New Perspectives on Novelty Slippers

Exactly two decades ago, in 1989, a delightful book was published called Novelty Slipper Orchids. Its co-authors were Dr. Harold Koopowitz and Dr. Norito Hasegawa, then joint owners of the esteemed slipper orchid company, Paphanatics, unLimited. This book provided excellent kindling for my early interests in Paphiopedilum (Paph) and, more so, in slipper orchid hybridizing. At the time of its release, the term “novelty slipper” was generally regarded in the orchid world as applicable to almost any type of Paphiopedilum hybrid, with the exception of true “standard” or “complex” crosses. Even two distinct species, when mated together, were generally referred to as “novelty” crosses. In Koopowitz and Hasegawa’s book such crosses as Maudiae, Angela, and Colorkulii, were presented as “novelty slippers”. Today, we would refer to such crosses of two distinct species, as a “primary hybrid”. As in years past the large full-flowered hybrids, with many species in their lineage and numerous generations of breeding in their background, are still referred to as “standard” or “complex” paphs. The use of the term “novelty slipper” has now evolved its own unique meaning. Today, it is generally used to describe a cross that involves a complex paph on one side with a species, primary, or primary type hybrid on the other. Bear in mind that any modern day novelty slipper orchid is only one cross away from becoming a true complex paph again. All one has to do is cross the modern day novelty back to a complex, and voila, its a complex all over again… sort of! But, we’ll look a bit more at that concept later.
     There are a seemingly infinite number of novelty crosses that could be made, and indeed numerous ones have been done in recent years. For the purposes of this discussion, we will center our view upon the Brachypetalum influenced novelty slippers. The subgenus Brachypetalum, or Brachy, refers to a small group of plants in the genus Paphiopedilum. There are five species belonging to this Alliance: Paphiopedilum godefroyae; Paph. niveum; Paph. bellatulum; Paph. concolor; and a recently described dwarf growing species from Thailand, Paph. thaianum. All of the Brachy, and their primaries, are both relatively small growing and flowering plants, with thick and somewhat leathery leaves. Most of the crosses made in recent years between Brachy and complex slippers, have centered on the first three species mentioned in this subgenus. The flower shape and unique markings in these types of novelties are, in great part, what holds the allure in making such crosses. Most of the better quality offspring have well filled-out flowers with relatively flat form. While the flowers are almost always reduced in size from their complex counterparts, they can yield colors and patterns that heretofore have rarely been seen. Even when there is not a substantial improvement in these areas, the Brachypetalum influence can often fill out the segments of the flower much more than its complex parental side.
     Paph. godefroyae, or more specifically, P. godefroyae v. leucochilum, has many fine qualities to pass on in novelty breeding. It has a reasonably good stem for both length and stiffness. So, it holds a nicely filled out flower over, not on top of, the foliage. One of the earliest great novelty slipper crosses dates back to 1981, and is the progenitor of many of the best white complex crosses of today. Special tribute must be given to the remarkable cross Paph. Skip Bartlett, originally made by Mr. G.A. “Bert” Wright of Seattle, Washington. Its parents are P.godefroyae v. P. leucochilum x F.C. Puddle. Interestingly, the original cross, made by Mr. Wright, went relatively unnoticed until being remade by Mr. John Hanes of San Gabriel, California. Mr. Hanes, one of the patriarchs of the Paph. world, used a remarkable jungle collected P. leucochilum. It had nearly a 10cm natural spread, and also had exceptionally full petals, even by today’s judging standards. Paph. Skip Bartlett ‘White Pepper’, one of only a few offspring from this new strain, was awarded an HCC/AOS in November of 1985. This specific cultivar was not particularly full formed or remarkable in its own right, but what was hidden in its genetics was of far greater in value than its looks would belie. Its owner, Wharton Sinkler, soon passed the plant on to Terry Root of the Orchid Zone, as part of their newly formed slipper orchid partnership. The rest, as they say, is history! In Terry’s seemingly clairvoyant hands, the novelty slipper P. Skip Bartlett ‘White Pepper’ HCC/AOS went on to become one of the most prized and respected white breeders of all time. Over 400 crosses later, and passing through four generations along the way, the end to this early novelty beginning still seems nowhere in sight.
