Great progress began in 1870 in the hybridizing of the canna lily by a combination of genetic materials from the wild canna species that had been collected from around the world, leading to the production of the ‘Madame Crozy’ cultivar. A great interest developed in canna lilies as a colorful garden plant that previously had been grown chiefly for the fast growing, tropical foliage, since the wild canna blooms were mostly small and uninteresting. The stockpile of collected, canna wild species were again used to back-cross and intermingle with the celebrated hybrid, Madame Crozy.
The bright bazaar colors and the tropical look was excitable and exotic for the gardeners of the Victorian Age. Several countries including Italy, Germany, France, and England became actively involved in canna hybridization. Great efforts were made to codify the canna lily as an inexpensive, brilliantly flowered plant with the tropical, fast growing, garden choice to plant everywhere, and as often happens, to the unstoppable point of being brashly overdone.
A few of the Victorian Era canna hybrids are still grown today, despite the general opinion of most canna lovers, that they should be buried with the past and forgotten except for the historical contribution that elevated the wild native hybridization canna combinations that created new directions for color and tropical leaf development to explore.
The naming of the Grand Opera Series of Canna lilies, was, a flower hybridizer’s colorful idea of associating an Italian classical musical treasure- The Opera—with a group of hybrid flowers. These new canna hybrids, likewise, caused a sensation in the garden lovers world, and the possibility of the commercial production of canna rhizomes made it possible for gardening Italians to reasonably afford to plant the brightly colored tropical leaved plants in their yards. The brilliant idea of associating the beloved Operatic titles with colorful tropical leaves with stalks of glowing flowers worked well. These Italian canna introductions were planted and grown throughout much of the European continent. The Grand Opera Series of canna cultivars were tagged with names of the well known operatic performances of Aida, La Boheme, La Traviata, Madam Butterfly, Rigolletto and Der Rosenkavalier (German.)
The German Canna hybridizer, Wilheim Pfitzer, had his own favorite canna names including, Stadt Fellbach. Most of Pfitzer named cannas were given vivid and specific color names such as: Crimson Beauty, Primrose Yellow, Salmon Pink, and Chinese Coral. In addition to adding clear colors of pastels, the Pfitzer canna grew into dwarf plants and rarely grew taller than 3ft. This dwarf feature was very attractive for small metropolitan gardens, where space was limited, and most of the Pfitzer canna cultivars readily produced seed that might grow into even better canna cultivars with that personal touch for the backyard gardener.
Italian interest in hybridizing canna lilies extended even into the Italian Monarchy reigns of King Emmanuel II and his son, King Humbert. The Yellow King Humbert canna is believed to have been renamed by an English gardener as Richard Wallace.
The noted French Hybridizer in 1870, Luther Burbank, the famous American Botanist, noted in his book, Flowers, published in 1921 that the Madame Crozy canna introduction laid the foundation for a canna hybrid industry to rapidly evolve, since the flowers were colorful and large and all existing flowers of known wild canna species had produced small insignificant flowers. All interest in growing canna as a garden subject had previously come from an eclectic interest in the exotic tropical leaves, not from the flowers.
Luther Burbank imported the Madame Crozy canna into California, where he back-crossed it with Canna flaccida, an American S.E. Wild native canna, that grew in the salt marshlands of Georgia. That improvement named the ‘Tarrytown’, that resulted as a back-cross of the Canna flaccida on the Madame Crozy cultivar won a prize at the Buffalo, NY Flower Award. That excellent canna cultivar dropped its older flowers as they matured, leaving the cluster of blooms looking fresh and vibrant. Luther Burbank went on to develop several white flowered canna hybrids and another bi-color named for himself, “Burbank.” Burbank’s prizewinner, Tarrytown was distributed through a mailorder seeds man, J.C. Vaughan from Chicago, Il. and renamed as, ‘ Florence Vaughan; the wife of J.C. Vaughan. The Florence Vaughan canna is an excellent cultivar, lemon yellow with creamy-orange splotches and dots, still sold by many mailorder catalogs today and can be found flourishing in moist ditches where it has become naturalized in many locations of the South.
Other Victorian type canna cultivars that still exist and are listed in mailorder catalogs are: Rosemund Cole, a bi-color, orange and yellow green -:leaved canna; Black Knight also sold as Ambassador, a deep crimson flower, a sparse bloomer; City of Portland, small pink flowers atop 6ft ratty leaves of green; and firebird, as orange-red small flowered orphan that has been expelled from most home gardens.