In 2006 I purchased a packet of Ferry Morse Giant State Fair Zinnias to plant in the yard to attract butterflies. They accomplished that task admirably and caught my interest by their diversity of colors. I was particularly attracted to a salmon colored flower with a blue-violet color on the petals near the center. I saved seed that fall from several of the flowers to grow again in following years.
It was 2009 before I grew them again and was very pleased with the various colors revealed. Even though the colors were superb, the flower form was rather boring actually. About this same time I became interested in the potential and mechanics of hybridizing zinnias. The Giant State Fair zinnias are tetraploid so the challenges and opportunities are magnified. Tetraploid genetics offer greater recombination possibilities, but because of this, also create complex challenges in developing true breeding strains.
This year I wanted to find tetraploid zinnias with flower forms different from the Giant State Fair descendents I’ve grown.. The only option I found was in the Burpee Big Tetra strain. I planted a row along side the grow out of seed saved last year from the Giant State Fairs, hoping to have new sources of pollen. I have not been disappointed. I’ve created a gallery showing each of the flowers in the row.
My side garden, which once was filled with Japanese Morning Glories this time of the year, is filled with zinnias. I was so impressed with the color variation in the tetraploid State Fair descendents grown last year, that I committed a significant part of my garden this year to grow more. My intent this year also is to search for other flower forms to add to my tetraploid gene pool. One row is dedicated to growing Burpee Big Tetras with this in mind. So far I am very pleased with the variety I’m seeing. Here are a few examples:
This year I have planted more zinnias than in previous years. I saved seed from selected plants and will grow many of these out to reveal their qualities. My plants last year were from seed I had saved many years prior and were of the tetraploid variety “State Fair”. I was surprised with the bi-color pattern to many of them and the wide variety of subtle colors revealed. This year’s planting should expand upon that.
The seed I planted last year was originally from three individually saved flowers and planted in separate rows. Seed from one of these lines germinated with several plants showing yellow cotelydons. The zinnias emerging this year from that line are also showing this characteristic. These young plants start out vigorously, but fail to develop true leaves due to their inability to carry out photosynthesis. Here is what they look like:
Zinnia cotelydons of "State Fair" heritage
I am growing Zinnia plants from seed saved from 3 separate State Fair flower heads in 2006. I have been so impressed with the spectrum of colors I am seeing that it has motivated me to learn more about tetraploid Zinnia violacea (elegans). It seems that there are very few tetraploid strains commercially available at this time. One of the first tetraploid Z. violacea was developed by Mr Gordon Morrison of the Ferry Morse Seed Company and reported in the literature in 1938. This led to the release of the State Fair Giants strain in the 1950’s by Ferry Morse. It is still available today. I also found mention in the literature of a tetraploid “cultivar” called Jungle. The only other commercially available tetrapolid Z. violacea that I have been able to find is the Burpee Big Tetra Mix. Both are described as “Dahlia flowered” strains and would seem to be somewhat limited in variability of other flower types . Because of the huge potential of the tetraploid genetics, I am motivated to see if one can develop the other zinnia flower forms from this genepool.
The predominant petal form found in these growouts is somewhat cupped upward and can be described as spoon like. The traditional dahlia flower is made up of petals of this configuration. I’ve been searching for deviations from this and have found a few that may have possibilities.
This first is a small white flower that has the petal tips tightly curled under into a roll. I’m not sure how this exagerated form will look in a double flower, but I do know that it needs longer petals to give it some room.
The other petal form I’ve found in these plants is what I would call the foundation for the cactus type flower. These petals are rolled under on their lognitudinal axis with downward curled tips. I have two flowers found in the descendants of one seed lot that have this character. The first is a semi-double purple flower that has a more formal form.
The second flower is less formal looking and has more tightly rolled and downward sloping petals. It is a bicolor of bright coral/salmon with a violet base. The violet does not show up well in the photo and looks like a light pink.
All of these selections should give something to work with. They are all quite small, though there are a few 4 inch flowers as siblings. Since I’ve started down this path, I’ve ordered seed for the Big Tetra mix as well. Perhaps other variations will be discovered.
I have shared previously that I’m growing zinnias seriously for the first time this year. In 2006 I grew some zinnias as butterfly attractors. I did not dead head the plants and as I cleaned up in the late summer I clipped off the flower heads and put them in paper bags. I knew there had to be seed in there somewhere! As I separated the seed a month or two later, I saved each flower’s seed separately thinking I may want to explore the consistency / variability from an individual flower’s seed. If there was any color left on the petals I noted it. I also noted whether the flower was double, semi-double or single.
This year I am growing a couple of the seed lots. I am very much attracted to the various colors I am seeing in the siblings of one lot in particular. This lot was from the tetraploid Zinnia violacea State Fair Giants, labeled “482 purple semi-double” and is producing a very nice pallette of colors in what I call a violet cranberry series. The flower form is not spectacular but the colors tends to initially make up for the lack of form. I would love to improve and standardize the form and maintain the color series…..
This is one of the newly opened singles with especially nice color. I’ve created a gallery to show the spectrum of color I am finding.