Théodore Année – the first Canna hybridist

Théodore Année, a wealthy, retired French diplomatic consul in South America, returned to France in the mid 1840’s and settled in rue des Réservoirs, Passy, Paris, where he devoted himself to the culture of tropical plants from South America, having brought back with him the taste for plants with beautiful foliage, especially the Canna genus.

Rue-des-Reservoirs in the old Passy, Paris

At that time in Europe, Canna species were confined to botanical gardens, cultivated in greenhouses, and their custodians hardly dared to expose them to the open air, because of their tropical origins.

It was in 1846, that Monsieur Année, who had brought back from South America a collection of Canna species, trialled a solid mass of Canna in open ground. The two species which he trialled were Canna indica var. warscewiczi and C. glauca, (aka C. nepalansis). The way they flourished under the northern temperate climate of Passy exceeded his expectations. They flowered abundantly, which allowed him to try the first artificial insemination made on the Canna genus. He applied pollen from C. glauca on to C. indica var. warscewiczi; and it is the offspring of this crossing that first flowered for Année in 1848. The resulting F1 hybrid was called Canna ‘Annei’.

Monsieur Année then spent the next six years bulking-up the new hybrid until he was ready to introduce it to an amazed Parisian public. The popularity of the plant was such that it was stated that 20,000 tufts of Canna ‘Annei’ were used in displays in Paris in 1861. He was rapidly joined by many other enthusiasts and professional horticulturists as Canna hybrids enjoyed rapid popularity in France, and later the rest of Europe and North America. Amongst the professionals was the rose breeder Monsieur Pierre-Antoine-Marie Crozy of Avoux & Crozy, La Guillotière, Lyon, France, who first started hybridizing Cannas in 1862, and who went on to become the greatest of Canna hybridists.

Monsieur Chaté, the author of Le Canna, stated of Année that he was, “A happy, skilful hybridiser, he operated on a great scale and thus became the creator of all the most beautiful varieties of the floral trade. All the amateurs and horticulturists who occupied themselves with foliage plants visited his garden, which he filled up each year with seedlings of Canna. We (the firm of Chaté et fils) owe him the majority of our successes. It is thanks to his councils and his friendship that we delivered to the trade so great a number of Canna innovations, and which enabled us to write this work.”

Monsieur Année then spent the next 20 years creating many more cultivars, notable of which was C. ‘Ehmanni’, until retiring to Nice, in Southern France, in 1866. Fittingly, his last Canna cultivar was named C. ‘Prémices de Nice’.

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