I am a graphic designer turned horticultural scientist. I worked for eight plus years as a graphic designer (ethannielsenarts.weebly.com), when a downturn in the economy allowed me to turn my love of plants into something more. I now have a degree in visual arts from BYU, a degree in horticultural science from Utah State University, and I am currently a PhD candidate at University of Florida. I’m also a loving husband and father of four.
Officially I am a citrus breeder in training, but I also love many other plants, especially fruiting plants but also those valued for flowers, and especially those valued for both. One of my most enduring passions (besides citrus) is passion flowers or passion fruit, or just Passiflora. I have been cultivating and breeding Passiflora for years, and my first release was Passiflora ‘Harmonie Daybreak’ (named after my wife) in 2007, a cross between Passiflora arida and P. sublanceolata. It was my first attempt, and a breakthrough in that no one had created any P. arida hybrids prior. I no longer have ‘Harmonie Daybreak’, but I do have her offspring, including one I’m about to release called ‘Pinkerella’, a backcross to P. sublanceolata.
I have a goal to breed edible passionfruit, using the native U.S. species P. incarnata, which is cold hardy, and crossing it with edible commercial types like P. edulis and P. edulis var. flavicarpa, the purple and yellow types. These species will cross directly and make somewhat fertile hybrids. I am working with some other breeders to collectively work toward this goal. I am also using some other relatives with cold hardiness that can cross with either, namely P. caerulea and P. tucumanensis. I may use some other species, such as P. alata and P. quadrangularis, which can also cross with P. incarnata or P. edulis. This work is still in the beginning stages, although I have created F1 hybrids, and have obtained some F1 and F2 hybrids from other breeders. Let me know if you want to collaborate!
I will soon release my first F1 ‘indulis’ hybrid, which I call ‘Green Tiger’, a cross between P. incarnata and P. edulis ‘Frederick’ (A hybrid between yellow and purple types).
I have been working with citrus for a while, too, also hoping to create a cold hardy, arid fruiting plant. I have finally obtained Citrus glauca (formerly Eremocitrus glauca), the Australian desert lime, and once it’s large enough I will try to make some crosses with it. Or possibly fusions. It hasn’t been used in many crosses, partly due to it being hard to cross I imagine. The fruits are small, but allegedly tasty (I’ve yet to try one). I also have one of its hybrids, an eremo-mandarin: C. glauca x ‘Shekwasha’ mandarin, which makes small orange fruits (which I haven’t tasted either). I am also interested in Finger Limes, another Australian native citrus, which are peculiar for both their long sausage shape and the globular juice vesicles contained within, known as ‘lime caviar’. I have two small trees I started from seed probably in 2007, which are incredibly spiny and yet to fruit. I will give them a better environment with some fertilizer and maybe next spring they will be ready. I hope.
As an offshoot of these Citrus relatives, I am also interested in the tertiary gene pool, mainly Citropsis, Severinia, and Atalantia. These are interesting because they are graft compatible with citrus, although they will not readily cross with citrus. Citropsis has been crossed with Citrus, resulting in sterile hybrids: the trees have fruited, but they have been seedless. There was also a cross of Citrus sunki with Severinia buxifolia in Brazil, but I have been unable to find any follow up, so I assume they have yet to fruit. My advisor, Dr. Jude Grosser, has made somatic fusions with many of these relatives, and again they are sterile and have yet to flower after 20 years.
I am also interested in hibiscus, but I haven’t done much with that. I have a fragrant white Hawaiian species, Hibiscus arnottianus, and a few others in my yard without names. I would love to breed a hardy woody hibiscus using rose of sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) and breed that with tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) to get the tropical colors and increased size. Supposedly Sam McFadden has made this cross, but I’ve yet to see it on the market.
Besides breeding with plant relatives, I am also interested in ploidy manipulation for plant improvement. Changes in ploidy can create many interesting changes, the most obvious is the gigas effect, where tissues and organ size increase resulting in larger flowers and fruit. Other changes come with it, some positive and some negative. (Read my primer Polyploidy in Plant Breeding.)
I love the idea of using biotechnology for plant improvement, i.e. somatic hybridization, which led me to University of Florida to study that very aspect. I would love to learn more techniques of using genetic modification for plant improvement. I also like to graft things. I’ve made a couple tutorials for passiflora grafting.
Other crops I have dabbled with are blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, tomatoes, melons, carrots, peas, potatoes, apples, peaches, plums, cherries, corn, cacao, papaya, pawpaw, persimmon… Probably others I can’t think of at the moment. I also want to breed animals, but I haven’t the space or funds to deal with that currently. I have bred rats and guppies, but I currently have no animals. The list of animals I’ve had as pets would be another long list.
I love to talk shop, so drop me a line anytime!