There seems to be cycles in orchids, as there are in other things. Interest in one line of breeding or type changes over to another, then in twenty or thirty years swings back again. Over the last thirty years, several significant changes have occurred which have altered the directions in orchids, to some extent.
The one major change has come about through meristem tissue culture methods and mericloning. Through this technique, superior plants once available in limited numbers and high cost, become readily available at reasonable cost within a few years of their development. This has placed in the hands of ammeter hybridizers plants which they could never have expected to acquire before. In addition, new and superior culture media, especially for the Paphiopedilums, give greater germination and growth of seed. Thus, nearly everyone can now produce hybrid seedlings of superior parentage or their own mericlones.
Additionally, greater exploration of the jungle and recent availability of a number of Chinese species has expanded the available gene pool in a number of genera and led to new directions in breeding and superior remakes of older hybrids.
But, when I started in 1958, clones were reproduced by division of the plant, and superior plants were always in demand and at high prices. One had to learn patience in getting a collection together. For the blue Cattleyas, the clones were quite limited and hard to find. Many of them were located out of the country, and getting them into this country often posed major problems.
Most of the breeding I was involved with came about in association with the Fred A. Stewart, Inc. firm in San Gabriel, California, primarily through Ernest Hetherington. They housed and took care of my plants, they provided trading stock if needed, and they had a limited number of blue stud plants already to work with. I did the hybridizing and harvested the pod. They would take the pod, grow and offer the seedlings. I got to see the results of my efforts, and they at least made their expenses (I presume).
I have always been fairly open about the work I was doing with the blues and tried to pass on information and observations for others to learn or to challenge. Gordon Dillon, then editor of the American Orchid Society Bulletin, was encouraging in this and in 1966 my first article appeared in the Bulletin. Additional articles appeared in the Bulletin and Orchid Digest, some being published in both journals, as more information and knowledge was gained. The last of my articles on blue Cattleyas appeared in the Bulletin in 1976.
My major hybridizing work concluded in the fall of 1969. At that time, I left the California area and until the 1980's did not have the opportunity to again get set up and do much work with the blues. It is taking time to rebuild a collection which has deteriorated badly over the years and suffered a freezeout. However, it is so heartening to have divisions of the blues offered and provided to me by people who are interested in my work, have followed it, and have encouraged me to continue with it even further.
Of recent, there is renewed interest in the hybridizing of the blue Cattleyas. My calendar has been complicated by numerous speaking engagements which I gladly provide, if possible. However, not being in the "orchid business", I often must take vacation time in order to give a presentation. But, it is a "labor of love" which my wife fortunately understands.
In reviewing for my presentations, I found that much of the information provided twenty years ago is still very applicable. So, I decided to put the articles together in one manuscript for easy reference and to illustrate the historical development of them. Other authors have touched on blues as well, notably Leo Holquin and Ernest Hetherington*, and their articles and writings are well worth reviewing. A series of articles on blue breeding being done in Brazil has been proposed and I sincerely hope that it becomes a reality, for many fine blues have come from that country and the other South American countries as well.
The success that I have had in this breeding program has been accomplished only through the support of a number of fine people. Walter Barker, formerly of Santa Ana, California, was there when I was just starting and helped me get on my feet. Paul Brecht of Costa Mesa, California, was a good friend and gave me much encouragement. Ernest Hetherington of Arcadia, California, and the Fred A. Stewart concern, placed their faith in a young unproven hybridizer and allowed his work to be available to the world. The late Gordon Dillon made the passing of information and the development of what skills I have in writing possible by his encouragement. Both Eddie Waras and the late Waldemar Silva of Brazil were patient with me, diligently searched out the various blue species and got the divisions I was interested in - their letters are still cherished for the considerable background information they contain. Thanks really does not express the gratitude I feel toward you all. You did it, I just put it together.
Carson E. Whitlow
* Ernest's article, "Blue Cattleyas", in the American Orchid Society Bulletin, volume 54, number 5, May, 1985, pages 543-552, is highly recommended reading.