Warren's column covers a wide range of topics of interest to hosta afficianados.  

This and That: 2010

(For some 20 years “This and That” was a regular column in the Fall/Convention (No. 3) issue of The Hosta Journal. It now will be featured in the online publication. T&T is a collection of items that came to my attention during the year, sometimes before. I’m always seeking additional information, especially anecdotal; please contact me at giboshiwip@aol.com)
On Mark R. Zilis’ Tissue-Culture Propagation of Hostas –
First at Walters Gardens; Then T & Z Nursery, Winfield, Illinois; 
Now Q & Z Nursery, Rochelle, Illinois
   Over the years, Mark R. Zilis, author of the outstanding reference tome, The Hostapedia (Rochelle, Illinois: Q & Z Nursery: 2010), has supplied me with considerable background on the early history of tissue-culture (TC) propagation of hostas. Since I’m not aware of most of this information being widely available before, I’m sharing it here.
   Mark attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His Master’s thesis was on TC propagation of viburnums and witchhazels. In September 1977, after finishing his graduate work, he was employed by Walters Gardens, Inc. in Zeeland, Michigan, the largest wholesaler of perennials in the U.S.
   Mark worked in the TC lab. “Did you establish the TC lab at Walters Gardens?” I asked him. “Was it the first TC lab to propagate hostas?”
   “Cunningham Gardens in Waldron, Indiana,” he answered, “had a small lab, producing a couple of hostas such as ‘Decorata’ and H. plantaginea, but nothing else that I can remember. Walters Gardens built its lab in 1977 with the encouragement of Prof. Ken Sink of Michigan State University. They hired a local woman, who attended a short course on tissue culture, to work in the lab a few months before I arrived. She left Walters in early 1978."

   Mark started working at Walters on plants that were in short supply or had disease problems. “Walters had been having problems with foliar nematodes in creeping phlox and needed clean stock. Other plants with disease problems included asters, chrysanthemums and baby’s-breath,” he said. “Based on my work with them, I developed culture techniques for dozens (not sure of the exact number) of other herbaceous perennials before Walters came to me later  in 1978 with the idea of trying hostas in the lab. They were so different from anything else that I had done, since the meristematic tissue was located in the crown of the plant.”
   Mark’s major professor at the University of Illinois, Martin M. Meyer, Jr., had worked with hostas in tissue culture (as well as daylilies, irises and peonies), but his method involved using flower bud tissue and callus formation. Meyer’s paper, “In Vitro Propagation of Hosta sieboldiana,” was published in HortScience (Vol. 15[6], December 1980, p. 737) and reprinted in the 1982 issue of The American Hosta Society Bulletin (Vol. 13, p. 35).  
   (The AHS Bulletin was a yearly publication from 1968 through 1985. It then became The Hosta Journal, and published twice yearly.  Its first issue, Volume 17, Number 1, was in Spring 1986.)
   Through a literature search, Mark Zilis also found that Mark Cunningham of Cunningham Gardens had published a paper, through the proceedings of the International Plant Propagator’s Society, describing a bit about hosta tissue culture.
   “So I visited Cunningham’s lab and asked for his advice on how to tackle the problem of establishing explants of hostas,” Mark recalls. “I can remember him telling me to ‘wash, wash, wash’ the tissue after it was extracted from the crown.
   “It took me about six months to refine the hosta explant technique, but eventually we had clean, multiplying cultures of hostas. At the time, we worked with what Walters Gardens had to offer, i.e., ‘Fortunei Aureomarginata’, ‘Undulata Albomarginata’, H. subcordata grandiflora alba (= H. plantaginea), etc. We found a few growing-media types that worked well with hostas and [discovered] how to root them.”

   The biggest challenge was getting them to survive in the greenhouse, Mark explains. “Walters Gardens was not set up to grow young, tissue-culture transplants of anything, so there was a high death rate. Eventually, we got around that problem by farming out the transplanting process to a few employees who had growing facilities.
   “After all the work we put into the process and finally succeeding, Dennis and John Walters became concerned with the cost per plant. They were used to selling field divisions of hostas for less than $1.00 and could see that the tissue-cultured plants cost a lot more than that. The solution was to work with newer cultivars.”
   John Walters, now Walters Gardens’ president, and Mark visited Larry Englerth of Englerth Gardens in Hopkins, Michigan. “Larry helped us select such ‘new’ hostas as [Paul Aden’s] ‘Gold Regal’, ‘Gold Drop’ and ‘Gold Edger’. Others were ‘Honeybells’, ‘Royal Standard’, H. ventricosa ‘Aureomaculata’, ‘Elegans’, ‘Francee’ and ‘Green Gold’. We debated the merits of the latter two, finally selecting ‘Francee’ as the white-edged hosta on which to focus our efforts.” Walters Gardens also purchased all of Pauline Banyai’s ‘Gold Standard’ and began propagating them in 1980.
   “Keep in mind that all of the tissue-cultured hostas were eventually planted in Walters Gardens’ growing fields. At the time, it did not sell hostas in containers. The tissue-culture transplants would be planted in the field and grown for two years before they would be divided and sold as field divisions.”

