After more than 20 years of plant research, Prof. Mark Bridgen, horticulture, has developed and patented a new species of flower at Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center. The “Tangerine Tango” is an alstroemeria, commonly known as the Lily of the Incas. It will bloom from May until the first frost and can survive cold northern winters.
The researchers used sophisticated horticultural techniques to grow the flower. Earlier attempts to grow it from another alstroemeria were hindered by the plant itself, Bridgen said.
“[The plant embryos] would die on the mother plant. We’re using some advanced techniques to get hybrids to grow and survive,” Bridgen said. The researchers first attempted to grow the hybrid on the mother plant, but it recognized a foreign gene and aborted the growth.
The first surviving Tangerine Tango was grown in a sterile plant tissue medium after harvesting a two-week-old plant embryo from the mother plant, Bridgen said. New Tangerine Tangoes can only be grown from existing plants by dividing the roots of the plant, called rhizomes, because the Tangerine Tango is sterile and does not produce seeds.
The name Lily of the Incas is a misnomer, as the alstroemeria is propagated from roots and lilies grow from bulbs, Bridgen said.
Bridgen worked specifically on developing the Tangerine Tango for the last eight years. He crossed different species of alstroemeria from Brazil and Chile, centers of biodiversity for the alstroemeria, to obtain the chosen characteristics: winter hardiness, attractiveness and longevity when cut.
“We did old-fashioned hybridization where we made crosses of the alstroemeria from Brazil and from Chile,” said Bridgen. He also noted that the Tangerine Tango successfully survived several Ithaca winters with its added capacity for hardiness.
Bridgen called the Tangerine Tango “good for the garden,” “a good cut flower” and noted that it is “showy and bright.”
The Tangerine Tango is currently available to home gardeners from nurseries online. The plants are grown in commercial facilities that have purchased a license from Cornell to propagate and sell the plants.
“[The Tangerine Tango is] really vibrant and stands out against the greenery,” said Mike Heubusch ’12, a student in Arts and Sciences. “I’m glad that the developers will get reimbursements for their creation. I’m glad, especially with budget cuts everywhere in universities, that Cornell has another opportunity to prove its worth.”
The plant will bloom in stages so that it has a continuous display of flowers throughout its blooming period, Bridgen said. As one set of blooms dies off, another set will blossom.
The Tangerine Tango is Cornell’s second ornamental plant patent, according to Bridgen. Cornell’s first was by Bridgen in 2007 for another alstroemeria, the Mauve Majesty.
The Mauve Majesty produces speckled mauve flowers that last from early June until the first freeze. When cut, it lasts up to two weeks in an arrangement, according to the White Flower Farm website, which sells the flowers. The species which produced the flower are also native to South America.
Other projects of the Horticultural Research and Extension Center include developing a yellow spider flower and working with the Tangerine Tango species to create potted and fragrant varieties.
Bridgen also developed the alstroemeria hybrid commonly called the Sweet Laura Princess Lily. It is hybridized to withstand summers in the South, something that most ‘princess lilies’ cannot do, according to the Plants Delight Nursery website, which sells the flower.