Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sports day

I was cleaning up my office the other day, as a consequence of our recent refurbishment of much of the house, and I came across a photograph I put aside a while ago to form the basis of a column about the way new plants are produced and introduced to horticulture.
It is one I took in the Queen Elizabeth Park rose beds some years ago, when I stumbled across a chimera flower – one where the signals to determine flower colour had somehow got their wires partly crossed, the result being a strange bloom that could not quite make up its mind whether it wanted to be red or yellow.  The decision was obviously so difficult the flower simply gave up on trying to resolve it – one half of the flower stayed the same red as all the other flowers on the bush (and indeed in the bed) while one half decided to go yellow.
This sort of flower genetic shift or change, albeit normally associated with the whole flower or habit  changing colour, is more common that you might imagine at first, and has led to some interesting new varieties, especially among those that are grown by the millions, such as roses.  
Sometimes the shrub-sized plant ends up a climbing shoot, which remains stable and can be reproduced.  Perhaps the best examples of that are the climbing forms of ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Peace’.  Sometimes the sport can be a change of colour – ‘Peace’ rose, that doyen of big flowered hybrid tea roses, has given rise to a number of sports, including the wonderful ‘Kronenburg’.  There is a bed of this at the new Queen Elizabeth Park rose garden, and it has its gigantic flowers that are an interesting take on the pale cream and pink shades of ‘Peace’.  It has two main colours - the petals are claret red with straw yellow reverse. It is impossible to ignore and ostentatiously beautiful.  And, although I have never seen it, it has also re-sported, by sending up a climbing shoot, which is available on overseas websites.  And I know of at least one re-sporting of this in Masterton.  A lady came to see me once about a gardening matter, and mentioned in passing how disappointed she was with her ‘Kronenburg’, saying she had cut a whole branch off because the flowers had all turned deep gold! 
Perhaps the most common of all ‘sports’ are those that give rise to different coloured foliage, with variegations of various sorts, and sometimes even changes in shades of the entire leaf.  Some plants seem particularly prone to his habit.  Anyone who has owned a large Cupressus macracarpa will probably have seen tips of old branches with golden foliage.  The vast majority of the many golden forms of conifer you see will have originated this way.  The surprising thing is that some plants seem very prone to doing this, while other, such as the ubiquitous Pinus radiata seem very reluctant to do so. Apart from one or two golden forms, which I think were actually seed sports and thus slightly different, there are not too many ornamental forms of the Monterey Pine around.

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