Tolumnia Golden Sunset: A Growing Legacy

Taken from the June 2001 issue of Orchids Magazine

Tolu. Golden Sunset
'Malcolm', AM/AOS

Tolu. Golden Sunset
'Ruth Simpson', AM/AOS

Tolu. Golden Sunset
'Sonoma', AM/AOS

Tolu. Golden Sunset
'Sunkissed', HCC/AOS

ABOVE: Four clones of Tolumnia Golden Sunset that illustrate the dramatic variation in this grex. 

Mention Tolumnia (Equitant Oncidium) hybrids and an immediate association is Tolumnia Golden Sunset, one of the most delightful Tolumnia hybrids produced over the past 60 years. The year 2000 marked the 25th anniversary of the registration of this grex, and these 25 years have given breeders and aficionados alike an excellent perspective from which to judge its success or failure. Has it emerged as a standard of excellence? Does it have recognized value in breeding? Is it an enduring example of quality?


In the early 1950s, the legendary W.W. Goodale Moir of Hawaii pioneered Tolumnia breeding when he began crossing the species he had collected on his business trips to the West Indies. The first 25 years of activity was dominated by his efforts. By the 1970s the potential he was coaxing out of "Moir's weeds," as they were called, encouraged others to join the pursuit. The most active of these were Richard and Stella Mizuta and Robert and Susan Perreira, also of Hawaii. The foundation Moir had painstakingly laid was about to bear fruit. Tolumnia Golden Sunset (Stanley Smith x Tiny Tim) was made by the Perreiras, and registered by Francis Aisaka in 1975. It is a fairly simple hybrid that combined four of the five species Moir believed to be the most significant in Tolumnia breeding: Tolu. pulchella contributed its genes for pink color, large size, full shape and good presentation on a long, often branching inflorescence. Tolu. triquetra supplied the potential for spots and assorted patterns, and a compact plant habit. It also offered shortening of the inflorescence as well as its propensity to branch. And Tolu.guianensis (formerly called Onc. desertorum, filled out the petal shape, enhancing overall roundness of the flowers. Tolu. urophylla offered its yellow color, good size and rather expanded lip.

It is of interest to note here that Moir considered this species one of the five cornerstone species in his breeding program, and no doubt it was, judging from his description of the clone he was most likely using: "A bigger variant ... we ... no longer possess ... though its 'blood' is surely to be found in the Golden Glow, a highly successful hybrid we produced." (Breeding Variegata Oncidiums, W.W. Goodale Moir and May Moir, 1980, page 27). His description of the clone and his reports of breeding results lead me to believe that he was dealing with a very select, perhaps polyploid, form. None of the average Tolu. urophylla I've seen or used in breeding have ever been that good or influential. To have had this clone in use by one of the most creative of hybridizers was fortuitous indeed.

The mix of these species seems to have been just about perfect, and their contributions are expressed in varying degrees across the many clones of Tolu. Golden Sunset, producing a remarkable variety of colors and patterns. This stunning variability has been Tolu. Golden Sunset's strongest asset.

Tolu. Seka 'Sun King',
HCC-AM/AOS (x Bauble)

Tolu. Stunner 'Crist Orchids',
HCC/AOS (x Valette)

Tolu. Dandy 'Sunrise',
HCC/AOS (x triquetra)

ABOVE: Direct progeny of Tolumnia Golden Sunset show a diversity of colors.

Through 1980, 11 hybrids had been registered using Tolu. Golden Sunset as one parent, and Tolu. Golden Sunset itself had received 13 AOS quality awards. In 1982, Karen Miles and I assessed what we considered the three most promising tolumnias of the day; Tolu. Golden Sunset, Tolu. Rainbow and Tolu. Phyllis Hetfield (Three Super Oncidiums of the 1970s, AOS Bulletin, February 1982, pages 123-130). All three had exceptional clones that were being infused into the hybridizing programs in progress, and were producing promising offspring that were themselves receiving awards. All three had the potential for greatness. Only time would tell.

Some interesting surprises were reported five years later in 1987, in a retrospective of this trio (Three Super Oncidiums of the 1970s in Retrospect, AOS Bulletin, February 1988, pages 125-137). Spots and patterns were being produced with more certainty and less chance, color variety was broadening, even the palette seemed to be mixing interesting new hues and combinations. But it was also apparent that only one of these three grexes, Tolu. Golden Sunset. was pulling away from the pack.

Breeding activity of Tolu. Phyllis Hetfield and Tolu. Rainbow had declined, while that of Tolu. Golden Sunset had accelerated, no doubt fueled by the high-quality awardable offspring it was producing. Grexes like Tolu. Robsan, Tolu. Sniffen, and Tolu. Irene Gleason were proving quite capable of standing on their own credentials and going on to produce many fine progeny as well. With more than 40 AOS awards to its credit, Tolu. Golden Sunset was indeed emerging as a superior Tolumnia hybrid.

