Monday, December 20, 2010

The Mystery of Edwin …Frazer

Not long ago some of us started keeping Anubias ‘Frazeri’ which we suppose was created by Mr. Edwin Frazer. Well I tried to google who Edwin Fraser is. My search in the Internet didn’t bring any results: no email, no address, no account on Facebook or Twitter… There was only a mention that Edwin Frazer was the breeder of some Anubias hybrids and then …at the foot of the page I saw a fax number that must have belonged to Mr. Frazer. “Come what may!” I said to myself and sent a fax to the number.
To my surprise next morning I got an email from Mr. Frazer. It was the moment of truth for many Anubias fanciers in Russia: we discovered the history of the mysterious Anubias ‘Frazeri’!
Mr. Fraser – he lives in Brisbane (Australia) and creates new hybrids of different species – was rather embarrassed about the Anubias ‘Frazeri’: “It is a name given to one of my hybrids by a Florida nursery…”
Then the Australian described how he had been working at this hybrid:
The plant is an old hybrid I made many years ago by crossing an old form of A. barteri with A. congensis ( which is now A. heterophyla I think). I did a number of Anubias pollinations in the late 1980s and 1990s at a time when I was producing new cultivars of Dieffenbachia. I was doing this  primarily to raise Dasheen Mosaic virus free plants as this disease is not usually passed through the seeds. I did a lot of crosses of A. nana and A. barteri including many that had been collected in the wild by Holger Windelov of Tropica Nursery. Mostly I crossed the plants back on themselves as I was trying to get clean varieties for tissue culture. All the A. nana and A. barteri were full of disease, both bacterial and viral, and very difficult to clean up for tissue culture. The results were superior varieties which we sold large numbers of tissue culture produced plants to Tropica and some of the Dutch, Singapore, Japanese and Florida aquatic nurseries. A. 1705, a form of A.barteri is one of these that was very popular and most of the A. nana sold now would have originally been from these plants. As well as selfing these  species I did some crosses and A. frazeri is one of those. I have since done a number of newer hybrids, which you can see on our website”

I posted his answer on the Russian Anubias forum ( and it caught the interest of forum members. They asked a wide range of questions concerned Mr. Frazer’s work, but he chose only this one: “Your description of the variety 'Lisa' contains the pictures of its parents - A. afzelii & A. 'Congensis'. How can you explain that ‘Lisa’ has a cordate leaf base, though the parents don’t have this feature?”

Here is the answer of Mr. Frazer: “There is a lot of variability in the progeny of the F1 crosses with the Anubias "species". This would not normally be expected and I am not sure of why it is so. The fact that there is a very large variability in the wild material probably has something to do with it. Another possibility is that the species we are working with are already hybridized. Unfortunately as there is no accession data with the species I worked with they can only be treated as "horticultural varieties" from a taxonomic point of view. I found the same applied to many of the Dieffenbachia crosses I made, with quite large variations in leaf shape, size and color patterns. Other possibilities are pollen contamination, but I think this is most unlikely as I remember we had a large range of seedlings to choose from rather than two different types.”
As you can see, our mystery is solved, but the world of Anubias has still many of them.

The author of this note: Alexander Grigorov.

Photos: Dmitry Loginov and Edwin Frazer.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Whimsical West Africans

«Our country was not paradise,
Sometimes heavy rains fell upon us.
But if we lose such a place,
We’ll not be happy anywhere else. »

These lines from a poem of the Soviet writer D. Kedrin suit the majority of aquarian plants very well. For example, the native land for the most cryptocorynes (South East Asia) is located worlds apart from our homes, more than that echinodorus had moved from the other part of the world. Of course, you can disagree and doubt whether it is possible now to buy an echinodorus, which has been grown in a tributary of the Amazon, in an ordinary shop. And you will be absolutely right. The majority of the aquarian plants are grown in special man-made nurseries. In spite of it even 100 years in evolutionary process of higher plants are but drop in the bucket and can not influence their physiology considerably. Beyond any doubt we try to create conditions, resembling the existence of our pet plants in the native habitual. Most people use different hand books, which contain information about optimal conditions (temperature, water pH and others) for growing one or another species. Such figures always surprise me. Sometimes I think that most writers of such literature just copy each other. In some cases plants appear to be able to exist and to propagate in more wide range of figures. There are examples of successful echinodorus and nymphaea cultivation in climate of East Europe in summer (see «Aquarium» Nr. 5/2008, Nr.1/2009). Having read these materials I thought if my favorite plants, anubias, can be kept in our climate. More than that such experiments can explain some phenomena observed in the cases of aquarian cultivation of that plants, but we will discuss it lately. Now I am going to tell you about my trial to grow anubias in the climate of the Moscow Region.

