The world of hibiscus is a better place today because Augie Miller had a huge influence over hibiscus breeding in the early part of the last 50 years.  I leave you to observe his contribution in this article.
See also the Hibiscus Register listing of Augie Miller's seedlings.

By Geoff Harvey
(Black Magic - Nathan Charles x Mollie Cummings,  bred by Geoff Harvey, is the border image)

These notes were discovered in storage on 6/2/2001, 20 years after they were compiled. Geoff Harvey offers the information as relevant today.  Geoff Harvey is a Life Member of the Australian Hibiscus Society.  As a nurseryman and the Society's Nomenclature Officer, his work made a significant contribution to the Nomenclature as we know it today.

History: It is likely that the ornamental hibiscus H. rosa-sinensis originated in India and were transported by man in early times throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific regions. In the different localities, new species appeared in the due course of evolution. Mr Ross Gast, probably the foremost authority on hibiscus, recognizes the following species as being genetically compatible with all forms of H. rosa-sinensis and with each other: H. schizopetalus from the East African coast, H. liliiflorus from Mauritius, H. cameronii from Madagascar, H. fragilis and H. boryanus from Reunion Island, H. arnottianus and H. Kokio from Hawaii, H. storkii from Fiji, and H. denisonii - origin unknown - (possibly synonymous with H. storkii.)

It is likely there are additional species - that may or may not still exist - which have contributed genetically in the development of our modern hybrids. Crossing of hibiscus was commenced on Mauritius as early as 1820 and shortly before 1900 in Hawaii, India, Ceylon, Fiji and Florida. Today, (circa 1980 - see also Jim Howie’s book “Hibiscus - Queen of the Flowers - Nomenclature" ) Australia is contributing many excellent hybrids with Mr Stan Beard being our best known hybridizer. Nobody knows how many thousands of varieties have been raised over the years. In Australia alone, there are more than 600 varieties available commercially.

More than 60 of our best cultivars originate from August Miller in Hawaii this being the main reason why the improved ones have become known as ‘Hawaiian Hibiscus’. I have raised more than 1000 seedlings for observation and have planned preparation to commence a properly conducted breeding programme. (comment: Allan McMullen and Bert Hardy were doing so, too but died early in their work)

Good plant breeders need only have the qualities of being naturally observant, having a sense of beauty, patience, a willingness to go to a certain amount of trouble and a good deal of common sense. No scientific knowledge is essential in becoming a good plant breeder. The most essential requirement is to know the plants, know what is wanted and then get it. There is no point duplicating another breeder’s programme. Generally speaking, scientific institutions have not done much in the way of producing novelties in ornamental plants compared with the results of amateurs. As beauty cannot be measured, a scientist tends to be at a disadvantage. He may well have access to such advantages as ‘genetic engineering’ but it is most unlikely that this expensive procedure would be used on hibiscus.

A knowledge of genetics is not essential to the plant breeder but it can be very useful if properly understood and adapted. If you observe your plants closely and keep careful records, you will begin to find that certain crosses are more fruitful than others and point the way to the next step in hybridizing to reach an objective. Many amateurs have considerable success merely by playing their hunches. All plant breeding depends on chance and this means that skill in this consists in shortening the odds against you.

Most of the characteristics with which breeders of hibiscus deal do not behave in a simple way. This plant has been extensively bred to a stage where it is highly polymorphic. We are continuing an experiment which began over 100 years ago. A good example showed up with blooms from a 1979 cross between Nathan Charles and Mollie Cummings. The resultant seedlings all have good characteristics such as overlapped petals, good texture, being ruffled and tufted. The complication is in the bloom colours which have shown up mauves and whites predominating as well as reds and pinks. It would be interesting to be able to draw up a genetic model of these two cultivars to study the colour inheritance. Perhaps a hundred or more seedlings would begin to yield some interesting information.

The colour of flowers is determined by their genes. Some of these are “structural” genes which are directly concerned with producing colour - genes for the intensity of red or yellow, for example. Others are “control” genes that switch the activities of the other genes on and off. As blue is a primary colour, it is not obtainable by mixing other colours. A keen hybridizer could experiment with a box of artist’s paints to imitate what he might achieve when breeding from hibiscus of various colours. When a colour pattern of inheritance has been observed, the box of paints could indeed become useful.