Standard of Excellence

Another direct descendant of Tolu. Golden Sunset is Tolu. Robsan 'Orchid World', AM/AOS (x Susan Perreira), grown by Orchid World International.

Awards are generally used for assessing quality. Few of us have the opportunity to see large numbers of any cross to compare quality, so we depend on the various awards systems and the expertise of their judges to provide some baseline of quality. These systems' purpose is to organize improvement and quality according to accepted standards, and there is usually some system of documentation available for reference as well. This makes awards a useful tool for making comparisons. However, the main weakness of using awards is that many fine (perhaps even awardable) breeding clones may never be submitted for judging. Conversely, the fact that a plant is awarded does not make it a good parent.

With these caveats in mind, let's look more closely at Tolu. Golden Sunset's performance from the perspective of its 25th year, using AOS awards data (through Awards Quarterly, Volume 31, 2000). Tolumnia Golden Sunset has now received 50 awards (8 percent of all Tolumnia awards): 30 Highly Commended Certificates, 17 Awards of Merit, one Judges Commendation, and two Certificates of Cultural Merit. (Its nearest rival, Tolu. Robsan, has 18 awards and is one of its offspring.) Of note, too, is that many of the unawarded Tolu. Golden Sunset clones are actually higher in quality than the average awarded Tolumnia up to the advent of this fine grex. The accompanying illustrations show the enticing diversity among the various clones.

Since many growers with relatively small collections like to have only one or two examples of a cross, it seems fair to ask what would be an average representative for this grex. Human beings like to crunch numbers and look for patterns. However, the only real numbers we have to work with are from the awards and are measurements of size (primarily natural spread), number of flowers and average number of points scored. Size and floriferousness together are allotted a maximum of only 20 points of the 100-point score, so they are not truly reliable values for determining the average clone. The remaining 80 points are given or taken for the degree of excellence of color, shape, substance, texture and arrangement on the stem. By taking into account all of the flower's features, good and bad, the scores give weight to characteristics that cannot be ascertained merely from quantitative statistics and therefore give a better assessment of overall quality.

If we consider those clones that scored the calculated average of 77 points, there are nine: 'Aisaka', HCC/AOS, 'Conquest', HCC/AOS, 'Gay', HCC/AOS, 'Lea', HCC/ AOS, 'Mauna Kea', HCC/AOS, 'Roberta', HCC/AOS, 'Robsan II, HCC/AOS, 'Suzanne Miles', HCC/AOS, and 'Waiomao', AM/ AOS. Natural spreads ranged from 2.3cm to 3.0cm, and number of flowers per inflorescence, from six to 20. Colors ranged from spots of solid yellow to red and red-orange on backgrounds of yellow, white or pink. While space does not permit illustration of all of these, those shown clearly demonstrate the exciting range of colors (obviously all Tolu. Golden Sunsets are not gold), shapes, and quality of the blooms, regardless of the numerical statistics. How can there truly be an average Tolu. Golden Sunset when there are so many fine clones? Indeed, one's Tolumnia collection could conceivably be made up entirely of this one grex and exhibit great variety.

The expressions of Tolu. Golden Sunset's gene pool is delightfully variable and exhibits an overall quality surpassing what had been seen up to Tolu. Golden Sunset's introduction. Tolumnia Golden Sunset certainly achieves a standard of excellence.

Recognized Value

Tolu. Little Bird Reef 'Sun Bird', HCC/AOS (x Melody)

Tolu. Magic 'Woodlawns Grandeur', AM/AOS (x Rainbow)

Tolu. Sniffen 'Jennifer Dauro', FCC/AOS (x Irene Gleason)

Tolu. Elfin Star 'Puanani', AM/AOS (Ole x Kathleen Oka)

Tolu. West Bay 'Sundance', HCC/AOS (Hawaiian Sunset x Robsan)

Tolu. Memoria John Craig 'Sundance', AM/AOS (Sniffen x triquetra)

This delightful genetic variability has made Tolu. Golden Sunset a breeder's delight, which brings us to its performance as a parent. In the 1982 article, the early success of Tolu. Golden Sunset hybrids was noted, with seven of its 13 crosses receiving 10 awards. At the time of the 1988 article, at least 50 crosses with Tolu. Golden Sunset as a parent had been registered and 17 of them had been awarded for a total of 60 awards. Among these are one First Class Certificate (Tolu. Sniffen 'Jennifer Dauro', FCC/AOS) and two Awards of Quality (Tolu. Dawn to Dusk, AQ/AOS, and Tolu. Sniffen, AQ/ AOS). A third AQ went to a remake of Tolumnia Magic in 1987 just after the article went to press. The Award of Quality is a significant and prestigious honor because it recognizes outstanding improvement in breeding and must be awarded unanimously by the judging team.

