Summing Up:
Origin of H. 'Sum and Substance'

Warren I. Pollock, Glen Mills, PA

A lot has occurred in the last few years concerning both the possible parentage and possible originator of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’, the iconic classic cultivar, registered by the late Paul Aden in 1980, that’s on the short list of most popular hostas.  In my discussion here, I’ve drawn on an excellent essay by Bob Solberg, Franklinton, NC, in the March 2013 “The Green Hill Gossip,” his nursery’s newspaper-type catalog; a scientific paper titled “Sports and Hybrids of Triploid H. ‘Sum and Substance’ reveal chromosome losses and gains in all three apical layers” that Dr. Ben J.M. Zonneveld (Leiden, the Netherlands) and I published in Plant Systemics and Evolution (2012) 298:1037-1043; an article by Bill Meyer in the 2011 edition of The Online Hosta Journal; and information obtained by the AHS Cultivar Origination Commission, some of which is included in its report in the 2012 edition of The Online Hosta Journal and reprinted in the Registrations 2012 issue of The Hosta Journal (Vol. 44, No. R, p. 5). Also, I’ve extensively drawn on edifying e-mail correspondence with Dr. Kevin C. Vaughn, now living in Salem, Oregon.

That said, I want to emphasize up front that your comments are solicited. They are most welcome and appreciated, and might stimulate a future article. Certainly, what’s presented here is not the last word on this vexing and complex subject.
A description of ‘Sum and Substance’, commonly shortened to S&S, may be helpful. Its leaves are huge, often larger than 20 inches long by 18 inches wide, with heavy substance. Foliage is oblong-ovate, somewhat dome-shaped, shiny to waxy above, with slight-to-moderate corrugations. Leaf color is light green in early spring becoming chartreuse to medium gold, depending on light level, later in the season. Mature mound size can be immense, greater than three feet high and five to six feet across. Leaf thickness is about 0.0125 inches (0.32 mm), according to measurements by Donald A. Rawson, Comstock Park, Michigan.

S&S is triploid (L1-L2-L3 = 3-3-3), indicated by flow cytometric measurement. That is, it has 90 chromosomes. Most hostas are diploids (2-2-2) having 60 chromosomes. Tetraploid (4-4-4) hostas have 120 chromosomes and are usually noted for having thick leaf substance.

To my knowledge, S&S has always been considered a seedling (hybrid), never a sport. Being triploid, a critical question then is: What might be S&S’s pod and pollen parents that result in a triploid hybrid?

A triploid can occur from crossing a diploid with a tetraploid: half the number of diploid chromosomes = 30 and half the number of tetraploid chromosomes = 60. The result is 30 + 60 = 90 chromosomes.

The problem with diploid × tetraploid for S&S’s origin, however, is that the only tetraploid seemingly available in the 1970s (when S&S likely originated) was H. ventricosa. However this species has always been considered an improbable parent.

Dr. Zonneveld proposed an intriguing explanation: 

Both parents are diploids, but one produced a nonreduced  gamete (sex cell). 

That is, its number of chromosomes did not divide in half during meiosis. Instead, it contributed its entire 60 chromosomes in fertilization. Thus, the 60 chromosomes of the nonreduced gamete, plus the 30 chromosomes from the other partner equals 90 chromosomes, and the hybrid would be triploid.

This parentage was suggested in an article, “Origin of H. ‘Sum and Substance’,” that he and I authored in the 2011 edition of The Online Hosta Journal. We also suggested that S&S is a hybrid from a yellow sport of H. sieboldiana (aka H. ‘Sieboldiana’) × H. montana f. macrophylla. Both of these parents are diploids and were available in the 70s.

This origination was intended to “test the water” before being incorporated in our S&S paper in a research journal the following year. We were seeking comments and discussions, from hosta aficionados before peer review by the scientific community. Not unexpectedly, considerable interest was generated with widely varying opinions. Most responded by e-mail. Bill Meyer in Woodbury, CT, after a lengthy phone conversation, composed a comprehensive commentary, “The Mysterious Background of ‘Sum and Substance’,” for the 2011 Online Hosta Journal. While this year, Bob Solberg, as mentioned, printed a discussion in his nursery’s publication.

Especially noteworthy is that there were no negatives concerning the nonreduced-gamete hypothesis; seemingly, it was fully accepted.
In contrast, our choices for pod and pollen parents were strongly challenged. Bill Meyer, Belgium’s Hugo Philips and Danny Van Eechaute, Bob Solberg and other hosta connoisseurs singled in on H. nigrescens ‘Elatior’ likely being the pod parent of ‘Sum and Substance’. Repeatedly mentioned was that Mark Zilis in his spiral-bound The Hosta Book (Rochelle, Illinois: Q & Z Nursery, 2000), page 443, observed that “S&S shows ‘Elatior’ traits.”

Keep in mind that ‘Elatior’ has shiny, light green leaves. So, if it were the pod parent, S&S’s yellowish leaf color needs explanation. (As an aside, although ‘Elatior’ is usually listed as a sport of H. nigrescens, it probably is a hybrid of this species.)

