Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Black Flower Hybridization

Hybridizers literally have been working for centuries to develop black varieties of common and popular flowers.

In 1850, the public became excited about the search because of the novel "Black Tulip" by French author Alexander Dumas, who also gave us "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Three Musketeers." Although the book was published in France, its popularity spread to English issues, and hybridizers redoubled their efforts.

The problem is because of the way we perceive colors; no truly black variety of a flower is likely to be developed.

Frans Roozen, the technical director of the International Flower Bulb Center in Hillegom, the Netherlands, tells us: "To be truly black, the color would have to be absolutely devoid of any hues or overtones of other colors. In nature this only happens with death. No living leaf or flower is truly black."

In a sort of never-say-never attitude, hybridizers have persisted. The catalogs this spring have listings for a variety of plants that are nearly black and, if planted with some contrasting plants, probably would appear black to the viewer.

Breck's (bulbs direct from Holland) offers 'Black Stockings,' a new reblooming day-lily; 'Black Knight' canna, which has smoky foliage with bright red blooms; or 'Landini Lily,' a nearly black Asiatic lily.

Select Seeds sells a new dark chocolate plant called 'Black Varnish.' If you want a small flower, they have a viola, 'Bowles Black.' Also available is a variety of baby-blue eyes called 'Penny Black,' which has a white scalloped edging.

White Flower Farm offers 'Black Magic' coleus, an ornamental sweet potato, 'Blackie,' and a deep Siberian iris called 'Black- Flowered.'