By Steve Drozda
(Written for publication in the Slipper Orchid Alliance Newsletter)
The last time that a First Class Certificate (FCC) was awarded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was way back in 1973. That award went to Vuylstekeara Cambria ‘Plush’. In March 2004, lightning struck twice as the acclaim was bestowed upon two orchids, Paph. Winwine ‘Dark Spell’ and Paph. Macabre ‘Dark Dominion’. Both were Paphiopedilums exhibited by Hadley Cash of Marriott Orchids. In addition to the two FCCs, Marriott Orchids gathered seven other AOS awards at the show. These were the first FCCs that Cash had won for his Paphs.
Marriott Orchids is located in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, nestled between Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Hadley Cash, who is the affable proprietor of Marriott Orchids, smiled broadly when asked about how he chose the name for his orchid enterprise. He insisted that he had no relationship with hotels that share the name. The name “Marriott” was his mother’s maiden name. Since there were no surviving male heirs to carry on that family name, Cash decided that a nice way honor the name was to use it for his business venture. Unfortunately, a problem with the name is the all too frequent telephone calls for room reservations. It seems that directory assistance occasionally gives his phone number to those inquiring about the hotel.
Cash is a familiar person at many of the orchid events the eastern United States. After twelve years as a graphic artist, he entered the orchid business full-time in about 1999. Before that, orchids were his hobby- he acquired his first orchid about twenty years ago. His early interest in Paphiopedilums, particularly “complex Paphs”, is an interesting tale.
Before he made his first cross in 1985, Cash found it difficult to locate quality plants that could be used to begin his complex paph-breeding program. At that time, vinicolor Paphs were just arriving on the orchid scene, and they were extremely popular with the orchid-buying public. A few years after the vini’s became all the rage, two other events caused a shift in the orchid buyers’ tastes and spending habits. The introduction of the Chinese parvisepalums; Paph. armeniacum and Paph. malipoense to name two, began to compete with the vinicolor and complex Paphs for bench space in greenhouses. The complex Paphs began to wane in popularity even further. A new treaty was also signed and the impact of CITES began to be felt by slipper orchid enthusiasts worldwide. At that point, there was a sudden rise in the demand for anything species-related.
When his breeding program was just beginning, Cash found that most of the other commercial growers around the country were tailoring their breeding to meet the demand for vinicolors, species and primary crosses. At that point, Hadley Cash chose to go in a different direction. His fondness of the complex Paphs, coupled with their relative scarcity moved him to make them the focus of his breeding program.
After dabbling in hybridizing for a year or two, Cash decided that he could grow his efforts into a successful side business or even a full-time activity. He began to seek higher quality plants for use in hybridizing. To locate high quality stud plants, Cash bought twenty years of back issues of the Awards Quarterly. He scoured them, issue-by-issue, award-by-award, marking any of those awarded Paphs that would be valuable in his hybridizing program. Then he began his phone calls. Cash used the information provided in the award description to locate the owners of the coveted Paphs.
At first, Cash said that he was embarrassed to call those orchid people. “Here’s Hadley Cash, who’s barely got his feet wet in orchids, especially slippers, calling people who are getting AOS awards, and they’re probably wondering why this guy, who they’ve never heard of, is calling and trying to get a piece of their plant?” Fortunately, as is generally the case in the orchid world, the vast majority of the people that Cash contacted were kind and generous in sharing information, knowledge and encouragement. More often than not, Cash was able to acquire the plants that he was seeking.
Cash registered the Paph. Winwine (Winston Churchill x Joanne’s Wine) in 1993. It was one of his early crosses, made in about 1985, when he was just starting out in vinicolor breeding. Paph. Winston Churchill, he knew, was highly respected as a parent for complex paph breeding. Meanwhile, Paph. Joanne’s Wine was one of the finest vinicolors that he had ever bloomed. The first time that the cross was made, the Winston Churchill selected as the pod parent was only a one and one-half growth plant. The yield from the cross was only a half of a flask, that is, about a dozen seedlings. The cross was remade the next year, using the same, albeit, more mature parents and the cross yielded about sixteen flasks! The experience showed the difference in germination that results from using a pod parent that is a strong and vigorous versus a relatively weak, immature plant. Now Cash will not use a first-bloom seedling as a pod parent, no matter how phenomenal the flower.