A small brook with luxuriant vegetation in the Moscow Region reminds African jungle.
If you are mercenary, you will have nothing to do in the forest at the beginning of June, because soil is not enough warm for mushrooms growth and berries are not ripe. Though, in that season our nature just astonishes us at its riot of colours. Beams of summer sun penetrate through birch leaves which have become strong already, and the scent of blooming field grass creates a special atmosphere making you muse upon timeless questions. In that June morning I was tormented by a more down-to-earth question, if my anubias, which has been raised in hothouses in winter, will blend with the landscape. Their native land is West Africa. The Czech naturalist Joseph Wagner wrote about it: “Tropical forest does not look like our familiar temperate zone forests. It has always shadow, constant temperature, humid soil, and that is ideal conditions for rapid growth of trees. On the ground lie dead leaves, plants, roots, you can see moss and ferns about there, but everything rots at an incredible speed, that’s why humus layer is never so sizeable as in foliage forests of the temperate zone. Everything what falls from trees is edible, and eaten by different animals, fungi, and bacteria.” In nature anubias is a riparian helophyte of the shrub layer in topical rainforests. Taking that into consideration, I chose a tiny brook in a forest gully as a place for my “tropical garden”. The brook ran both in open areas with dense grass on banks and under the shadow of leaf-bearing trees crowns. As a result in a shady nook I bedded out Anubias sp. Gabon (see “Aquarium” Nr.4/2009) and place under the sun was given to Anubias heterophylla. Both plants were emergent, it means that only their roots and rhizomes were located under water, and leaves lied above. More than that in order not to make experiment too exotic, I bedded out a small bush of the well-known Anubias barteri var. nana, which was submerged. The brook’s current was strong, that’s why I had to tie small pieces of red bricks to the rhizomes otherwise the plants will be carried away by the current.

A. heterophylla was planted in the brook.
Anubias heterophylla in its native place, Gabon. Photo made by A.S.J. van Proosdij.

Air temperature in June fluctuated from 48, 2 to 86˚F. The brook’s water seemed to be cold (according to several measurement at different times - 50 – 62,6˚F ) and had not enough time to warm up during short period when sunbeams were penetrating through leaves of the trees surrounding the gully. Meanwhile, the maximal air temperature in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, everyday was the same – 82, 4˚F- as if it were mechanically produced by some heavenly conveyor. That’s why it does not seem strange that in the country there are 6 species of anubias from 8 species described in the current revision (W.Crusio, 1979). High and constant temperature together with almost hundred-per-cent humidity ensures ideal conditions for growing plants of that species. As for my anubia, they perceived their new home differently. Gabon lay steady in the shadow of a near alder without any symptoms of discontent, and it testified enough air humidity. The same could be said about the submerged nana. But heterophylla had the bad luck, during few days it lost all her leaves, which were dried out in the broiling sun. Meanwhile, it does not upset me much, because even before my experiment I had not cherished an illusion that everything would be fine. I had Anubias sp. Gabon and Anubias barteri var. nana as yet. But finely even their wellbeing became transient and was carried away by warm June breeze. They succeeded in existing in our climate only one month. The Gabon got dark blotches on its leaves, its apical point rotted off, and by September only few half-rotten leaves in the brook’s mouth still reminded about my experiment.

Anubias barteri var. nana after 2 weeks in the Moscow area climate.

After a month necrotic blotches appeared on Anubias sp. Gabon.

But after all, going to pick up mushrooms after a few days I visited my “garden” and was pleasantly surprised. Under the layer of duckweed I found the heterophylla’s rhizome with absolutely rotten roots. Two weeks had not passed after placing my find in a hothouse, when it made me glad with some new small roots and a light green leave. This example again shows particular features of the anubias rhizome which make the plant able to go through adverse conditions. In general, the plants, which seem to be Hercules of an underwater garden, are very whimsical in practice. C. Kasselmann in her «Aquarian Plants Atlas» writes that 35,6 – 78,8˚F is the temperature needed for successful anubias vegetation. And that figures do not make me doubt. Too low temperature must cause death of my plants.

