- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

"The concept of breeding is to improve what you already have," Mr. Williams says during an interview at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton while doing a photo shoot for the Year of the Rose 2002, a marketing campaign sponsored by the American Rose Society in Shreveport, La.
"You take the best of two things and try to put them together to get a better rose," Mr. Williams says. "You don't always succeed, but if you don't get a better rose or form, you might get a novelty color, like a striped rose."
Breeding roses, also known as hybridizing, is the process used to create new roses. Most of today's roses, including those given for Valentine's Day, originated through the cross-pollination and recrossing of successive generations of roses. Hybridized roses are reproduced through grafting, which unites a shoot or bud of one plant with another growing plant by inserting the two together. With patience, a new rose from a cross made this year could take its place on the market in about 10 years.
After choosing what two roses to cross, Mr. Williams says, he removes the stamens the male, pollen-producing organs on the plants from one of the roses. He places them in a cup and dries them for about half a day. Usually using a brush, he transfers the pollen from the ripened male stamens to the sticky female stigma. Then he covers the pollinated rose with a bag to protect it from being contaminated by insects and the wind. He always places a tag on the rose that lists the two roses that have been crossed.
"We cross thousands of roses from about May until July," Mr. Williams says. "If you work in a greenhouse, you can cross year-round, but we work outdoors and stay with the seasons."
Although a single rose contains female and male organs and can act as either parent, Mr. Williams cautions that some roses, such as those that bloom continually, make seeds, or serve as males, better than others. Because they are busy blooming, they aren't as receptive to pollen, which is needed to serve as the female element.
"I do research all the time," Mr. Williams says. "I keep records on everything the germination of seed, what parents [serve best as females], which ones have weak stems, which ones have malformed flowers and which ones are susceptible to diseases."
Each cross yields nine to 20 seeds in "hips" on the roses that swell within several weeks. Around Thanksgiving, Mr. Williams says, the hips ripen and turn orange. He cuts them open, cleans the seeds and stores them in refrigerators for about two to three months, which forces the seeds into dormancy. After refrigeration, he sows the seeds in plats with sterile soil.
"This year, we planted about half a million seeds," he says. "When they germinate at about six to eight weeks, we transplant them to fiber pots with sterile soil. We maintain them under plastic hoods so condensation waters them automatically. We also drench them with fungicide so they won't have diseases when they start growing."
It usually takes the roses until May to develop two sets of perfect leaves, Mr. Williams says. Then he transplants the flowers into larger pots or seed beds. During the next two years, he evaluates the roses once a year. He cuts the part of the rose stem with buds from those roses rated the highest and sends it for grafting to test beds and contract growers in places such as Bakersfield, Calif.; Chestertown, Md.; West Grove, Pa.; and St. Catharines, Ontario. Those centers grow the roses for three years before considering whether to market them to the public.
"We don't sell roses to the public," Mr. Williams says. "We grow them for commercial growers and nurseries to introduce them to garden centers and the public. Locally, you can find our roses at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Maryland, and the Behnke Nurseries Company in Beltsville, Maryland."
J.B. Williams & Associates has produced many prize-winning roses, including ones named City of Alexandria, Cynthia Wescott, Duke of Paducah, the Fordham Rose, Hotel Hershey, Indy-500, Mississippi, Peggy Rockefeller, Rose Parade, Slava, Tupperware, Twilight Zone and Vienna Waltz.
One of the most recent flowers released to the international market by Mr. Williams is the Celine Dion rose. The shrub rose is orange-red with dark green leaves. At Miss Dion's suggestion, a portion of the purchase price will benefit the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
"She came to our growers in Canada at the J.C. Bakker and Sons company in St. Catherines, Ontario, and picked a rose," Mr. Williams says. "It's so popular that they can't fill their orders."
At present, Mr. Williams has one rose in the All-America Rose Selections in Chicago, which is an extensive two-year trial program through which a rose is judged on everything from disease resistance and flower production to color and fragrance. He enters his roses in worldwide competitions in places such as Rome, Paris, London and Madrid.
Mr. Williams also is known for creating a new classification of rose, the miniflora rose. The plant is bigger than a miniature rose, which was brought from China to Europe in the 1700s, and smaller than a floribunda rose, which was hybridized by D.T. Pulsen of Denmark in 1924. The American Rose Society and the World Federation of Rose Societies in London adopted the category two years ago. Since then, more than 300 roses have been classified as miniflora.
"I developed the first miniflora rose in 1974, called Patio Patty," he says. "It was a beautiful blend of ivory, pink and yellow. Some of the best miniflora available today are Amber Flash, an orange-yellow rose, and Stardance, a white rose."
Mike Kromer, executive director of the American Rose Society, says Mr. Williams gave that nonprofit organization the trademark for the miniflora roses.
"The class has encouraged many other hybridizers to produce and introduce other minifloras to the public," Mr. Kromer says. "Since it's a defined class, now they can be shown in our rose shows. When we didn't have the class, a lot of good roses were lost."

One of Mr. Williams' main sources of competition is Jackson & Perkins in Somis, Calif. Keith Zary, vice president of research at Jackson & Perkins, says the company is America's first mail-order nursery and the world's largest grower of roses, making about 50,000 crosses a year.
Mr. Zary, who holds a doctorate in horticulture, says Jackson & Perkins is investigating genetic engineering as a way to enhance its roses. He says that about 10 years ago, scientists learned how to regenerate a single cell from a rose variety into a whole plant through the use of hormones, which first produce shoots and then roots.
Scientists also discovered how to transform a plant by taking a gene that is not present in roses and inserting it into the DNA of a rose. This is done through two methods, infecting a rose cell with bacteria that inserts a foreign gene into the DNA of a rose or using a gene gun to shoot tiny gold particles that carry foreign genes into the DNA of a rose.
"For instance, we find that in carrots there are genes that resist fungi," Mr. Zary says. "Scientists have extracted those genes for resistance to fungi and multiplied them and then put them around little gold particles and shot them into roses, which gives the roses the ability to resist fungi."
It is hoped that this research will lead to the creation of blue roses, Mr. Zary says. Roses lack the genes to create the color blue. Scientists have experimented with using the gene for blue from petunias in roses. After the single cells with petunia genes were regenerated into whole plants, only the male anthers turned blue. (The anther is the part of a stamen that produces and releases the pollen.)
Mr. Zary anticipates that decreasing the pH in the vacuoles of the petals would enable scientists to create a blue rose. At present, rose vacuoles, which are the parts of the petals that carry color, maintain a pH that is too high for the blue color to express itself when inserted with the petunia gene. The pH scale measures items from low (acidic) to high (alkaline) pH, estimating how much acid or alkali is in a substance. Pure water has a neutral pH.
"This technology is in research phase," Mr. Zary says. "Right now, there are no roses on the market that have been genetically engineered. There are gentically engineered carnations on the market."

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