     Much more recently several other fine P. godefroyae v. leucochilum novelties have been made, among them are Paph. Lady In White and Paph. Dust Storm. Paph. Lady In White, the author’s own Marriott Orchids registered cross, is a petit but lovely P. leucochilum based novelty. The cross was registered in 1998 and is a combination of P. leucochilum with P. Lady Luck. The concept behind this cross is based in a time-honored technique which the British Paph. hybridizers of the early to mid 1900’s used. They found that if you backcross one of the parents or grandparents of a hybrid to that hybrid, you often get very fine results. In the cross P. Lady In White, for example, its parents are P. Winston Churchill x P. Skip Bartlett. If we back up one more generation, we know that P. Skip Bartlett has P. leucochilum as a parent. So the idea is to once again add P. leucochilum to the genetic pool of P. Lady Luck, and bring out the combined full shape and speckling of this Brachy species. P. Lady In White ‘First Love’ demonstrates well the P. leucochilum influence. Similarly, the novelty hybrid P. Dust Storm illustrates the dominance of speckling in its progeny. In this beautiful 2002 registered novelty, the species parent is mated to P. White Legacy. Paph. White Legacy is a novelty hybrid itself, between P. Greyi and P. Silver Anniversary. All of the concentration of Brachypetalum genetics in P. Dust Storm and P. White Legacy, produced a very high percentage of full-formed stippled white offspring. Time and again it can be seen that the higher the percentage of Brachy genetics on both sides of a novelty cross, the greater the influence on the hybrid from the species involved. One of the most recent examples of heavily Brachypetalum influenced novelty breeding is the cross Paph. Central Coast. In this novelty, once again P. godefroyae v. leucochilum is mated to another Brachy based novelty, P. Centerstage. Mr. Kevin Porter, a gentleman long respected around the world for his exceptional Paphiopedilum knowledge and hybridizing skills, created this fine novelty pairing, which was registered in 2007. The full form and lovely markings of P. Central Coast ‘Star Power’ are the direct result of its having genetics from P. leucochilum, P. niveum, and P. bellatulum on one side or the other of its parentage. It is an interesting side note of Paph. leucochilum based novelties, that they are highly influenced by the lack of spotting or marks on the pouch of this species. Its own clean labellum, or pouch, seems to transmit readily to its offspring.
     The purest white in all of the Brachypetalum Alliance is found in the species Paph. niveum. When making novelty hybrids, if one wants to whiten the background color of the flower as much as possible, there is no better parent than this pristine species. Additionally, it both has and transmits nice stem length, and bears nicely filled-out flowers. A superb early novelty cross utilizing P. niveum was the Orchid Zone’s hybrid Paph. Friendship. It was registered in 1989, but still stands among novelties today as remarkable for both its beauty and genetics. The pod parent of this mating is P. Winbell, itself a novelty of P. Winston Churchill x P. bellatulum. When combined with niveum, the heavy Brachy genetics on both sides yield a full-formed nicely speckled white. Paph. Friendship ‘Western Pride’ is a wonderful example of the extraordinary beauty of this cross. As for its genetics, P. Friendship has gone on to foster at least five other crosses that have been extraordinary in their own right: P. Celebration, P. Pixie Magic, P. Stargate, P. Snow Tiger, and P. Friendly Spirit… all from the Orchid Zone. Five years after P. Friendship, in 1994, the Orchid Zone registered another fine P. niveum hybrid. This new cross, P. Pixie Dust, resemble its species parent in almost all respects. They were uniformly white flowers with varying degrees of dusted garnet across the petals and dorsal sepal. Many of the flowers look much like a giant full-formed P. niveum, and the cross is still a favorite among many.
     More recently, there have been a number of new novelty slippers arising from P. niveum lines. In 1998, Marriott Orchids registered a mating of P. niveum with the large full-formed complex red, Paph. Amandahill. While this cross, P. Winter Song, has rich rose pink color over most of the flower, the Paph. niveum parent does an excellent job of giving a nice white background color. There is a lovely white border that rims the petals and is prominent on the dorsal and ventral sepals. Around 2004, seedlings began to bloom out from a flask originating from Klehm Growers in Illinois. The cross is of P. Dollar Bell x P. niveum, and is as yet unregistered. The pod parent is heavily endowed with Paph. bellatulum genetics, and appears much like a very large Brachypetalum in both markings and form. Another hybrid that was made by Marriott Orchids in 2003 and that began blooming about a year ago, is of P. niveum x P. Elfstone. The pollen parent is an intense green gold flower, but the dominance of niveum is clearly seen in the cultivar, ‘Virgin Snow’. It is a flower almost devoid of stipples or speckling, and is as white as its species parent.