The heterophylla rhizome went through three-month “exile” and give birth to a new plant.

Anubias reminds the majority of aquarians plastic plants. Such comparison may be right, but only if we speak about their appearance, because other then that the plants require care as many other inhabitants of aquaria. Buying a plant you must pay attention to the water temperature in trays. I hear a lot of questions and claims of aquarians that leaves of the plants, which had been bought shortly before, turned yellow, became perforated, and finely died off. Reasons for it are said to be the shortage of some microelements in aquarium water, eating by snails or herbivorous fish, the habit of sold plants to live in hothouse conditions etc. In practice it is caused by negligence of sellers and buyers toward those West African plants during transport and storage without aquarium. More then that low temperatures are able to cause development of fungus diseases, which are typical of anubias, but it is another story…
The authors of this note: Dmitry Loginov.
The note is based on the next article: D. Loginov “Nezhenki”, Russian Journal “Aquarium”, 2010, № 1.
Translated from Russian by Elena Belyaeva and Alexander Grigorov
Photos: Dmitry Loginov and A.S.J. van Proosdij.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Otto Gartner’s book “Anubias”

First I’ll relate some events preceding. During my holidays in Europe in August 2010 I managed to meet Dr. Anton Lamboj, an editor of the Austrian aquarium-terrarium journal “Aqua-Terra-Austria” (АТА). I’ve been taking the journal for about a year already, and it attracts me for its homeliness first. There are no “epoch-making” descriptions of new fish or plants species, no news about the world’s first breeding of another rarity, no overbalance in describing a particular range of animals preferred by the chief editor or the editorial board. The editor, Austrian Association for Vivaristic and Ecology, emphasizes discovering new aspects of commonly known species keeping and breeding and, so to speak, first-hand describing animals biotopes. The main thing is that he successfully cooperates with the Association members for it is they and not famous ichthyologists (except some of them like Prof. Dr. Helen Thaler writing regularly for the German journal “Koralle”) who travel and bring new animals and plants. Among the АТА journal regular authors there is Johann Posch, one of the oldest and most experienced Austrian aquarians, who actually brought Mr.Lamboj and me together.
The topic of our discussion was Otto Gartner’s book “Anubias” being under review. This year Mr. Gartner is past 85, 30 years of which he has devoted to the study of Anubias plants. Being more a 64 pages long booklet the book is a collection of Mr. Gartner’s articles published in different aquaria journals at different time. Each chapter is devoted to a particular Anubias species. Apart from a detailed scientific description supported by Anubias species classification of Wim Crusio, a Dutch scientist (his interview is at our blog), there are Otto Gartner’s recollections of how, being already a pensioner, he was exploring every more or less “considerable” Congolese or Angolan swamp together with Posh and other aquarians hoping to find a desired Anubias bush.
The book contains plenty of photos taken by the author himself. There are natural Anubias growing areas, inflorescence and fruit sections in the photos, and detailed pictures of leaves and blossom clusters structure. A certain chapter is devoted to creating a paludarium, a perfect “environment” for keeping Anubias at home. Mr.Gartner’s recollections of his “battle” with great botanists are of a special interest. In 1989 the Austrian brought a plant from Cameroun which he defined as Anubias gigantea. However, the family Araceae plants experts – Joseph Bogner, Christel Kasselmann and Wim Crusio – thought otherwise. According to them Otto Gartner brought the other species called Anubias hastifolia! First the scientist yielded to the authorities’ persuasion and even wrote the appropriate name on the plant pot, but later after the plant blossoming he sent inflorescence samples preserved in alcohol to the distinguished experts and – can you believe it?!- managed to persuade them his plant was a true Anubias gigantea. What could baffle the scientists? The answer is simple. Mr.Gartner brought only rhizomes (rootstocks) of the plant to Vienna. Lacking sunshine the Anubias leaves were narrow in the tropical forest, but in Vienna, where it’s sunny enough, they became strong and broad, with their central part base and side arrow-shaped leaves grown together.

To my mind the book will be of interest for both professional botanists and amateur aquarians. It can be ordered on the АТА journal website ( There is the book cover, the author and the double-page spread in the photos.

The author of this note: Alexander Grigorov.
Translated from Russian by Marina Bortnikova.