Currently, as would be expected, breeding with Tolu. Golden Sunset as a direct parent has slowed, primarily as a result of its numerous successful offspring that are now carrying on. Nevertheless, hybridizers still have occasion to look to Tolu. Golden Sunset as a desirable parent. Its greatest asset, as already noted, is the variability of colors and patterns coupled with consistent high quality. Because of this outstanding potential, breeders have continued to probe its possibilities. Indeed, a number of earlier crosses are being remade with new and different clones of Tolu. Golden Sunset.

By June 2000, Tolu. Golden Sunset was a direct parent of 106 crosses, and, of these, 33 have 122 awards. Many of Tolu. Golden Sunset's progeny have gone on to produce awarded crosses themselves. With 18 awards, Tolumnia Robsan (x Susan Perreira) is the second-most-awarded Tolumnia hybrid; impressive, but still far below its illustrious parent. However, the overall quality of this cross is seen in awarded clones such as 'Carmela', HCC/ AOS, 'Fiesta', HCC/AOS, and 'Krull-Smith', AM/AOS. Tolumnia Robsan, too, is producing some fine, awarded offspring such as Tolumnia Wave Dancer, Tolumnia Little Bird Reef and Tolumnia West Bay. Other Tolu. Golden Sunset progeny have accrued numerous awards. Among the more familiar crosses are Tolumnia Dandy (x triquetra), Tolumnia Irene Gleason (x Linda), Tolumnia Seka (x Bauble), Tolumnia Shannon Elizabeth (x Sniffen) and Tolumnia Stunner (x Valette).

Individual clones of superior quality are recognized by the First Class Certificate, and again, Tolu. Golden Sunset's influence is noteworthy. Tolumnia Sniffen 'Jennifer Dauro', FCC/AOS, mentioned above, received its FCC (92 points) in 1985. Only two other tolumnias have achieved this highest of AOS awards: Tolumnia Fandango 'D&M', FCC/AOS (Celebrity x Irene Gleason) in 1990 and Tolumnia Touch of Class 'Hilltop', FCC/ AOS (Oh Me x Stunner) in 1991. Both are products of Tolu. Golden Sunset breeding lines.

Tolumnia Golden Sunset's success could be demonstrated further and further into its grand-progeny and great-grand-progeny, etc. These descendants are now active in breeding circles and are exhibiting an even richer enhancement of colors, shapes and sizes. Many of these are being backcrossed to various clones of Tolu. Golden Sunset, as well as to its direct progeny, so that the lines between parent, grandparent and great-grandparent are virtually indistinguishable.

Enduring Quality

Tolu. Beach Fire 'Solar Flare', HCC/AOS(Two Gentlemen x Bay Fire)

Tolu. Orchidom's Baby Joy 'River's End', AM/AOS (Baby Trouble x Alameda Joy)

Tolu. Surfer Sam 'O'Whimsy', HCC/AOS(Wave Dancer x Sammy Ray)

Even with the success of its progeny, Tolu. Golden Sunset still stands among exceptional grexes of the orchid world as a fine example of excellence. Hobbyists continue to seek out the many available mericlones to round out their collections. The fact that the individual plants and flowers are small in size amidst a mainstream collection of Cattleya, Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum does not diminish their inherent beauty and charm.

In all orchid hybridizing, just as soon as we think we have reached the pinnacle, we find there are more unusual paths to explore just over the ridge. The future continues to look bright for Tolumnia breeding. With the progress made by Tolu. Golden Sunset, we have a fascinating gene pool to work with, and intriguing possibilities present themselves with every cross that blooms. Some of the descendants of the Tolu. Golden Sunset line are showing the promise of exciting new colors and pattern combinations: burnt oranges, glowing golds, true reds, clown-like splotching, and even stripes.

To be such a superior and sought-after grex is not a trivial achievement. Hybridizing would not be where it is today without the remarkable variability of Tolu. Golden Sunset, and its influence on future hybrids is far from fading. What a pity that Goodale Moir could not revel in the astonishing beauty that has emerged from those first efforts with his "weeds."

Anita Aldrich is a life member, accredited judge,former trustee of the American Orchid Society, former chairman of the Society's Committee on Awards (now the Judging Committee) and former chairman of the Conservation Committee. She has 40+ years' experience raising orchids and is owner of Sundance Orchids in Galveston, established in 1976. Since 1975 she has been hybridizing tolumnias, and a frequent contributor to the American Orchid Society Bulletin. Anita has lectured frequently to orchid societies and horticultural groups nationwide, and has played an active role in many orchid-related societies and activities in the Southwest. 817-89th, Route 2, Galveston, Texas 77554.