    The last two examples in Paph. niveum based novelties, come from the previously mentioned hybridizer, Kevin Porter. Both crosses are very recently registered, in 2007, and are testaments to his breeding skill. Paph. Cocktail (niveum x Centerpiece) is once again a mating of a species with a novelty. The pollen parent is from P. Hellas x P. Greyi; so, Paph. Cocktail intensifies the Brachy influence on its offspring by having Brachy parents on each side of the cross. Another hybrid that is very similar in both concept and looks is Paph. Winter Kingdom. It, too, is a cross of a novelty slipper with P. niveum; P. Snow Tiger x niveum. Both P. Cocktail ‘Seductress’ and P. Winter Kingdom ‘Cinnamon Snow’ AM/AOS show their heavy Brachypeatlum influence, especially from P. niveum. Successful novelty breeding such as this gives speckles or dusting over a clear white background. While there are usually a fair number of offspring from novelty breeding that are not very good, the best are nothing short of enchanting.
   P. godefroyae v. leucochilum and P. niveum have proved themselves as invaluable parents over the last 20 years for making novelty slipper hybrids. Nevertheless, P. bellatulum, has proved certainly as good, or perhaps better than either of these for making high quality novelties. P.bellatulum is an excellent parent for breeding full form and, oftentimes, rich color or striking color patterns. Paph. Demura ‘Plover’ HCC/AOS (P.Blendia x P. bellatulum) is one of the fine early P. bellatulum novelties. This hybrid was registered by Ratcliffe Orchids, in 1966, but ‘Plover’ was not awarded until 1978. It has lovely color and patterning, and was a nice early step at standard complex Paphs. with Brachy species. In 1982, Paph. Elfin Magic (Van Ness x bellatulum) was registered by its creator, Mr. John Hanes. The cultivar ‘Rainbow’s End’ HCC/AOS was awarded some 15 years later, in 1997. It bears flowers that are somewhat similar in shape and color to Paph. Demura. A final P. bellatulum by complex type novelty from some two decades ago, is the remarkable P. Les Landes. The cross is from the famous spotted standard, Paph. Sparsholt, crossed to P. bellatulum. It was created by the esteemed Eric Young Foundation, and was registered in 1989. Nearly a decade and a half later, the cultivar ‘Red Galaxy’ received an AM/AOS. The saturation of color and nicely balanced form make ‘Red Galaxy’ a particularly striking example of the cross. It is noteworthy to know that P. bellatulum by complex crosses seldom have flat petal form; the species parent seems to impart a tendency for ruffling or goffering of the petal edges. Only when there is substantial Brachy on both sides of the cross, does this petal ruffling seem to reduce or disappear.
     Moving forward almost a decade, Marriott Orchids registered a new novelty hybrid. The new cross, Paph. Luminary, is a mating of the white complex P. Via Ojai x P. bellatulum, and was registered in 1998. A few of the progeny came out pastel pink in tone, but the majority were medium-sized garnet-dusted whites. P. Luminary ‘Autumn Mist’ HCC/AOS was awarded in 2001. It has lovely fine stipples over most of the dorsal and petal area; but again, it has the wavy petal edges so often seen in P. bellatulum by complex breeding. In 1999, just one year after Paph. Luminary was registered, the cross Paph. Gandalf’s Mantel was registered. It was made by Wharton Sinkler, who by that time had ended his partnership with the Orchid Zone, and had begun his own Castle Rock Orchids. The mating is between the complex green gold, P. Green Legend, and P. bellatulum. Paph. Gandalf’s Mantel ‘Peach Light’ is an extraordinary example of this cross, both for its extremely large full form and rare pastel peach color. While there is the expected petal goffering, these other qualities make this an exceptional flower for its breeding. Just a few years after P. Gandalf’s Mantel was registered, Marriott Orchids registered their cross of Paph. Bella Bay (P. bellatulum x P. Saint Ouens Bay). The cultivar ‘Moondust’ is the best to bloom out of the cross, and has almost none of the normal petal goffering. What little ruffling there is just improves on the graceful nature of the flower. That, combined with even garnet dusting and full form, gives an elegant beauty that is quite lovely.