When the Paph. Winwine cross was made, Cash was not selling flasks. He shared a greenhouse and his bench space was limited. After six months of growing all of the Winwine seedlings, those seedlings that did not show the dark red-purple pigmentation at their base were discarded. After the culling, only one-quarter of the original Winwine seedling population remained. Cash justified his decision with the observation that when making a complex-vini cross like Winwine, the goals are the glowing, dark color with nice complex form. The seedlings without the visible pigment could not reach those goals.
Looking to the continuation of his hybridizing, Cash noted that Winwine ‘Dark Spell’ clone has been used in a cross with a particularly nice Paph. bellatulum. The cross has resulted in one flask of seedlings. The purpose of the cross is to round out the flower’s form. The cross will likely shorten the inflorescence as well as reduce the size of the flower, but when bellatulum is crossed to highly colored things, the tendency is to intensify the color even more. It is uncertain if the color of ‘Dark Spell’ could be intensified, but wider petals and a rounder form, even with a smaller flower would be a really great thing, Cash believes.
The problem with the Winwines is that they are probably all triploids. According to Cash, Paph. Winston Churchill is believed to be a tetraploid, and the Paph. Joanne’s Wine was a diploid. Therefore, he could safely assume that the Winwines are all triploid. To illustrate this further, Cash noted that the Winwines have never been successful as a pollen parent, only as a reluctant pod parent. That’s a typical trait of a triploid parent.
A challenge to hybridizers, like Hadley Cash, is the occasional dead-ends that can be faced. “Sometimes, you find a plant that is only a reluctant breeder and only produces a portion of a flask, maybe eight or ten seedlings.” Sometimes, though, those next generation seedlings may actually be quite fertile. To illustrate, Cash crossed Paph. Miller’s Daughter (Chantal x Dusty Miller) with Paph. Skip Bartlett (godefroyae x F C Puddle). The cross yielded only one flask of seedlings. Paph. Skip Bartlett was the greatest breeder from the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s. While Paph. Miller’s Daughter was the best formed pink/white paph anywhere in the world. With the cross of the two, Cash hopes to create an exceptional pink/white seedling that has exceptional form and will hopefully be very fertile.
With all of the discussion of complex paph hybridizing, it is easy to loose track of the timing involved in the process. Hadley Cash waits from seven to nine months from pollination to pod harvest. Once the seeds are flasked, the waiting time is about eighteen months. Once planted, the first few seedlings begin to bloom four and a half years with the average plants blooming at around five to five and a half years. Adding it all up, from pollination to flowering takes about seven years.
As the breeding program at Marriott Orchids continues to progress, there will be something other than buyers’ tastes, fashions, and current award winners that will point the directions to be taken. Cash feels that while meeting a demand in the orchid market place is necessary, his motivation will be new looks in his complex Paph seedlings. He stated, “While size is an important factor in judging Paphs, I find that the fore front of what I’m trying to create is new and different looks.” He continued, “When I see things that pop up in my offspring that have unique qualities, even though they may not have award quality form, I then often try to move in that direction in order to create a population that has that rare characteristic of either color or markings.”
Initially, his mainstay was pink/white crosses, and these have given the most success so far. However, over the past several years, he has made a lot more crosses with complex greens, golds, reds and reds with spotted dorsal sepals. Over the next several years, Cash anticipates that the white/pink complex Paphs will be more in balance with the other color forms.
While tastes of slipper orchid growers will continue to change, the factors that will be influencing that change will include the imagination and creativity of Hadley Cash. When those “new looks” begin to appear on sales tables and in judging centers around the world, that will be Hadley’s way