For the pollen parent, however, there was considerable diversity. Several thought H. hypoleuca (Urajiro Giboshi, the White-Backed Hosta) was the likely candidate, apparently based on Mark Zilis’s observing also, that “S&S shows trait of H. hypoleuca.  Also mentioned was “a H. montana type.” Interestingly, only one respondent speculated “a H. ‘Tokudama’-type with yellow leaves,” which would account for S&S’s leaf color.

The consensus was “a yellow sport of H. sieboldiana,” specifically a yellow-leaved sport of H. ‘Frances Williams’, such as H. ‘Golden Sunburst’. This parent also would account for S&S’s foliage color.

So in our 2012 Plant Systemics and Evolution scientific paper, Dr. Zonneveld and I stated: 

A possible origin of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ is a seedling of Hosta ‘Elatior’ (as a nonreduced gamete) and a yellow sport of Hosta sieboldiana. 

Recent information, however, indicates the pollen parent is incorrect.

After submitting the manuscript for publication, the investigation of the AHS Cultivar Origination Commission became available concerning the late Mrs. Florence M. Shaw of Weston, Mass., an AHS Life Member and an early and proficient hosta hybridizer, who died on June 30, 1975 at the age of 69. 

Kevin Vaughn informed the commission that he had visited the Shaw garden several times from 1969-1973 and observed that it was full of seedlings. “Florence Shaw,” Vaughn reported, “had some of the first plants of ‘Elatior’ available in the States and made liberal use of it as parent. She made crosses with it and H. ‘Bengee’ (J. Harrison - 2000), a gold-leaved seedling of H. ‘Tokudama’ (probably H. ‘Tokudama Aureonebulosa’) and had huge gold, blue, and green seedlings. Mrs. Shaw and I corresponded as to why the progeny was so much bigger than either parent.”

Vaughn emphasized, “It would have been impossible for Aden to have gotten ‘Elatior’ and made the range of these hybrids. Mrs. Shaw’s seedlings were huge; they were not created overnight. You don’t buy plants, create hybrids, and have them ready to register and distribute in a short time. Paul Aden was not even an AHS member in 1970!”

At the time, ‘Bengee’ was fairly rare and considered a special premium hosta for breeding. “Paul Aden had no access to ‘Bengee’, as that plant was only given to a handful of friends of Professor Jamison Harrison,” Vaughn contended. (Note: A companion item on H. ‘Bengee’ is slated for a “What’s in a Hosta Name? Part LVIII” column in the Spring 2014 issue of The Hosta Journal [Vol. 45, No. 1].) 

“I saw plants in Florence Shaw’s garden that were identical to the plants later registered by Paul Aden, ‘Sum and Substance’ being one,” Vaughn recalled. “Foliage was not as yellow as usually seen with S&S because it was grown in very dense shade. It was more chartreuse than gold.” Now known is that S&S is a sun lover; just make sure it gets plenty of water.

In fall 1974 and spring 1975, Paul Aden took plants from Florence Shaw’s garden, and later named, registered, and introduced them as his own hybrids. The AHS Cultivar Origination Commission concluded that ‘Sum and Substance’ was one of them and recommended to the International Registrar for the Genus Hosta that Florence M. Shaw be credited as its originator. This was accepted, and we’ll now be seeing

 H. ‘Sum and Substance’ (F. Shaw - 1980)

in AHS publications, reference books, and nursery catalogs. Case in point: Walters Gardens’ Summer 2013-Spring 2014 Wholesale Catalog cites (Shaw) in the description of ‘Sum and Substance’; previous catalogs cited (Aden).

Note that Paul Aden’s registration date for S&S of 1980 remains. No doubt some people will incorrectly assume Florence Shaw registered this cultivar in that year. Perhaps more explanatory and educational commentary by the Hosta Registrar or the AHS Nomenclature Committee would be helpful. 

In the registration of S&S, Paul Aden remains Registrant. In addition, he is Nominant and Introducer. At this writing, I do not know how ONIR will be handled in the official online AHS Hosta Registry, in particular whether the year (2012 or maybe 2013), when the registration was amended to include F. Shaw as Originator, will be included.

In summing up, Bob Solberg in his essay asked, “Could H. ‘Bengee’ be the yellow parent of H. ‘Sum and Substance’?” The answer is yes. 

I definitely got ‘Tokudama’ types out of S&S,” Kevin Vaughn pointed out, “which fits with Florence Shaw’s cross of H. nigrescens ‘Elatior’ × H. ‘Bengee’.” S&S’s leaf coloring comes from ‘Bengee’.

Had Dr. Zonneveld and I waited a year or so before submitting our Plant Systemics and Evolution paper for publication, we surely would have written:

H. 'Bengee'
The likely origin of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ is a seedling of H. ‘Elatior’ (as a nonreduced gamete) and H. ‘Bengee’, a golden-leaved H. ‘Tokudama’ type.

Though the amended registration for ‘Sum and Substance’ in the official online AHS Registry will cite Florence Shaw as originator, do not expect any specific parentage, e.g., ‘Elatior’ and ‘Bengee’, to be included. Likely, it will just say “Selected seedling” or continue to say “Parentage unknown.”

(Addendum: An item titled “Thoughts on Crediting Kevin Vaughn and Florence Shaw as Originators of Some of Paul Aden’s Registrations – 1” is slated for a “Reflections: 2013” column in the Spring 2014 issue of The Hosta Journal [Vol. 45, No. 1].)

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