H. montana 'Aureomarginata'

   During his time at Walters Gardens, Mark continued to innovate. “In 1980, I started experimenting with colchicine on hostas in liquid culture to induce tetraploidy. H. ‘Royal Standard’ was my guinea pig for that testing. There is a good possibility that ‘Royal Super’ [registered by Walters Gardens in 2000] was the result of that experimentation.”
   By the time Mark departed Walters Gardens in March of 1981, the lab had over 30 hostas in TC propagation. “I left the lab in good hands, as I had hired Clarence H. [“C.H.”] Falstad, III, a year earlier, in June, as my assistant,” Mark said.
   “How did you become so captivated with hostas?” I asked Mark.
   “During my visits to Larry Englerth’s collection,” he said in an e-mail, “I was amazed at the diversity in foliage color and plant size in the genus Hosta. I continually kept this in mind in my work with hosta tissue culture at Walters Gardens.”
   Mark was invited to speak at the 1980 AHS National Convention in Minnesota. His presentation, “Tissue Culture Propagation of Hosta,” was published in the 1981 AHS Bulletin (Vol. 12, p. 19). “During that convention I became enthralled with the hostas in the [tour] gardens we visited. I distinctly remember seeing ‘Krossa Regal’ in full bloom...five-foot scapes....wow!!
   “But the plant that made me want to grow hostas in my own backyard was Ken Anderson’s specimen of H. montana ‘Aureomarginata’,” Mark continued. “His plant was perfectly placed in the middle of one of his growing beds. I also left that convention feeling that the world of hostas was on the verge of an explosion in popularity.”
   (Kenneth A. Anderson of Country Lane Nursery in Farwell, Minnesota, passed away in October 2009. A tribute by Minnesota’s Don Dean is in the Fall/Convention 2009 issue of The Hosta Journal [Vol. 40, No. 3, p. 81].)
   “In 1981 I made the difficult decision to leave Walters Gardens,” Mark said, “and open a new business [T & Z Nursery] in the Chicago suburbs [Winfield, Illinois] with a friend from college, Dave Tyznik. We decided that hostas would be a prime focus of our garden center and wholesale landscape business. At first, our tissue-culture lab only supplied our nursery with product, but by 1984 we decided to start selling ‘liners’ to the rapidly expanding hosta business. The quantities were actually fairly small at the time and continued to be so until I split off the tissue culture lab as a separate business in 1992 and started Q & Z Nursery, Inc. Initially the lab comprised the original lab at T & Z Nursery. In 1996-1997 I moved Q & Z Nursery to Rochelle, Illinois.”
   Q & Z Nursery is a family business. Mark is president; his brother-in-law, Rick Vanous, is general manager; Mark’s sister, Mary Beth Vanous, is involved with sales; and Mark’s son, Andy, joined a year or so ago after graduating from college. If you wondered about the Q in Q & Z, Mark’s wife’s name is Katie Queller-Zilis.

