Christmas begonia (Begonia x cheimantha) is a species hybrid between B. socotrana and B. dregei. The first cross was made in France in 1891 and the offspring was called ‘Gloire de Lorraine’, hence the name Lorraine begonia in some parts of Europe.
The hybrid was backcrossed to B. socotrana again some twenty years later.
In Scandinavia it has been given the name Christmas begonia because it is very much a seasonal pot plant with a market in the seven to eight last weeks before Christmas.
The total production of this begonia hybrid in Norway is a little more than one million plants per year at the moment.
The production used to be the double of this, but Christmas begonia has suffered from tough competition by the Christmas star, the Poinsettia.
Poinsettia was improved greatly by breeding in the sixties and one of the improved characters apart from increased branching, was increased keeping quality.
The production of Christmas begonia each year has been stabilised, mainly through new cultivation methods that has reduced the production time greatly, as well as improving keeping quality for the consumers.
All the Norwegian cultivars descend from the same source, a cultivar called Marina, registered in 1948 (Sandved, 1969). The genetic variation in the plant material was therefore extremely narrow.
Department of Horticulture started a small breeding programme in Christmas begonia in 1990, seeking to increase variation and select for increased keeping quality as the main breeding goal.
We have established a method for in vitro selection (Hvoslef-Eide et al., 1993), crossed the original parents to create recombination of characters.
The seedlings have been put through extensive testing for keeping quality (Hvoslef-Eide et al., 1994). As well as a summary of these previous results, we present here the results from the keeping quality testing of the genetically transformed material described by Einset in this present issue of Acta.