     Within just one year of registering Paph. Belle Bay, two crosses would set a new level in quality for P.bellatulum based novelty breeeding. They were Paph. Legacy’s Child (P. bellatulum x P. White Legacy) in 2002, and Paph. Heaven’s Grace (P. Grace Day x P. bellatulum) in 2004. These two crosses were a “breakaway” in quality from previous similar breeding. Thier fullness and form, outstanding color and patterning, and extraordinarily flat petals, were all representative of a new level for novelties. To date, 12 AOS awards have been given to P. Legacy’s Child. Marriott Orchids garnered an AOS Award of Quality for this cross in 2002, giving recognition to its the many fine virtues for this type of breeding. The range of colors and patterns in P. Legacy’s Child are wonderful. Some bear flowers with crisp white backgrounds and heavy overlays of garnet speckling, as seen in the cultivar ‘Galactic Storm’. A single plant from the cross, ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, has a rich dark rose pink overlay and speckling on a cream white background. The cultivar ‘Pink Magic’ has a look that is somewhat in between these two for both color and patterning. But the cross as a whole… has been nothing short of amazing! Paph. Heaven’s Grace came almost on the heels of Paph. White Legacy. These two crosses were, however, not just the product of guesswork and good fortune. By the time they were being created, some five or six years earlier, a clear pattern was becoming apparent in Brachy type novelty breeding. The quality and percentage of nice flowers was much greater in those crosses where there was substantial Brachy lineage on both sides of the cross. Earlier novelty hybrids such as P. Friendship, P. Pixie Dust, and P. Stargate were all heavily Brachy on each side; and, they were among the best novelties of the time for overall quality. It seemed, therefore, only natural to try some more of this type of breeding. Both Paph. Legacy’s Child and Paph. Heaven’s Grace were clearly created with just such a mindset. The parents of Paph. Heaven’s Grace are P. Grace Day by P. bellatulum. Paph. Grace Day is, itself, one-half P. bellatulum. The hopes were that by backcrossing P. bellatulum, the flowers would be both filled out and greatly flattened by its double Brachy influence. For size, fullness, and flatness, Paph. Heaven’s Grace is currently one of the best examples of Brachy novelty breeding. The cultivars ‘Enchanted Moon’, ‘Perfection’ HCC/AOS, and ‘Treasure’ AM/AOS are all quite similar, but all are of superb quality.  If one wants to find fault, the one flaw would be a somewhat short inflorescence. P. bellatulum has a very short flower spike, with flowers that often sit directly on the foliage, or hang pendant beside it. The weak stem is almost always influential in its offspring, so an inflorescence of more than 10cm is reasonably good for a first generation P. bellatulum novelty. That said, both Paph. Legacy’s Child and Paph. Heaven’s Grace have 12cm to 16cm flower spikes, which is quite respectable for their parentage.
     A whole new world opens up in moving from species based Brachy novelties to ones made from Brachy hybrids. As the pallet of parents expands, there is even more variety in the shapes, colors, and patterns. Paph. Greyi (P. leucochilum x P. niveum) has created a number of very fine novelty slippers. One of the best, registered in 1993 by Marriott Orchids, was Paph. White Legacy (P. Greyi x P. Silver Anniversary). Paph.White Legacy has gone on to be one of the great white novelty breeders, much like its predecessor, Paph. Skip Bartlett. Paph.Legacy’s Child, mentioned earlier, was a wonderful cross from Paph.White Legacy. More recently, P.White Legacy has produced the remarkable cross Paph. Great Expectations (P. White Legacy x P. Skip Bartlett). Registered in 2003, Paph.Great Expectations  has had three AM/AOS awards to date. Hopes are high that with its exceptional parentage, it will be a fine breeder for the future. Another unusual P. Greyi novelty, registered by Marriott Orchids in 1999, is Paph. Color My World. It is the result of breeding P. Greyi to the classic red complex Paph. Winston Churchill. ‘Shocker’ is one of the most boldly striking cultivars, and has amazing color and patterning. Just a few years after this cross was registered, the Orchid Zone registered a Paph. Greyi novelty. The cross was Paph. Ice Castle, and its registration was in 2001. This lovely hybrid has the white complex P. White Castle on its pollen parent side. A number of magnificent cultivars bloomed out of this cross, of which one is Paph. Ice Castle ‘Moonchild’. A final novelty using Paph. Greyi as a parent is Paph. Ice King. It has the Brachy novelty, Paph. Centerstage, as its pollen parent. With the strong Brachy influence on both sides of the cross, it is not surprising that many of the offspring have full white flowers with deep rose stippling. After P. Ice King ‘Pink Mist’ garnered its HCC/AOS in 2007, Marriott Orchids registered this delightful Kevin Porter cross.