The next step is to research Nathan Charles and Mollie Cummings. The objective in crossing was to obtain a highly ruffled and tufted dark red prolific bloomer, sun-tolerant on a vigorous plant thus combining the best characteristics of the two cultivars. This would be achieved if enough seedlings were raised with perhaps a bonus of two worth keeping along the way. Thus, knowing what we want, we then endeavour to obtain the result. It may then be necessary to back cross these “best” keepers with Miss North Miami or Nathan Charles itself in order to arrive at the original objective.

Nathan Charles: bred by Augie Miller, Hawaii, before 1970.  Parentage not recorded.

Bad Points: Blooms slow to open. Grafting necessary for best results. Irregular blooming. Most Queensland plants show signs of virus infection. It is unlikely that a virus will be transmitted by seed.

Good Points: Medium-sized bushy plant. Large exceptional 2-day bloom displaying full cartwheel overlap, medium/heavy texture, heavily ruffled and tufted, almost flat, crepey, sun tolerant. A good bloom is very near to perfect.

Colours: Stigma pads 46 B -currant red; staminal column 53 B/A - cardinal red; eye zone 187 A - black red; outer petal edge 60 C - purple red; main colour - cardinal red; tufts 63 C - orchid pink; reverse 11 C/D - naples yellow and 63 C/B - phlox pink/orchid pink.

Click the image to see a larger picture
Nathan Charles Mollie Cummings

Mollie Cumings: U.S.A. variety dating from prior to 1970, a sport of the August Miller cultivar, Jessie Lum per Mr Bruce W. Parnell. Jessie Lum is a large to very large pale pink single bloom with a glowing red eye, fully overlapped, ruffled and tufted.

Note: progeny will probably inherit the Jesse Lum colours rather than those of Mollie Cummings. The tendency to colour mutate seems to be inherited and, indeed, Mollie Cummings has sported several times.

Bad Points: Bush tall, tending to be leggy. One-day bloom, sometimes slow to open, recurves slightly. Some leaf spotting during winter months.

Good Points: Bush is vigorous. Very prolific bloomer. The most popular dark red bloom sold in Australia. Fully overlapped bloom with a velvety appearance. Displays some ruffling and tufting and sun tolerance. Not troubled by hibiscus beetle.

Colours: Stigma pads 45 A - guardsman red; staminal column and eye zone 46 A - currant red; main colour 45 A - guardsman red, 187 A in colder months - black red.


Recorded uses as parents of named cultivars: 
From 2001 data, Mollie Cummings has been a female parent 3 times, 14 times male. It may not readily set seed and may have been neglected for this reason. On the other hand, Nathan Charles is a proven parent plant with some quality blooms resulting -17 times female, 16 times male.

Some Nathan Charles progeny circa 1980: A = in Australia; U = in the U.S.A.
Dorothy Tripp (Nathan Charles x Ann Miller) (A); Christopher Howie (Nathan Charles x Ann Miller) (A); Rebecca (Nathan Charles x Jean Kaplan) (A); Three Cheers (Nathan Charles x Jean Kaplan) (A); Lavender Lady (Lavender Sky x Nathan Charles) (U); Miss North Miami (Nathan Charles x Vulcan) (U); Merry Widow (Nathan Charles x Plum Dandy) (U); Bess Gordon (Miller’s Ruffled White x Nathan Charles) (U); Debutante (Ruth Wilcox x Nathan Charles) (U); Charles September (September x Nathan Charles) (U); Mary E. (Surfrider x Nathan Charles) (U); Marlow Wolfe (Winn Doxee x Nathan Charles) (U); Francis Cooper (Winn Doxee x Nathan Charles) (U).

My best 5 seedlings from Nathan Charles x Mollie Cummings were:
HG-20-9: Very vigorous, medium bushy plant. Medium sized lolly-pink bloom with a white eye, good texture and presentation, overlapped, ruffled and tufted. Has definite commercial potential. (Eventually named Dell’s Pride following a visit from Dell Ingram whose husband Eban managed the Mt Coot-tha show)
HG-26-6: Very vigorous raspberry pink single with a white eye. Medium sized ruffled bloom with full cartwheel overlap. (Discarded)
EG-64-2: Medium vigour and size. Bloom is very spectacular, fully overlapped large single with a large black-red eye zone and main body claret rose. Bloom lasts 2-3 days on a well branched bush. Has definite commercial value. (Eventually named Black Magic. Recent bloom specimens seen in 2001 have degenerated through colour mutation or virus.)
EG-67-2: Medium vigour. Medium/large bloom is mauve with a black red eye. (Discarded)
EG-75-2: Medium vigour. Medium bloom is cardinal red with highly developed tufting. (Interesting but discarded)

