Mario de Cooker GB

Mario de Cooker

1947 - Today

This article on fuchsia breeder Mario de Cooker (1947), written by Paul Munro of the BFS, was first published in the Summer Bulletin 2020 issue of the journal of the British Fuchsia Society.

Mario, you are probably one of the most famous Dutch fuchsia breeders. Why did you go for the Fuchsia chosen?

From a young age I was very interested in nature, especially in birds and flowers. We (father, mother and four children) lived a few kilometers outside the village in a large house with a rather wild garden. With some forest and lots of meadows and water in the area. I was allowed to build my own small garden in my parents' garden and also roamed a lot around in the area. That love for nature is never disappeared.

I can still remember how, already more than 30 years ago, my interest in the Fuchsia originated.

A small garden center in Geleen in Limburg (owned by the Bakker family) had a large greenhouse containing all kinds of container plants, including fuchsias. The fuchsias have been displayed outside in a kind of show for several months every summer.

I visited that show once and was very impressed with the multitude of colors and shapes of the fuchsia. I also bought a number of plants at the time, including 'Speciosa', 'Checkerboard', 'Wilson's Pearls', 'Blush of Dawn' and 'Elsie Mitchell'. And after that, for the wintering of the plants of course, a greenhouse will soon be purchased. That's how it all started, and it never stopped.

‘Belle de Limbourg’

‘Roger Desiré’

Why and when did you start hybridizing?

Greenhouse filled with fuchsias, early April.

Seedlings under artificial light, late March.

Since I live in Limburg (and that is already 45 years) always had a garden. We moved in 1986 to the house where I still live in Ohé en Laak. I was then given a lot of larger garden and experimented for several years hybridizing roses. Roses, and more special the old species and the so-called English (de David Austin) roses have beautiful flowers with just like the fuchsias a huge variation in color and form. But I soon found out that for the testing new roses requires a lot of space is, and for that I would need more land than what my own garden provided. That didn't seem very attractive to me. One of my fuchsias was at that time 'Bon Accord'. He wore at one point a lot of berries with large amounts in them at the moment seed. Which, by the way, a one-off event turned out to be: it's after that unclear reasons with the same plant never again occurred. I then started with it picking berries and sowing the from them harvested seeds. That was soon a success. My first interesting seedling was 'Belle de Limbourg', coming from seed of 'Suzanna'. After I started these first attempts soon with the more purposeful execution of crossings, initially a lot with 'Checkerboard' as mother. This plant often bore berries this large like little plums (again, something afterwards never happened again, apparently I've been in the very lucky in the beginning). From this first crossings include 'Frozen Tears' and 'Roger Desire' originated. By attending a lecture by Herman de Graaff became my interest awakened in the creation of new triphyllas. One of the goals I set myself at the time was developing an easy to grow white triphylla. However, that has significant took more time than what I expected at the time!

Not only did you perform crossings, but later you also delved into the backgrounds of breeding. How did that happen?

I have always been very interested in trying things out, in conducting experiments, first as a child and later during my studies. After my study Chemical Technology at the TU Delft and my PhD research on a topic in heterogeneous catalysis, I worked for many years at DSM (the former Staatsmijnen) in various positions in Research, Research Management and Consultancy. That was very intensive, and often involved many trips abroad. That is also the reason why during the first 20 years of my crossing work I was able to delve into the background of genetics relatively little. Practical knowledge about crossing was built up through 'trial & error', so simply trying out all kinds of options. In the beginning I was already satisfied if the seedlings wanted to survive. My wife Sonja often had to do a lot of work in those years. It was not always fun for her when I was abroad for a few weeks during the summer. She had to not only take care of our dogs, but also my fuchsias and the new seedlings, often at high summer temperatures! After my retirement in 2010, I got much more time for the fuchsias, and I also started to deepen my background knowledge. That has yielded great benefits. The outcome of the crossings is now much easier to understand and often much more predictable. Moreover, the availability of affordable new technologies such as flow cytometry has played a crucial role in making crosses more targeted. The results of my crossing work, including the background information, I now share quickly and continuously with others, for example through the publication of the digital English-language magazine The Fuchsia Breeders Initiative, which is made available free of charge to anyone who is interested . We have now reached the ninth volume in 2021.

T.T. Torpedo was genetically unstable, and has therefore disappeared.

Crosses performed in the greenhouse, here with triphylla seedling N 15-20

How many crossings do you make per year, and how many successes does that ultimately yield?

New seedlings, January 2021

I estimate the number of crossings per year at 500 à 1000, often of course with the same parent combinations. Many of these crosses fail for all sorts of reasons, and for others often little or no seed formed, even if berries did form to become. Once it is clear what combinations yielding seed, the chance of success becomes natural much higher. The number of seeds per berry varies from a single seed to as many as 50 or even more. After that it can still happen that the seed does not want to germinate, or that the little seedlings soon become the ghost to give. In the end there are about 400 to 600 seedlings left per year. Some of them always show genetic abnormalities and grows poorly. These plants with deviations are soon removed. For various reasons, for example, because seedlings have a beautiful and new have flower or appear to have any potential for carrying out new crossings, there are per year 30 to 40 seedlings selected for storage. Most of these are eventually discarded because they do not really meet the requirements, for example because of a weak grow. Sometimes they just fall over in the winter months. In the past 30 years I have about 70 novelties introduced, which equates to a success rate of roughly 0.5% of the number of new seedlings, so 1 at 200.

