Acclaimed Waterlily Nurseryman
Sun City, Arizona USA
by Charles B. Thomas with Janice C.
Click images to enlarge
John Arthur Wood was born to Violet Jeannette and Arthur Wilbur
Wood in East Liverpool, Ohio, in 1923, the eldest of three children.
Gifted with a natural flair for music, he began playing the harmonica
as a Pleasant Heights School seventh-grader. He taught himself
to play the piano with some help from his mother. Graduating
from Salem High School in 1939, Jack moved to California the
World War II beckoned him to join the Navy. In 1943 Jack reported
for duty at San Diego Naval Station in southern California. From
there he was reassigned to Memphis (Tennessee) Naval Air Station
after which he trained as an aviation radioman at Jacksonville
(Florida) Naval Station. After declining the Navy's offer of
becoming an instructor there, he was transferred back to San
Diego for Radar School to learn about radar counter-measures.
Following that, he became a radar counter-measures instructor
at nearby San Clemente Island, California.
Discharged from the Navy in 1945, Jack wanted to operate a
chicken farm. Investigation convinced him that he could not make
a living at this, but raising bullfrogs seemed like a profitable
venture. In the San Fernando Valley town of Van Nuys, California,
with characteristic gusto, Jack developed a bullfrog farm producing
so many frogs that locals dubbed him the "Bullfrog King".
He also enjoyed a new hobby, raising tropical fish. Before long,
tropical fish became a profitable sideline.
Jan Wood recounts how "Jack went to the Imperial Valley
in 1952 looking for property on which to raise tropical fish.
Most of his fish experience had been with fish kept in aquariums.
On an alluvial fan he found a property that he had hoped to homestead.
While considering it, he met a farmer who told him that water
covered that property during desert floods. Jack found this news
"Just before the conversation ended with the farmer, a hunter
stopped by asking the farmer where in the area he could find
a good spot to hunt quail. The farmer described a property bordering
the Salton Sea. It included a hot artesian well with 108 F (42
C) hard water and a second, cooler artesian well with 87 F (31
C) soft water. The abundance of water stimulated robust growth
of palm trees, shrubs and wildlife.
The hot artesian well at El Rancho Tropi-cal
Ponds for raising Talapia zillii
"Upon hearing this Jack became so interested he followed
the directions the farmer gave the hunter and found the property.
He immediately loved the spot and saw the unlimited possibilities
for a tropical fish farm. Thereupon he located the owner and
made a successful offer on the 40 acre (16 hectare) tract. He
named the premises El Rancho Tropi-Cal.
Jack with a live rattlesnake
"Jack had little money or provisions, so he began the task
of digging ponds by hand. Because the area was located in a bird
migratory path, rarely a night went by without him patrolling
the ponds several times to rid them of fish-eating night herons
and raccoons. Rattlesnakes had claimed the long-vacant land and
presented many narrow escapes."
One day in 1956 Jack traveled to Santa Barbara to buy bullfrog
eggs from a man who had a pond of Nymphaea 'Morning Glory'
(correctly N. 'Marliacea Carnea'). Jack loved them. It
was a lucky day not only for Jack, but also for water gardeners
everywhere. Jack bought six of them to plant in a bullfrog pond.
They promptly multiplied in abundance.
Harvesting Talapia zillii
Uber eagerly bought the entire crop, and sold Jack an array
of hardy waterlily cultivars for producing a diverse crop. Delighted
with the hefty hardy crop the following year, Ted sold Jack hundreds
of assorted tropical lily tubers to facilitate a more diverse
Thereafter Jack concentrated on two seasonal crops - waterlilies
(mostly for spring and summer sales) until 1988 and tropical
fish (mostly for fall and winter sales) until 1974. He found
these two crops much more to his liking than raising bullfrogs,
which he discontinued in 1960.
During the same year Jack met future bride Janice Peterson through
a mutual friend who owned a Salton Sea marina. They married after
a brief courtship. Their grown son Steven works for Verizon Wireless
in Ft. Worth, Texas, and has three children, Adam Steven, Courtney
Gloria and Zachary Walter.