  H. ‘American Hero’PPAF Helps Support GreenCare for Troops

     H. ‘American Hero’PPAF (Walters Gardens - 2009) is a sport of ‘Revolution’ (G. van Eijk-Bos & Walters Gardens - 2000) with wider, dark green margin and a creamy white-to-pure white center speckled with green, often called “grass clippings.” The registration says ‘American Hero’ is a sport of ‘Loyalist’; it should be ‘Revolution’.
   The lineage of ‘Revolution’ is interesting. It started with the classic ‘Francee’ (M. Klopping - 1986), which has green leaves with a thin whitish margin, being exposed inadvertently to a pre-emergent herbicide. H. ‘Francee’ is a diploid, that is, it has one set of chromosomes. The chemical apparently caused doubling of the chromosomes, resulting in ‘Patriot’ (J. Machen Jr. - 1991), which is tetraploid. H. ‘Patriot’ has thick dark green leaves with distinctive wide, crisp white jetting margin. These are characteristics of polyploidy.
     H. ‘American Hero’PPAF (Walters Gardens - 2009) 
   In tissue-culture (TC) propagating ‘Patriot’, ‘Loyalist’ (Walters Gardens/G. van Eijk-Bos -1998) was found. Its leaves have the reversed variegation of ‘Patriot’: nearly pure white center with dark green margin. And in TCing ‘Loyalist’, ‘Revolution’ was found; it has the white center/green margin variegation of leaves of ‘Loyalist’ but with green speckles in the white tissue. H. ‘American Hero’ is a selection from TCing ‘Revolution’, having a narrow, speckled white center.
   Lineage is: ‘Francee’  >  ‘Patriot’  >  ‘Loyalist’  >  ‘Revolution’  >  ‘American Hero’.
   There are other members of this family. H. ‘Minuteman’ (J. Machen Jr. - 1994) also resulted from exposure of ‘Francee’ to the same pre-emergent herbicide as ‘Patriot’ at Mobjack Nurseries in Virginia. It has a darker green center color than ‘Patriot’. Some references described ‘Minuteman’ as having a whiter white margin than ‘Patriot’, but my studies of these cultivars indicate this is questionable.
   H. ‘Minuteman’ is total tetraploid, while some ‘Patriot’ plants have both tetraploid and diploid tissue, called “ploidy chimera” or “partial tetraploid chimera.” H. ‘Minuteman’ is slower growing than ‘Patriot’. 
   H. ‘Fire and Ice’ (H. Hansen - 1999) and ‘Paul Revere’ (M. Zilis - 2003) are also white-centered sports of ‘Patriot’; they are ‘Loyalist’ look-alikes. But as Peter Cross detailed in “Look-alikes: Of the four white-leaved, green-edged sports of H. ‘Patriot’, which is best?” in the Spring 2007 The Hosta Journal (Vol. 38, No. 1, p. 31), ‘Fire and Ice’ has some notably different grown characteristics than its look-alikes. It is not as good a grower, maturing to a smaller clump size. Peter also pointed out that ‘Fire and Ice’ is very susceptible to “melt out” (see page 596 in Mark Zilis’ The Hosta Handbook [Rochelle, Illinois: Q & Z Nursery, 2000]).
   In TCing ‘Revolution’, ‘Independence’PP17,044 (Walters Gardens - 2001) was found. It has the reversed leaf variegation of ‘Revolution’: dark green center with white margin having green speckles. Both ‘Revolution’ and ‘Independence’ often develop “spoilers.” That is, they develop plain green leaves. 
   I need to mention one more sport. It’s ‘Americana’ (Walters Gardens - 2006), a wide-margined sport of ‘Loyalist’. Its thick leaves have deep green margin and nearly pure white, narrow center. 
   Back to ‘American Hero’: Walters Gardens, Inc. is supporting military families across the U.S. through GreenCare for Troops. For each plant of ‘Americana’ sold, Walters Gardens, Inc. will donate $.25 to Project EverGreen, a national non-profit organization and founder of GreenCare for Troops.
   The mission of GreenCare for Troops is to provide free lawn and landscape services to US military families at home whose loved ones serve in the Armed Forces. “This is one small burden that we can bear for them during this difficult time,” says Walters Gardens, Inc. The funds raised through the sale of H. ‘Americana Hero’ will go directly towards supporting over 9,000 military families registered for the program. 
   Many readers will recall that Walters Gardens, Inc. has a similar program for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Honoring an employee who died from breast cancer – and countless others who have been touched by this disease, Walters Gardens, Inc. donates $.25 for each plant of H. ‘Remember Me’ (G. van Eijk-Bos/D. van Ervin/Walters Gardens) to a local chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
   H. ‘Remember Me’ is a sport of ‘June’ (Neo Plants - 1991). Leaves emerge yellow with a narrow, dark blue-green margin that jets towards the midrib. Center brightens to cream in summer.

