Text by Kit Knotts & Craig Presnell
Photos by Craig & Darcy Presnell
Click images to enlarge
Craig will be embarrassed but we can only call him the quiet
hybridizing genius of South Florida. With no fuss or fanfare,
he has set about making some of the most stunning new tropical
waterlily hybrids introduced in recent years including 'Serendipity',
the 2001 IWGS Banksian Medal winner.
Having always been fascinated by plants in general, Craig and
his wife Darcy bought an aquatic plant nursery just southwest
of West Palm Beach in 1989. "The woman selling the nursery
told me if I could grow terrestrials I could grow aquatics...so
here we are.
"I really backed into hybridization. Along with the business
came two waterlilies, a pink capensis and a blue capensis.
There was not much interest in water gardens at the time. I kept
the lilies around because I liked them...had never had a lily
before...and I'd notice seedlings volunteering from time to time
giving me batches of more pink or blue capensis. I'd have to
say the one event that directly led to my interest in hybridization
was being sent seed for N. immutabilis. I promptly killed
them but swore I would learn to raise lilies from seed so that
would not happen again.
grow from seed. I realized if a bee could do it, just
maybe I had a shot at it now that I was comfortable with my cultivating
"I started collecting the N. capensis seed rather
than let it float away. After a lot of trial and error...never
found a good "how to" in any of the books I read...I
was finally able to consistently bring seedlings to flower. I
should note that, by this time, something at least resembling
a "pond season" had begun to take hold and I'd built
my collection of tropical lilies beyond just capensis. It occurred
to me then, why couldn't I hybridize? It had always seemed to
be the domain of 'specialists' so I never gave it much thought.
As I considered the prospects I could see no big secrets, no
cumbersome techniques that were required, just an ability to
Darcy Presnell working at the nursery
Always unassuming, Craig had to be prodded and cajoled for
more information. We called the exchange "dragging it out".
"I was born in Asheville, North Carolina, but raised
on the eastern seaboard. My father was transferred every couple
of years...I was not an army brat, but a corporate brat to be
sure. One constant was summers in the mountains. I was always
drawn to the outdoors, hunting, fishing, camping. When time came
for college, I got my BS in biology from the College of William
and Mary in Virginia and my MS in Plant Science from the University
"I met Darcy in '81 and we married in '83. I was working
for a tropical fish wholesaler/importer and she for Saab-Scania.
I got a job in Los Angeles with a reptile importer and she got
a transfer with Saab. We tried that for a couple years but never
could take the crowds of Southern California. We had just moved
back east when we heard about the aquatic plant nursery here
and figured, with my plant background and her business experience,
we might make a go of it. That was just thinking of aquarium/terrarium
stuff...it really wasn't much of a pond business in '89.
Namesakes Darcy Jane & Craig's granddaughter
"Even now, though I work with plants all day, the hybridization
thing is my recreation. Darcy will tell you I fret over each
seedling like I was a mother hen. I tend to use my lilies in
the crosses and, unlike Rich Sacher, I get very low rates of
seed production and germination. Most of my favorite
crosses have yielded fewer than 10 sprouts, so I have to pamper
them. If I get a large batch of seed, I don't tend to grow them
out because for me the interesting ones have all come from the
less fertile crosses. I guess I could say that if I was going
in any particular 'direction' with my efforts, I'm looking for
small lilies in pastel colors with full peony type flowers or,
barring that, anything that strikes my fancy."