Creating a red-leaved hosta has been the ardent pursuit of hybridizers over the past two decades with relentless work and effort to push red into the petioles and scapes - and ultimately into the leaf blade. As a result, new hybrids with a reddish or purplish "blush" have now come to market, including Bob Solberg's origination 'First Blush'. Introduced by Green Hill Farm in 2015, 'First Blush' set a new benchmark when it comes to hostas with red color in the leaf blade. It could be claimed that 'First Blush' was the first hosta with red foliage, at least during spring and early summer. Besides having bright red petioles that extend into the leaves, 'First Blush' exhibits a narrow red margin, similar but much more dramatic than its parent, 'Beet Salad'. The most exciting feature, however, is the area between the veins which start to "blush" with red from the tip of the leaf down toward the base. In southern gardens, the blush remains into June; in the north, a bit longer when conditions are favorable.
Red and purple pigment in hostas comes from six species. Red pigment is derived from H. clausa, H. tsushimensis, and H. yingerii, all of which are from Korea. On the other hand, purple pigment comes from three species native to Japan: H. kikutii, H. longipes (specifically, H. longipes f. hypoglauca), and H. pycnophylla. All of the red or purple-petioled hybrids which grace our gardens today can be traced back to these Korean and Japanese species.
As hybridizers took note of the red or purple on hosta petioles and scapes, efforts were made to create new varieties with these characteristics.
Early introductions with reddish or purplish petioles started showing up in the 1980s and 1990s:
'Regal Rhubarb' (V. Sellers - 1983)
'Riptide' (V. Sellers - 1987)
'Grand Slam' (R. Benedict & H. Gowen - 1990)
'Katsuragawa Beni' (Japan - NR)
'Garnet Prince' (P. Banyai & J. Dishon - 1991)
'Emeralds and Rubies' (J. Dishon - 1994)
'Harvest Dandy' (A. Summers - 1997)
'Fire Island' (W. Brincka - 1998)
Arthur Wrede (1930-2017) of Joppa, MD, was the owner of the Azalea Patch. The son of Frank and Helen Wrede, he was a carpenter and avid plant lover at heart who turned his passion into a landscaping nursery. Arthur became a lifetime member of The American Hosta Society and fulfilled a dream through hybridization of his own unique cultivars, particularly those with red or purple petioles. Some of his originations with richly colored petioles include 'Almost', 'Designer Genes', 'Miss Grace', 'Miss Linda Smith', 'Miss Ruby', 'Miss Susie', 'Mr Black', 'Mr Blue', 'Mr Jack', 'Redback Tavern', 'Smokey', and 'The Perfect Storm'.
Beyond just the petioles, color which extends into the leaf blade causes an increased excitement among many hosta lovers. The best early example of Wrede's originations in which red extends into the leaf is 'Almost', which was the sensation of the 2005 AHS National Convention in Cleveland, OH. Wrede named it such because he had gotten the red color from the petiole up almost into the leaf veins. He always asserted that 'Almost' was his best plant in the quest for a red-leaved hosta.
At the age of 80, Arthur was still working toward developing red-leaved hostas, much of the red-petioled work among hybridizers today rests upon his accomplishments.
Pushing red or purple into the leaf blade has proven to be no small task. Hybridizers both in America and abroad continue in their efforts to create the next hot
new red-petioled or red-leaved cultivar. Below is a list of hosta breeders who more recently have been working on red-petioled, and red-leaved, hostas:
Doug Beilstein, Dublin, OH
Christian Brinkmann, Gütersloh, Germany
'Chris' China Star', 'Chris' Darkest Purple', 'Chris' Red Lightning', 'Chris' Tropical Sundown'
Don Dean, Ramsey, MN
'Evening Inferno', 'Night Flight', 'Xcuse Me'
Rick Goodenough, Marshfield, MA
'Jack Berry', 'Kent Falls', 'Lord of the Rings', 'Old Weathersfield'
Roy Herold, N. Reading, MA
'Brandywine', 'Chopsticks', 'Cinnamon Sticks', 'Red October', 'Red Sox'
Jeroen Linneman, Zwolle, The Netherlands
'Valley's Dancing Lady', 'Valley's Dandy', 'Valley's Hot Legs', 'Valley's Makoto', 'Valley's Purple Dust', 'Valley's Red Scorpion'
Jeff Moore, Janesville, WI
'Considering Concordville', 'Grateful Red', 'Red Badger', 'Owens Outrage', 'Whining Uncle', 'Wisconsin Treasure'
Doug Ruff, Buffalo, MN
'Bloodline', 'Electric Fire', 'Flamenco Dancer', Light the Match', 'World on Fire'
Alttara Scheer, Ridgefield, CT
'China Girl', 'Funky Monkey', 'Maya Kingsnake', 'Stephen King'
Steve Schrage, Oshkosh, WI
Bob Solberg, Franklinton, NC
'Beet Salad', 'Calm before the Storm', 'First Blush', 'Infatuation', 'Lemon Kiss', 'Lemon Snap', 'Mango Salsa', 'One Man's Treasure' (Benedict/ Solberg), 'Peach Brandy', 'Peacock Strut', 'Plum Delicious', 'Plum Pudding', 'Rough Lemon', 'Ruby Earrings', 'Tom Terrific'
Bev & Dave Stegeman, Chesterton, IN
'Rocket's Red Glare', 'Symphony in Blue', 'Tickle Me Pink'
Danny Van Eechaute, Astene-Deinze, Belgium
'Almost Unreal', Armani', 'Cherry Red', 'Fire Dance', 'Flemish Design', 'Lipstick Blonde', 'Purple Boots, 'Red Bull'
Ronny Van Keer, Diegem, Belgium
'Holar Black Swan', 'Holar Crimson Grape', 'Holar Early Days', 'Holar Garnet Crow', 'Holar Purple Flash', 'Holar Red Sea Shell', 'Holar Red Wine', 'Holar Rising Flame'
Terra Nova/ Dan Heims/ Gary Gossert, Canby, OR
'Alana's Laugh', 'Aquamarine', 'Liam's Laugh', 'Purple Heart', 'Raspberry Sorbet'
Mike Vasey, Dublin, OH
'Dark Energy', 'Mothra', 'Red Sky at Night', 'Van Gogh In Aries', 'Wings of Desire'
Dan Wols, Tinley Park, IL
'Big Red', 'Hot Shot', 'Phoenix Feathers', 'Skylight'
Doug Ruff of Minnesota recently set a new standard for hostas having red foliage with the introduction of 'Bloodline' - a hybrid of a 'Tequila Sunrise' seedling x 'First Blush'. Deep burgundy-red appears as soon as it emerges in spring and the color extends across the entire leaf. The dark red is more saturated with cool night temperatures and some direct sun.
Doug says, "Out of all the blushers I've created so far, 'Bloodline's blushing lasts the longest. I've been using it and its siblings to create more blushers through its pollen. For me, it was a breakthrough plant, not only because of its reliable blushing, but also because it blooms several weeks earlier than 'First Blush'. For my garden, that was the first hurdle I needed to get over."
'Bloodline' is a vigorous grower, forming a mound about 14" high by 24" wide. The leaf size is 5.5" long by 2.5" wide. The blushing red foliage fades to green in mid to late summer. 'Bloodline' is pod and pollen fertile, and is already being integrated into hybridizing programs in the quest for the next new red-leaved hosta.
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