'Remember Me'

S&S: Another Good Hosta Abbreviation. 
But Also Handy Designation for New Book on 
Little Hostas by Kathy Guest Shadrack and Mike Shadrack
   No sooner did the Fall/Convention 2009 issue of The Hosta Journal (Vol. 40, No. 3, p. 8), with the item titled “SiT, BME, GE, NbC and TAP: Some Handy Acronyms and Initialisms for Cultivar Names,” arrive in members’ mailboxes when I started receiving inquires why I had not included “S&S” as the abbreviation for the popular classic H. ‘Sum and Substance’ (P. Aden - 1980). Many said it was their favorite cultivar name abbreviation, pointing out they’ve been using it for years.
   My response was: I thought S&S was an obvious initialism and well known. I too have used it for years. It’s a lot easier and quicker writing S&S than ‘Sum and Substance’.
   S&S also is being used to designate the recently published The Book of Little Hostas (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2010). The authors are S&S, initialism for the authors’ surnames: Kathy Guest Shadrack and Mike Shadrack. Kathy, AHS Recording Secretary, supplied the text and Mike, AHS Vice President Publications, the photos. He also provided the photos in Diana Grenfell and his The New Encyclopedia of Hostas (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2009).
   As for pronouncing S&S, roll S&S off your tongue and I’m pretty sure you didn’t say S and S. Instead you voiced the ampersand (&) as a clipped form of and, namely ’n’. That is, you dropped both the a and the d. You pronounced S&S simply as S ’n’ S. This is what customarily is done.
The Book of Little Hostas
by Kathy Guest Shadrack 
and Michael Shadrack

Pronounced Dip-loid and Trip-loid

   This item was suggested by C.H. Falstad III (Walters Gardens, Inc. Zeeland, Michigan) in a phone conversation we had on polyploid hostas, a subject getting a lot of attention these days.
   Hostas usually are diploids, that is, they have two sets of chromosomes. Some hostas, however, are triploids and tetraploids. And others are ploidy chimeras having tissues with different ploidy, that is, with different chromosome counts.
   “Not everyone I talk to knows how to pronounce diploid and triploid correctly,” CH remarked. “Sometimes I hear DI-ploid and TRI-ploid. Both are incorrect. Though the prefixes are Greek di (meaning two) and tri (meaning three), the words are pronounced DIP-loid and TRIP-loid.” 
   On the other hand, tetraploid is TETRA-ploid and hexaploid is HEXA-ploid, he added.
   You can hear their pronunciations on www.thefreedictionary.com and www.Howjsay.com.

Ammonia Drench Mitigates Slug Problem

     Ammonia is an effective molluscicide, killing slugs and slug’s eggs intimately in contact with it. Barbara Tiffany reports she and husband “Tiff” have used this treatment in their garden, Mill Fleurs in Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania, for many years and hostas are “virtually slug free.” A key to success is applying the chemical very early in the season. 
   Here’s a protocol to follow:
  • Continually be on the look-out for slug egg masses, especially in late autumn and early spring. They are light-tan or brown, somewhat transparent 1/8-inch spheres, usually two dozen or more. Scrap them into a disposable jar with water containing ammonia or a few drops of dishwashing detergent. Alternatively, sprinkle them – and any slugs found – with table salt and trash the mess.  

  • In early springtime, thoroughly clean the garden of leaves, litter, debris, etc. This is important. Anything resting on the ground might prevent the ammonia solution from effectively affecting that spot.

  • It’s best if soil is moist before applying ammonia. Usually it is in early season. If not, water the planting areas well.

  • When divisions start poking up from the ground, completely drench the shoots and crowns, and soil extensively around them, with 10% solution of regular household ammonia in water (one part ammonia to nine parts water). Effectual also is drenching crowns and surrounding soil before shoots appear.  Barbara says an 8% solution works as well; but I need to point out that the ammonia-to-water ratio is more complex. Whether less ammonia percentages perform satisfactorily, I don’t know.

  • For small gardens, a sprinkling can be used. For large gardens, better is a garden hose with an attached container that mixes and meters full-strength ammonia with water. Also, very useful is a high-pressure sprayer with a large tank capacity. You’ll likely find you’ll need copious quantities of the solution.

  • Importantly, make sure you thoroughly wet (saturate) the leaves and crowns, and soil around them. Be generous in applying the ammonia solution. Remember, this is a contact molluscicide: its effectiveness is short lived, soon dissipated. Ammonia (NH4OH) also is a source of nitrogen fertilizer, especially helpful in early season when leaves are unfurling and actively growing.

  • Two to three weeks later, apply ammonia again. This will kill slugs and eggs missed before, plus kill baby slugs since hatched. Don’t forget this second application.
   Cleaning products containing additional ingredients should not be used as these could damage plants. Simple ammonia is preferred. Also, if you’re wondering whether ammonia might adversely affect earthworms, practical experience indicates it does not if application is less than about a 15% solution.

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