Jackson Parish 4-H’er blossoms through daylily research

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Sewell, Amanda, Owings, Allen D.  |  7/22/2008 1:47:17 AM

News Release Distributed 07/22/08

A 13-year-old Jackson Parish 4-H’er has his own line of daylilies, has already won sweepstakes awards in flower shows, written an article for an international publication and won the best in agriculture award in the state science fair junior division.

Nick Walker, an honor roll student and Student of the Year at Quitman High School, also hopes his daylily experimentation may make him a million dollars some day.

“I’m searching for that rare blue daylily that will make me a millionaire. However, if that doesn’t happen, I do have an alternative plan. I would like to be a veterinarian,” Nick said. “I like helping animals, and I love science.”

Nick Walker recently placed first in his region in plant sciences for his project entitled, “How do you get those designer genes?” He advanced to the Louisiana Science and Engineering Fair in Baton Rouge and won third place in the state competition along with the junior division award for best in agriculture. Any project in the sixth to eighth grade that dealt with agriculture was eligible to be judged.

The project took place in Vernon, La., at his family’s JoyWalk Daylily Garden, a name which combines Walker and Joynor, Nick’s mother’s maiden name.

“I think Nick’s was a great victory for North Louisiana,” his mother, Christy Walker, said. “There were projects on crawfish, sugarcane and rice. And you can't really eat daylilies,” she said with a laugh.

“I wanted to see if I could determine whether or not more seedling traits came from the pod parent or pollen parent,” Nick said. Nick’s hypothesis was that the seedlings would get more genes from the pod parent. A pod sibling is a seedling from the same pod.

He believed the pod parent should pass along more traits to the seedling because “it is the host plant for the seed pod, and the seed pod should have all the genetics of the base plant – plus the genetics of the pollen plant.”

As it turns out, his hypothesis was correct, but his reasoning was wrong. After researching the genetics of daylilies on the Internet, he thinks that the designer “genes” come from the dominant and recessive traits found in the pod parent and the pollen parent, and it doesn’t matter that the pod parent is the host plant for the seed pod.

“This is important to me because seedlings with wide gold edges and good form are worth $100 or more after they are named and introduced, and an average seedling sells for about $10,” Nick said. “I really want to improve the traits in the seedlings in my summer hybridization program.”

“Daylilies continue to be one of the more popular landscape plants in Louisiana,” said Dr. Allen Owings, professor of horticulture at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station. “We are fortunate to have interest among young gardeners in continuing daylily breeding efforts. There are more than 50,000 named daylily varieties, and many new ones are released annually and registered with the American Hemerocallis Society.

“These new daylilies are in high demand among daylily enthusiasts and serious home gardeners,” Owings said.

Nick photographed and recorded data over seven months on more than 100 seedlings for his project.

“I learned some valuable information from this experiment that will benefit my hybridization program,” he said. “I’m in my seventh year and still strive for that rare daylily.”

He started with 50 varieties in a 10-foot by 10-foot area and is up to 1,000 cultivars and more than 10,000 hybrids in a 100-foot by 200-foot area.

“I can now define bloom season and describe the color pattern, petal color, sepal color, throat color and form for each of my seedlings,” he said. “This knowledge is a must before a seedling can be named and registered.”

There is no true blue or pure white daylily, Nick said, and he has produced every color except those while eagerly awaiting the next bloom, which is usually in early May.

Nick helped his team win first place at the Louisiana State Fair 4-H Livestock Quiz Bowl in 2007. He volunteers at the annual 4-H Ag Day and teaches the elementary students about daylilies, said Amanda Sewell, assistant extension agent for the LSU AgCenter.

He also speaks to garden clubs about how to raise and care for daylilies, including the Master Gardener graduation held in November in West Monroe.

Nick is a youth member of the American Hemerocallis Society and won sweepstakes last year at the Ark-La-Tex Chapter flower show. Eighteen of his 20 entries won first place and the other two won second.

He wrote a story for Daylily Journal, the quarterly international publication of the society, in 2005.

Nick uses his own money for the flowers and raises cows to help pay for the daylilies. The family has an open house and sale every year around Memorial Day.

He has donated daylily proceeds to send boxes to needy children for Operation Christmas Child and food for the needy in Jackson Parish.

His mother said she told classmates at her 20-year reunion that Nick was grown from the moment he was born.

“He has always seemed so mature for his age,” she said.

Nick’s father, Leo; grandfather, E.L. Joynor; uncle, Mike Joynor; and brother, Alex, 6, assist Nick with his hobby.

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Contacts: Amanda Sewell at (318) 259-5690, or asewell@agcenter.lsu.edu, Allen Owings (985) 543-4125, or aowings@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Mary Ann Van Osdell at (318) 741-7430, ext. 1104, or mvanosdell@agcenter.lsu.edu

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