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THE ADENIUM STORY

Adeniums have been, till recently, comparatively rare and high value succulents. In part this was because they are somewhat difficult and slow under cool conditions and in part due to the need for cross pollination to set seed. The rather complex floral structure means than hand pollination technique is not obvious.

Thus, in the Western countries, where multiple clones were available, slow growth and closed greenhouses meant little seed set while in tropical Asia, where seed set would have been possible, there was, for a long time there was only one clone- "Singapore"; it set no seed and was propagated by cuttings (I believe this clone is male sterile) with its primary use being in landscaping., there was, for a long time only one clone and so no seed set- the cultivar "Singapore" which was propagated by cuttings.

Adenium seed from the wild is usually of poor quality due to pests, poor harvest timing and inadequate processing. Something changed in the late 70's- a little seed became available in Asia; hand pollination techniques were described in several articles (though in that pre-internet age, I had a tough time getting copies even in the 80's).

In the 80's, several growers in India (Mr.Mukundan in Madras and I in Bombay) & Thailand (notably Mr. Vitoon Techacharoensukchera) were producing and selling Adenium seeds. Over the last two decade we probably sold several million seeds between us.


Vitoon (on left) with a Thai Adenium growers and a huge specimen Adenium arabicum.

The huge number of seedlings raised all over the world led to selection of elite clones. Hybridizing between these selections was started in USA, Thailand, Taiwan and India. The story of Adenium breeding in USA is well documented else where.

In Asia breeding and selection efforts were probably most intense in Thailand, where the "bubble" economy meant crazy prices for anything new. The Thai growers imported the best material from USA and Taiwan and worked out a very efficient system of propagation by grafting on seedling Adenium rootstock.


A large Thai nursery: these are seedling Adeniums being grown as root stock under shade cloth.

Things cooled down greatly in Thailand after 1997, when the economy collapsed and prices were more down to earth.

Breeding and selection, however, continued in Taiwan, partly because a stronger economy could sustain high prices for new hybrids and partly due to their access to the Chinese mainland market.

From the beginning, three "species" were involved in the breeding- Adenium obesum, A. somalense var. somalense and A. swazicum. Pure white clones and variegates were found and propagated. The Thai's propagated almost anything new including a lot of very mediocre material. Taiwan, all along, concentrated on reds (the Chinese consider both, the Adenium as well as the color red as lucky) since that's where the money was. The newest and best reds still come from Taiwan.


A Taiwanese Adenium nursery, fully under plastic greenhouses. The overall standard of plants is much better in Taiwan but so are the prices.

More recently, the introduction of Adenium somalense var. crispum has added considerable variation to flower color, patterns and form as well as added a certain degree of compactness to its hybrids. Current selections tend to be small flowered and of poor form but that should change. Further crosses using A. s. var. crispum holds tremendous promise for the future.

What lies in the future? There is a lot of new material including some second and third generation crosses using the older A. obesum and A. swazicum hybrids. The discovery of two distinct genetic dwarf lines of A. obesum may lead to a range of ultra compact hybrids.

The current worldwide interest in Adeniums augers well for further efforts with breeding and selection- unless there is money to be made, most growers will stop the breeding effort.



A new, highly frilled red in Taiwan. This plant has not been released by the Taiwanese nursery yet. SG42: A new, unreleased crispum hybrid with great form and color. This is the kind of material to aim for in future

The future for serious breeding probably lies in the warmer regions, especially those in Asia. Our heat and cheap labor allow us to raise thousands of plants, which would be impossibly expensive under the heated greenhouse and labor conditions in the West.

I feel the market for hybrid Adeniums is large if quality material can be supplied and the customers are successful with the plants. Currently most material is produced in Thailand but the range of varieties is limited to the easiest and fastest growing hybrids rather than the best. Lack of sanitary propagation practices mean widespread viral infection.

In Europe & USA, Adeniums are just entering what could be called mainstream floriculture. A lot of work needs to be done before they will be routinely sold by regular nurseries and bought by non-collectors, though I hear that Wal Mart does stock them in their stores. Most of these plants are seedlings and will never deliver the results that selected Adenium grafted plants can. Streamlining of production and selection of the right cultivars with Plant Variety protection is necessary before this is possible but we are already moving in this direction.



Grafted Adeniums growing in a greenhouse in Europe, part of a trial shipment to test Adenium as a floriculture pot plant. We hope to make quality grafted Adeniums mainstream items, at least in Europe. Adeniums, large and small for sale at Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market site (plant sales are mostly on Wednesdays & Thursdays rather than the weekends)


The market is not only USA and Europe but also Asia- for many cultures, the Adenium is a "lucky" plant. In warm and hot regions, Adeniums, grown to potential, can rival Azaleas in beauty and impact of flowering with much more character to the plant form.


A specimen Adenium hybrid in full bloom at a nursery in Taiwan, one of hundreds of such plants. These spectacular specimens fetch as much as US$1000 ea and are sold as gifts for weddings or opening of major stores etc as a good luck charm.

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