Everything I think I know about flowers in Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Ah, Animal Crossing. Sinker of time. I've played every iteration of the series since its debut on GameCube. The second one, Wild World on the Nintendo DS, I probably played the most, due in no small part to one mechanic I found ridiculously addictive: making rare hybrid flowers.

In Animal Crossing games, you can buy flower seeds from the in-game shops; planting these instantly spawns flowers. But since Wild World (at least… I'm not really sure how the original worked!), you've only been able to buy the flowers in boring colors. If you wanted to enjoy wonderful new colors of flowers, you had to engage in hybridization.

For Wild World, I relied heavily on the venerable Animal Crossing Ahead hybrid guide. A quick summary of how this worked: every morning at 6 a.m. (real time, per the Animal Crossing tradition), a handful of new flowers would spawn in random spots in your village. By default, these would be the boring-colored flowers. But if they happened to be touching a flower that in turn was touching another and the latter two a pair that could produce a hybrid color—basically, if all the stars were aligned in your favor—you could get yourself a beautiful new hybrid-colored flower. The super-rare blue roses, the crown jewel of cross-breeding, could only be produced by a black and a purple rose, themselves hybrids. And so, for months, in addition to playing with the game's other systems, I set out to collect 'em all, if you will.

City Folk on Wii was effectively the same as Wild World (and, frankly, not something I played all that much because why would I run my own virtual town on the family TV?), but for the latest installation, New Leaf, Nintendo mixed things up quite a bit. What exactly they did took some digging—the random systems are notorious for making people think they understand how things work when in reality the dice were just rolling in their favor, leaving several guides to give information that was just plain wrong—but here's what I've got.

Gene theory

There's a confusing tendency amongst parent flowers in New Leaf to reproduce in apparently strange fashions. You'll definitely see this when you're trying to achieve the big prize—blue roses—as your parent candidates will spawn just about everything but blue, including flowers you think should be impossible.

I believe, after reviewing FAQs and having grown every non-carnation flower by myself, that this is due to child flowers retaining genetic information from their ancestors. Some FAQs say “any flower can spawn as a hybrid, or as one of its parents,” then try to explain weird pairings by listing them as legitimate hybrids. I don't think those weird pairings are at all canonical hybrids, but rather the genes of ancestors coming back and making their own hybrid spawns. I don't believe I'd ever seen a “weird” spawn that could not be explained in this fashion.

Gene theory also explains the insanity of the purple pansies and blue roses. Both spawn from flowers that look ordinary, but in fact have ancestries including many of the possible flowers of that species. Additionally, both take a lot of rolling of the CPU's dice before they actually spawn, which suggests to me that ancestral genes are randomly assigned weights and those weights must land in particular alignment before the prize flowers are actually grown.

But (and this is my pro tip) once the genes are aligned well enough to produce a particular hybrid twice, it becomes much easier to spawn additional hybrids simply by crossing the two with each other. Blue roses are notorious for this—if you use one of my later tips to concentrate your spawns, blue roses have a good chance of overtaking your town entirely! The garden around my house is periodically threatening to do this…

With that in mind, here are what I believe are the canonical crosses.

Canonical crosses

Carnations

Carnations are particularly tricky because you'll only be able to get them on holidays—a pink carnation on Mother's Day and a red on Father's Day. Their crossings are pretty straightforward:

Cosmos

Cosmos come in two generations. Orange and pink cosmos can be obtained via pairings of basic flowers. I found the second-generation black cosmos, which spawn from a pair of otherwise-plentiful orange cosmos, very hard to grow.

Lilies

Lilies only come in one generation. I also had a hard time buying red lilies—I ended up stealing them from Tortimer's island minigames.

Pansies

Pansies are one of the two three-generation species. Expect to be working at the third generation for weeks or months.

Note the “red*” notation here. I'm using this to indicate a red pansy with the genes necessary to spawn a purple. It won't look any differently in-game, however!

Tulips

Tulips are another two-generation species. For some reason, I had a very hard time growing purple tulips, but a friend who wasn't even trying got them before me.

Roses

Roses are, once again, the most complex species. They are a three-generation species, but they also have a special non-generational transformation wherein a black rose will turn gold (and no longer need watering) if you allow it to wilt and water it with the gold watering can.

Again, I'm using “red*” to notate a red rose with the genes necessary for the ultimate prize.

Violets

The final species is the violet. These are very simple, with only a single hybridization available—though it took me some time to achieve.

Influencing spawning

Now that you know what flowers you need to cross, how do you get them to make sweet flower love? I believe spawning works a little differently in New Leaf. Rather than randomly spawning anywhere in town, new flowers in New Leaf spawn from randomly-chosen existing flowers and their nearby co-parents.

The key advantage of knowing this fact is that if you really want to throw all your effort behind crossing two parents, the best thing you can do is rip up all the other flowers in town. This greatly amplifies the chance that your candidate pair will be chosen right up to “absolute certainty.” Of course, you still have the die rolls happening with genetic weighting, but if you're shooting for blue roses, this is where you want to go. You can store flowers you don't want to destroy in your house; they won't ever wilt there. (My basement is “Flora's Ark…”)

Beyond this, watering is important, but I have come to believe that sunshine is as well. While it's true that a manually-watered flower keeps it from wilting the next day, and a rainy (or snowy) day keeps all flowers from wilting, I've come to believe that if there are never even partly clear skies, hybridization chances are greatly reduced… even if you manually water. I had a particularly painful few weeks early in my flower odyssey where it was constantly raining heavily whenever I went to play, and my spawns really appeared to suffer. Bad news, those cloudy skies.

If you do have sun, though, selective watering is also useful. You can, of course, water everything in town, but if you only water the flowers you're interested in getting spawns from plus those that are wilted (lest they disappear entirely), you'll find the selectively-watered flowers will spawn more often.

Finally, if you're far enough in the game to have fertilizer, planting this so it touches parents will effectively guarantee a spawn the next day. I use fertilizer mainly to bulk up my quantities of rare flowers, since it wasn't available until I had already grown pairs of everything. I imagine, though, that if you get it before you have all the hybrids you want, you can use it to help you along.

Flower sex on the beach

One more tip: if you haven't noticed yet, you may someday come across one of your adorable little villagers looking at your plots of rare roses, stopping and looking constipated for a moment, and then dropping a boring old basic flower amongst them. These are only a mild pain sometimes, but if you're trying to grow specifically-gened roses or pansies, it can make you lose track of which flowers were actually the important ones. (Yes, this happened to me!)

To solve this—or, at least, make a darn good try at solving it—plant your special pairs on the beach, with plenty of space between them so you don't risk them cross-contaminating. I have never had a villager plant a flower on the beach (though, to come totally clean with you, I have heard people claim they had it happen… I'm not totally convinced it wasn't just an ancrestral spawn, though.) I believe that judicious use of the beach for generation of red* pansies and red* roses as well as their eventual rare children helped keep me from going totally insane with my flower husbandry.

That's all! I think…

And that's about all I've got. I hope I didn't miss anything. Thanks a ton to the New Leaf crew on GAF, particularly my early co-conspirator (and supplier of much raw floral material) Philia.

Good luck with those flowers!