How long does it take before you decide to introduce a new seedling?

Fuchsias in the greenhouse, early November, still in full bloom to be able to cross with.

Most novelties are released after 4 to 5 years, sometimes a year earlier, sometimes for different reasons several years later.

One of the reasons to to test the seedlings for a number of years to see on quality and genetic stability. A lot of seedlings (actually most fuchsia cultivars) have a complex polyploid genome and can therefore genetically unstable. It is therefore no exception that a seedling after a few years degenerates and cannot even be kept alive. And Of course it wouldn't be so nice to have too many fuchsias after introduction for that reason still have to lose. An example of this is the fuchsia cultivar "T.T. Torpedo', which no longer exists. Furthermore, new fuchsias always have to add something to the existing range, otherwise we get too much of the same, too many look-alikes. There are few seedlings that really optimally meet all requirements, so concessions will always have to be made.

Practice should then show which novelties will be embraced by the fuchsia lovers. Many of the other novelties will eventually to disappear.

Promising new fertile pentaploid purple triphylla P18-F8

‘Roger de Cooker’ (1999)

‘Claire Marie McManus’

New triphylla, released in 2020

Under what conditions do you perform the crossings?

Seedling N 20-12 from 2020

Some of the crossings I just make in the garden. I have fuchsias everywhere, often large plants. That does, of course, entail the risk that and sometimes a berry disappears in the stomach of a blackbird or is destroyed by a sparrow. Furthermore I have always a number of smaller plants with which I better protected conditions can perform crossings without placing too much pressure on the always limited space. Also in winter I regularly make crossings, both in the cold greenhouse and at higher temperatures under artificial light.

So I cross all year round! But most crosses take place from August to October. From experience shows that in this period the best results are achieved to become. I try to get there as early as possible to get berries in the year because they do take some time to ripen, ranging from two to sometimes six months.

And in addition: if the intersections not be carried out until late in the year, the plants in full leaf into the greenhouse, which of course because of the required space and the chance of damage certainly is not optimal.

How many greenhouses do you have, how big are they and how are they heated?

I have a glass greenhouse of 3 x 5 meters for winter storage of my fuchsias. Every year at the end from October it will be insulated on the inside with bubble wrap, which will be removed at the end of May is going to be. The temperature is raised in winter with electric heaters kept at about 5ºC. That is more than sufficient for the fuchsias, also for the triphyllas, even if they are on the ground. A little problem always arises at the beginning of spring as the plants will grow, and the space in the greenhouse will gets a bit cramped. A number of plants are then already released early, often at the end of February, and temporarily put back in, for example, the garage when frost threatens.

I also have a somewhat smaller, not frost-free greenhouse with a plastic cover, in which I winter put my pots with flower bulbs to protect from rain and snow. In the summer period I use that box as a place for a number of fuchsias. They're standing there under green plastic, well protected from direct sunlight.

In the fall and winter I sow the fuchsias and grow the young seedlings under artificial light at about 20ºC. I have 5 m2 available for this, lit with Fluorescent lamps (cool white), roughly 75 Watt/m2. The lamps hang about 5 to 25 cm above the plants, and burn for 10 to 11 hours during the night hours. In that space (actually a somewhat small walk-in closet without daylight) I can lose 80 plants per square meter. If the plants get too big, or if it's a bit gets full, I move a few plants to the cold cashier. That has never led to any problems, on the contrary, the plants often receive a growth boost.


New purple triphylla, released in 2021

What is your most favorite fuchsia that you have released in all these years?

It's always a problem to answer that question because tastes and ideas sometimes change. Sometimes you have a certain affection for a specific fuchsia, but that is not always the best or to be the most beautiful plant. If I had a choice now I would choose 'Roger the Cooker', named to my father.

‘Purple Charm’

New purple triphylla, released in 2021

Is your interest in the fuchsia still increasing, and how long do you think you will continue with your breeding work?

I still have a lot of fun making new fuchsias, especially now that more and more insight is being gained with related to a number of genetic backgrounds.

Making new triphyllas still has a high priority. In the last ten years there have been many novelties added to the range of triphyllas and not just by me. Examples are the triphyllas in pastel shades and the purple triphyllas. And there will certainly be many more to follow, including possibly hardy purple triphyllas, the first test results of which are promising. Testing all the novelties of recent years still requires a lot of effort, so here I come my pass the time! I also pay a lot of attention to the backgrounds of working with pentaploid fuchsias. Contrary to expectations, these often turn out to be very fruitful. The how and why of this is not yet well understood, but my current range of seedlings offers the opportunity to work on this in a targeted manner to gain more insight into this. And that kind of experimentation is at least as interesting as making new fuchsias!

I have good contacts with a number of fellow fuchsia hybridizers, where we regularly exchange ideas and interesting crossing material. Furthermore, the project 'Geel' is currently underway, in which I, together with Henk Waldenmaier, are trying to achieve a real breakthrough with regard to yellow fuchsia. If results are achieved in this area, we will certainly report this immediately! So as long as health permits I would say: still full power ahead!

Auteur: Paul Munro (BFS)