Australia: Somatic fusion could lead to new waxflower hybrids

Helix Australia is a major player in the breeding, licensing, marketing and commercialisation of Waxflower (Chamelaucium sp.) for both cut flower and pot plant production. Waxflower is one of the most popular filler flowers in the global cut flower trade with key production zones in Israel, South Africa, USA, Peru and Australia. In addition Waxflower is a very popular pot plant for application in landscape and also as an impulse potted colour line for home/balcony use.

Since establishing in 2008, Helix Australia has released a number of new hybrid Waxflower varieties which are now grown in commercial quantities in South Africa, Israel and Australia. New Waxflower production sites are now moving into the commercial volume stage in California, Italy and Spain. Recent releases from Helix Australia's breeding programme includes Waxflower Moonlight Delight, Waxflower Sarah’s Delight, Waxflower My Sweet 16, Waxflower Chantilly Lace, Waxflower Raspberry Ripple, Waxflower Pearl Buttons and Waxflower Strawberry Surprise.

In the recently completed 2017/2018 season, over 4 million stems of Helix Australia waxflower hybrids were traded globally with the major market consumption points being in Europe, SE Asia and west coast USA, Australia.

Helix Australia Managing Director Adrian Parsons says the focus of the Waxflower breeding programme is on developing unique colours, unique bloom size and shapes. In addition, flowering time is a key breeding priority specifically targeting early flowering Waxflower hybrids which can lengthen the season and help lift grower returns.

"Our Southern hemisphere Waxflower growers typically start harvest in late May /early June so targeting new hybrids for late April/early May will enable us to optimise the high demand and prices for Mother’s Day”, says Parsons.

Parsons continued, “In the same breath we also see strong growth opportunities enabling Southern hemisphere growers to push strongly into December and Northern hemisphere growers to optimise returns for Mother's Day in mid May with later flowering varieties.”

To date all of Helix Australia’s hybrid Waxflower releases have originated from Helix’s in-house breeding and selection project in Regans Ford Western Australia. The parent material from this breeding block was developed by Brian Jack from Western Flora.

However, since 2011 Helix Australia has forged a commercial breeding partnership with Kings Park and Botanic Gardens in Perth Western Australia who are using a range of sophisticated breeding techniques including somatic fusion to create a totally new wave of Waxflower hybrids.

The technique of somatic fusion facilitates the crossing of genera that otherwise may or may not occur in nature – with potential outcomes that could possibly see development of new Waxflower hybrids in colours never imagined such as yellow, orange and red. Flowering size 20 to 50% larger than current commercial Waxflower varieties is another potential outcome for this ground breaking breeding technique. Non Chamelaucium genera being trialled in this breeding programme include Verticordia, Pileanthus and Darwinia.

Backcrossing is a breeding technique to produce fertile interspecific hybrids but a more efficient method is to induce polyploids. Polyploids are plants that have duplicate sets of chromosomes. This occurs widely in natural populations and plant biologist have theorised that polyploidy has played a major role in plant evolution.

Doubling the number of chromosomes in an infertile hybrid can restore fertility as it allows the plant to produce pollen and egg cells with balanced chromosomes. Inducing tetraploids can also increase the size of the flowers and leaves. Producing significant numbers of fertile diploid and tetraploid interspecific and intergeneric hybrids through the Kings Park breeding program has set the stage for the commercial production of high value hybrids with an array of flower colours, flower sizes and plant forms suitable for cut flowers, home gardens and broad landscapes.

For more information:
Helix Australia
Adrian Parsons

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