only to cross Hof. briegeri with tetraploid parents to avoid sterility for future breeding. The first hybrid we made was Sl. Pole Star a cross of Sophronitis coccinea and Laelia briegeri (Hoffmannseggella). The Sophronitis was tetraploid, so that we could breed on. We were looking for the strengths of both parents to show in the progeny. From the Hof. briegeri we wanted to impart the tendency for close upright growth, a stronger inflorescence, better flower count , warmth tolerance and strong lip color. From the Sophronitis coccinea, we hoped to get showy, fuller flowers with diamond dust texture, multiple blooms per year, faster and more vigorous growth, and multiple leads allowing showier plants more quickly. The hybrid has given us seedlings that have been vigorous, warmth tolerant, easier to grow than both parents and very floriferous. The only trait that didn’t come through for us was the fuller, rounder flowers for which we had hoped. The shape was halfway between the starry shape of the Hoffmannsegella briegeri and the Sophronitis coccinea, with its full round shape.
We have made over twenty crosses with Sl. Pole Star to date and have been very pleased with it as a parent. The progeny grow quickly and uniformly in flask as well as when they are removed. The Hoffmannseggella briegeri imparts close upright growth with flowers held well above the foliage, while the Sophronitis coccinea gives vigorous compact growth with full-round flowers. A perfect example of this is found in Slc. Sierra Gem, a cross of Sl. Pole Star with Slc. Hazel Boyd; a plant with vigorous upright growth, flowers held above the foliage, and rounder form. In short, we achieved a plant that was easier to grow than the Hazel Boyd, with more compact, upright growth that was clean and flowers of the same bright sunset tones that were only slightly smaller. When using Sl. Pole Star in breeding with splash-petal parents, we achieve vivid flaring and flatter flowers.
Two hybrids that have been used extensively worldwide are Blc. Love Sound and Lc. Tokyo Magic. Both have been used in a similar way to the way we have used Sl. Pole Star, but the progeny are not as consistent and the growth is not as even. The interesting thing about Lc. Tokyo Magic (C. Irene Finney x L. briegeri), is that a standard lavender Cattleya crossed to the bright yellow briegeri resulted in semi-alba progeny. With this knowledge in hand, many breeders have used this trait to intensify splash petal patterns in the petals. This is accomplished because the briegeri has a tendency to wipe out the color of the petals while intensifying the lip color, which is expressed in the petals.
We have found that in breeding, primary hybrids are strong and consistent parents as evidenced by Sl. Pole Star. We have made two other primary hybrids with Hoffmannseggella briegeri, one with Cattleya walkeriana and one with C. harrisoniana. We have flowered several of the progeny with C. walkeriana and many have been semi-alba with diamond dust texture long-lasting flowers. We have great hope for this as a future parent for semi-alba splash petal and lavender breeding and we know that the walkeriana background will give long-lasting flowers of good size and shape. We look forward to what the future will bring.

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