Editor’s Note: Geoff’s assessment assigned 100 points in these categories:

PLANT: Plant Vigour (10), Disease and Pest Resistance (5), Ease of Propagation (5), Growth Characteristics (5), Adaptability to Climate and Soils (5) - a sub-total of 30.
BLOOM: Size of Bloom (5), Texture of Bloom (5), Form of Bloom (5), Shape of Bloom (5), Frequency of Blooming (5), Number of Blooms Produced (5), Duration of Bloom (5), Tolerance to Sun, Wind, etc. (5), Colour of Bloom (5), Presentation of Bloom (5) - sub-total of 50.
OTHER: Landscaping Potential (2), Garden Potential (5), Show Potential (3), Response from Gardeners (10) - sub-total of 20 made the total out of 100.

Some points were also deducted for Bud Dropping, Colour Fading, Bloom Distortion, Rolled Petal Edges, Poor Bloom Presentation on the bush, etc.

Summary: The average score for the parents on this scale was 77 and the progeny 75, the best two being 80! A hybridizer needs to be unbiased when assessing his seedlings and should discard seedlings that present any doubts as to their usefulness. Don’t be tempted to hand out propagating wood unless for H.O.T.Y. or registration has taken place. The points system has been under consideration for some time and has been used here in a preliminary form to try to illustrate how new and existing varieties could be assessed objectively.

In view of the discussion above, Black Magic is my seedling best suited to further crossing with Miss North Miami or back-crossing with Nathan Charles. From another batch of seed of the same cross, Kim Ellen resulted. In The Hibiscus, July/August 1997, Les Beers listed in his best 10 Mollie Cummings, Nathan Charles and Kim Ellen. I am encouraged to once again dust some pollen and you can be sure that good old Nathan Charles will feature again as a pod parent. I am in need of a good plant if anybody has one for sale!


August Miller of Hawaii deserves this tribute. Ross Gast, in October, 1963, said: “My visit with the Millers was a real inspiration. They are sticklers for form, colour and, above all, petal substance. What is more, they recognize the importance of sound plant structure.”
Right:  Augie and Adele Miller as seen in the May/June Seedpod of 1982.

Most of these 74 cultivars were grown in Australia
 from the 1960’s onwards:
(click to view) 
Extras have been added courtesy of the May/June Seedpod of 1982
Album Pages
(where pictures are available)
Adele Miller
Analli Beauty
Ann Miller
Audrey Hong
Augie Miller
Barbara Miller
Beth Henry
Bill Stayton
Blanch Cerf
Bob Tomlinson
Bobby Bal
Bobby Booth
Bob Waegner
Both Heller
Brenda Miller
Brenda Phillips
Burr Phillips
Charlie Dunn
Charlotte Keala
Chester Frowe
Chris Dunn
Christian Gruiner
Christine Phillips
Coconut Ice
Colonial House
Dale Phillips
Dana Phillips
Debby Ann
Doctor Phillips
Doctor Suzuki
Donna Lee
Dorothy Agonis
Dudley Pratt
Edith Scott
Emma De Frise
Ennis Miller
Esther Suzuki
Frances Silva
Gala Ten
George Liberace
Hazel Mortison
Henry Schurman
Hiwa Hiwa Nani
Hula Blues
Jean Clark
Jean Kaplan
Jean Lum
Jean Watkins
Jean Watson
Jeanne Kaplan
Jesse Lum
Joan Lum
John F. Kennedy
Kaanapaii Beauty
Kai Nani
King Lavender
Kitty Beebee
Kona Sunset
Kuulei Akina
Lady Bird Johnson
Lani Dunn
Lani II
Lyle Phillips III

Lynn Carol
Margaret Okano
Margaret Schurman
Martha Fleming
Mila Matson
Miller’s Red
Morley Theaker
Mott Smith
Nathan Charles
Nena Takas
Peggy Walton
Powder Puff
Prince Kuhio
Ronnie Jeanne
Roosevelt Hi
Royal Kahala
Ruby Brown
Ruffled White
Sally K.
Sandy Chun
Stacey Winters
Strawberry Sundae
Tom Shields
Waialae Lki
Warren Thayer
Wendy Ann
Zellie Miller
Zellie Waegner
1. Adele Miller to Chester Frowe

2. Chris Dunn to Gala Ten

3. George Liberace to Jesse Lum

4. Joan Lum to Madonna

5. Margaret Okano to Peggy Walton

6. Peppi to Zellie Waegner

See the 2005 International Hibiscus Register list of Augie Miller's seedlings.