From the Digest

New Aloe Hybrid: Aloe ‘Bokeh’

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Both the “texture” and coloration of Aloe ‘Bokeh’ vary from those of its hybrid parents.

By Hammy Sorkin

In our ideal climate of the greenhouse, we often have plants bloom that don’t at home or in offices. When I noticed two separate Aloe hybrids – Aloe ‘Blizzard’ and Aloe ‘Christmas Carol’ – blooming at the same time in late 2021, I got a botanically perverted idea.

With a sterilized paintbrush, I took pollen from my Christmas Carol flowers and transferred it onto stigmas of the Blizzard plants in our collection. I marked each pollination with tape and the date and was careful not to use the brush on any other flowers that I didn’t want crossed. Of course, I also probably took some pollen from A. ‘Blizzard’ over to A. ‘Christmas Carol’, but none of the flowers was pollinated.

Not all pollinations took, but I could tell a flower was pollinated when the base swelled up even after the petals had dried up and fallen off. Slowly, green seed pods formed, and when they were dry and brown, I harvested the three seeds from each pod.

Seeds can be planted directly into a germination mix and gently covered. I use a no-bark, small-particle mix with itty-bitty peat and perlite. I use a mist bench to germinate almost all seeds, but you can also use some sort of humidity dome. Just be sure to provide some air flow. I have no experience with using old aloe seeds, so I recommend planting them soon after harvesting.

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The flowers of ‘Bokeh’ reflect the typical aloe shape.

My seedlings grew quickly into a tall rosette shape, something neither of the parents have. The mother plant, Aloe ‘Blizzard’, is light green with dark green flecks along the leaves and minimal ridging. The father plant, Aloe ‘Christmas Carol’, is more of a blue-green (more green on the center and on new growth) with light-colored flecks. It also has a red-pink color and more pronounced, yet short and soft ridges along the leaf edges and a few along the middles of the leaves.

The new hybrid has color similar to its mother, but only very faint pink edges, if at all. Michael Stephan, a horticulturist at the Washington University research greenhouse facility, helped me name it Bokeh after the photography technique of using a blurred background.

The plant displays unique characteristics for aloes. For example, when aloes bloom, they typically only have a single stalk (sometimes branching), but A. ‘Bokeh’ often branches multiple times on a single stalk. I’ve also never seen any aloes self-pollinate or cross with each other, but every time A. ‘Bokeh’ blooms, it grows at least one seed pod.

Pollination Video

Here is a link to a video of how I self-pollinated the adult Aloe ‘Bokeh’ by transferring pollen among flowers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkYTKW_FcVA. The process is very easy! You can see pollen on the brush, and all I do is move it to another flower’s stigma. I twirl the brush around and try to cover a lot of the surface to get as much pollen off as possible, which often results in my paintbrush being covered in that flower’s pollen.

When self-pollinating this is totally fine, because I want only this plant’s pollen anyway. If you are wanting to cross different plants and have only one type of pollen on the brush at a time, use a new/sterile brush for each pollination.

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Aloe ‘Bokeh’ has many flower stalks. Most aloes have only one to three at a time, with minimal, if any, branching.

Genus Aloe

Aloe is a genus of succulents from the Eastern Hemisphere, mainly sub-Saharan Africa and southwestern Asia. The most common species, of course, is Aloe vera, grown for its medicinal uses. According to the Royal Kew Gardens, there are almost 600 accepted species of Aloe. If the list included artificial hybrids like the two parents of A. ‘Bokeh’, it would likely be much, much longer!

Aloe plants can often be confused with species in Agave, which are basically aloes’ Western Hemisphere equivalents. Unlike monocarpic agaves, though, aloes are polycarpic and can bloom multiple times before they die. This means aloe bloom stalks typically come from the side of the plant, while agaves bloom from the center.

For more information on aloes, check out the following resources available through the Washington University libraries. You can also request books on aloes from the HSCSS library and read online articles by club members featuring the plants.

Sources:

A New Arrangement of the Genus Aloe: With a Chronological Sketch of the Progressive Knowledge of That Genus, and of Other Succulent Genera – Adrian Hardy Haworth – 1804
Aloes: The Genus Aloe – Edited by Tom Reynolds – 2004