Jan recalls, "Three Springs Fisheries (now Lilypons Water
Gardens) in Maryland was Ted's major tropical waterlily wholesale
account. In the beginning, Jack would receive Ted's phone orders
for Three Springs and personally truck them to Van Ness Water
Gardens in Upland.
"After the relationship between the two nurserymen grew,
Ted turned the account over to Jack. Together Jack and I would
harvest and pack the lilies at El Rancho Tropi-Cal and then take
them directly to the Palm Springs Airport for shipment to Maryland.
Subsequently, Jack gained wholesale customers across the US and
Jack, right, with Ted and Louella| Uber soon
after their retirement
Ponds dug by hand
One of Jack's overseas customers was Australian Charles Winch
who imported N. 'Janice C. Wood' along with other tropical
varieties. Daughter Noelene (Winch) Pullen says of N.
'Janice C. Wood', "This proved to be an excellent seed parent
and my father used it and its progeny with good results."
Besides tropical fish and waterlilies, the ever-active Jack
also raised assorted varieties of pigeons, pond snails, and shallow-water
plants at El Rancho Tropi-Cal.
Experiment with catfish 1980
He had started raising and showing "American Show Racers"
pigeons in 1950. Moving to El Rancho Tropi-Cal in Oasis, California,
in 1953 he raised "Texas Pioneer Auto Sex Pigeons"
(automatically predominately females, a fast growing disease-resistant
plump pigeon variety with a large succulent breast and small
head, legs and wings). For ten years he raised squabs for restaurants
and for his friends and neighbors to enjoy.
Jack produced a new strain of tropical fish, "Wood's
Veiltail Mollie", using sports that he detected among his
schools of mollies (Mollienesia sphenops) and then selectively
interbred. In New York City, this novel strain earned first prize
in the molly division competition sponsored by the Greater City
Aquarium Society in 1976. Wood's Veiltail Mollies may or may
not be available today.
"Wood's Veiltail Mollies"
Jack's creations include popular tropical Nymphaeas:
'Jack Wood' (1972, raspberry red day bloomer)
'Mrs. John A. Wood' (1974, red night bloomer)
'Wood's White Knight' (1977, white night bloomer)
'Blue Smoke' (1982, silvery blue)
'Janice C. Wood' (1984, white day bloomer)
'Paul Stetson' (1984, light blue day bloomer)
'Charles Thomas' (1985, viviparous sky blue day
'Wood's Blue Goddess' (1986, blue day bloomer)
'Madame Ganna Walska' (1989, pink viviparous
day bloomer named after the original owner of Lotusland in Santa
'Hillary' (1990, lavender pink day bloomer)
N. 'Wood's Blue
The International Waterlily and Water Garden Society inducted
Jack into its Hall of Fame in 1993 during its New York, New York,
annual symposium. This singular honor recognizes "individuals
who have made significant contributions to the furtherance of
water gardening and aquatic plants on an international basis."
Jack and Jan were excellent hosts during my many visits at
El Rancho Tropi-Cal. He and I both enjoy playing "Black
Hawk Waltz" on the piano. Whenever we met, we would always
play it, smiling and laughing at our respective renditions.
In 1959 when in Riverside, CA, Jack picked up some palm tree
seeds and planted them bordering his ponds. With plentiful water
and the high water table, they grew to about ten feet (three
meters) producing shade from the desert's hot afternoon sun.
As the trees continued growing to a greater height they became
a problem, as the lilies needed more sun than was then available.
Therefore, at around 35 feet (10.7 meters) Jack sold all 250
trees to a country club located near Palm Springs, California,
yielding a handsome return.
Removing palm trees 1978
Beginning in the mid-1980s Jack began grafting oleanders as
a hobby. He was fascinated that with grafting he could develop
oleander "trees" with multi colored blooms. Jack derives
profitable pleasure doing this in his newly adopted state of
Arizona. He has rediscovered his passion for the harmonica that
he plays "by ear".
Jack states, "I travel within the US by choice and am
devoted to my country. My fondness for music continues; I thoroughly
enjoy ballroom dancing. I love home cooking and a quiet lifestyle
in Sun City, Arizona."