     Two years after Paph. White Legacy was registered, the previously discussed Paph. Stargate was registered. This 1995 Orchid Zone hybrid has some of the most unique flowers of any novelty slipper. Paph. Stargate ‘Giga Spots’ shows incredibly bold spotting over a full-formed cream white flower. This is one of the most rare combinations in Paph. hybridizing! One would expect Paph. Stargate to also be a great breeder because of it strong parental contributors (P. Friendship x P. Skip Bartlett). Indeed, there are already fifteen Paph. Stargate hybrids registered, most within the last few years. One is Paph. Miya Happy Present, registered in 2004 by Mr. Ozawa. The pollen parent, Paph. Psyche, shows a very strong influence on the color and patterning of Paph. Miya Happy Present ‘Fairy Dust’. Another Paph. Stargate by Brachy pairing is with Paph. Sabatino. The heavy Brachy spotting of the P. Sabatino side combines beautifully with Paph. Stargate. The result is an intense speckling seen over the entire flower in Paph. Star Chamber ‘Galaxy’ AM/AOS. This cross, registered in 2007, is another of the great novelty contribution of Kevin Porter.
     A few final novelty slipper crosses will help to illustrate the key role that Brachy based novelties can play in future Paph. hybridizing. Innovation should be at the heart of any great breeding program. At its best, this means being creative and trying to produce flowers that have better form, colors, or patterns than have been seen in previous generations. One such cross, typifying the elusive search for perfect form, is the Orchid Zone’s Paph. Fred Jernigan, registered in 2000. Not surprizingly, this hybrid has Brachypetalum genetics on each side. The pod parent is Paph. Celebration (P. Friendship x P. leucochilum). Paph. Snowflake is the pollen parent, which is solely made up of the Brachy species P. bellatulum, P. niveum, and P. concolor. It is probable that the high content mix of these four distinct Brachy species is what helped yield such well-formed flowers. Paph. Fred Jernigan ‘White Galaxy’ has almost impossibly full flat petals, and is about as good as it gets in novelty slippers. Form such as this rarely comes from just good luck… or a really good Ouija board. For astounding color in a Brachy type novelty, the cross Paph. (Annette x Conco-bellatulum) always comes to mind. This Kevin Porter cross, as yet unregistered, has a glowing golden color that combines with a dusting of rose red speckles over much of the flower. The cultivar ‘Neon Orange’, as the name implies, exemplifies the results perfectly. One last Brachy novelty will illustrate well the joy of creating truly unique markings or color patterns. Spotted petals are usually very nice, but the cross (P. Mem. Jack Tonkin x John Jack) has produced a cultivar that set a new level of quality for this line of breeding. While this complex by Brachy hybrid has not yet been registered, it holds great potential for next generation spot-petal breeding. The combination of full form and remarkably bold spotting over the entire bloom, is a sight to behold.
     Much progress has been made over the last two decades in Brachy based novelty breeding. It has evolved, somewhat like a snowball, so that in recent years many more such crosses are being made. While the best standard crosses of today are primarily the result of line breeding, the Brachy novelties may well hold some of the keys to future breakthroughs in the standards. This would be particularly true in the white complex, where maintaining the whiteness is an ongoing problem. White Brachy based novelty slippers can transmit their color readily, with minimal sacrifice in size. Even color or patterning can be passed on to modern-day complex slippers, giving them a whole new look that may never have been possible through line breeding. For the standard purist, remember, a novelty slipper is always only one cross away from being a standard complex again. The benefits of these novelties are tremendous… and time may prove them an integral part of the best slippers of tomorrow!      


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