Curb Mongrel

P91208Fruit trees, with few exceptions, have been extensively bred to produce the quality of fruit that we expect from them. Some are consequently genetically unstable, or at least less genetically stable than their wild ancestors were. Even if they never mutate or try to revert to a more stable state, they are very unlikely to produce seed that can develop into genetically similar trees.

In other words, they are not ‘true-to-type’. Their seed might grow into trees that produce fruit that resembles that of one of their ancestors, or of a pollinating parent tree. It is impossible to predict what fruit will be like until it actually develops.

That may take a while. Some seed grown fruit trees start out with juvenile growth, and take a few years to mature enough to bloom and produce fruit. Some types of avocado trees grow tall and lanky for a few years before they bloom. Most citrus are fruitless and wickedly thorny through their juvenile phase.

Grafted fruit trees or those grown from cuttings are true-to-type because they are genetically identical clones of their single parents. Cuttings and scions (for grafting) are made from adult growth, so do not need to mature through a juvenile phase.

The unpredictability of genetic variability is the main reason fruit trees are not often grown intentionally from seed. Juvenility might be the second main reason. However, neither of these two reasons prevents curb mongrels from growing wherever their seed lands, which is often next to sidewalks and curbs where cores and pits get discarded.

Curb mongrels generally get removed and disposed of, just like any other weed. It would be more practical to plant a known cultivar of fruit into a situation where such a tree is actually desired. Every once in a while, a curb mongrel appears where it is allowed to stay, and eventually produces fruit that justifies its preservation.

Well, that was not what happened with this curb mongrel apple tree that appeared adjacent to a patio used for outdoor dining. It was not compatible with the landscape, so got removed before it was able to produce any fruit. It looks like it was grafted, but only because someone tried to cut it down without removing the stump two years ago.

The problem now is that it came up with enough roots to survive relocation. It is not so easy to dispose of a tree with such potential, even though there is no way to know what its potential is until it fruits. It will get planted into a private garden and pruned back accordingly. If we had planned for it to be relocated, the process would have been delayed until it was defoliated.

If the fruit is of inferior quality, the tree can be removed and discarded. At least we tried. Alternatively, a desirable cultivar can be grafted onto it. In a home garden, no one needs to know that it is not a known understock (rootstock) cultivar. The foliage resembles that of ‘Red Delicious’, which makes sense for seed that likely originated from a commonly discarded core.

Horridculture – “One Of These Things . . . “

P91120Remember this from Sesame Street?

One of these things is not like the others
One of these things just doesn’t belong
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Identifying a blue balloon as different from three red balloons might be construed as discriminatory, but was fun back before we went into kindergarten. So was selecting the bigger bowl of Big Bird’s birdseed from three small bowls; or the beanie from three pairs of sunglasses; or the letter from three numbers. It is not so fun now, when conformity to a landscape is important.

In the picture above, one of the four prominent trees in the foreground of the walkway and rail fence, excluding the obscured middle tree, is different from the others. They are all the same age. They are all sycamores. They are all happy and healthy. They were all supposed to conform to the landscape of native vegetation in the background. Which thing is not like the others?

The second tree from the left is a London plane, Platanus X acerifolia. The other trees, as well as the fifth middle tree and the sycamores in the background, are native California sycamores, Platanus racemosa. Not only is the London plane not native, but it is distinctly smaller and more symmetrical, with a conspicuously straighter trunk and relatively orangish autumn foliage.

The picture below shows the bark of London plane, with a trunk of a California sycamore in the background. The second picture shows how dissimilar the bark of the California sycamore is.P91120+P91120++

Individually, there is nothing wrong with the London plane. A few could have made a nice homogenous grove in the same spot, although they would never attain the grand scale expected of California sycamore. The problem is that the London plane is similar to, but not the same as, the California sycamores. It will always look like one of the California sycamores with problems.

A completely distinct tree would have been better. If it were a redwood or a magnolia, or anything that is not so similar to California sycamore, it would not be expected to conform to them.

I see it commonly. Himalayan birch get added to groves of European white birch, even though their trunks are whiter and straighter, and their canopies are much more upright. Taller and leaner Mexican fan palms get added to otherwise formal rows of California fan palms. The formality of rows of tall and slim Lombardy poplars is similarly disrupted by fatter Theves poplar.

These bad matches are often honest mistakes. It is not easy to distinguish Theves poplar from Lombardy poplar; and Lombardy poplar is rarely available. Sometimes, so-called ‘gardeners’ or ‘landscapers’ simply do not care. An ‘Aptos Blue’ redwood was added to a grove that was exclusive to ‘Soquel’ in a nearby park, just because it was closest to the parking lot at the nursery.

So-called ‘landscapers’ sometimes ‘sub’, or substitute, a commonly available cultivar or species for something that was specified by a landscape design, but is not so readily available. It often works out just fine. However, I once inspected a landscape in which a ground cover cultivar of cotoneaster was subbed with Cotoneaster lacteus, which promptly grew higher than the eaves!

White Hydrangea

P90907KWhat ever happened to the formerly common white hydrangea? It used to one of the three standard types of hydrangea; and the other two were really variants of the same sorts of ‘pink or blue’ hydrangea that I wrote about in ‘Horridculture – True Colors‘. The few hydrangeas that are white nowadays are lacy, flat-topped, blushed . . . or anything but simple classic white.

This old fashioned simple white hydrangea is just as elegant now as it has always been. It is always white, without pretense of blue or pink. There is no point of giving it something it does not really need just to change its natural color (like those of us in the Santa Clara Valley do to make pink hydrangeas blue; or those of us in the Tualatin Valley do to make blue hydrangeas pink).

The bulky and almost spherically rounded form of this floral truss distinguishes this old fashioned type as a ‘mophead’ hydrangea. Nowadays, ‘lacecap’, ‘mountain’, ‘smooth’, ‘panicle’, ‘oakleaf’ and ‘climbing’ hydrangeas are the more popular types. There is certainly nothing wrong with contemporary types, but there is nothing wrong with the old fashioned ‘mophead’ types either.

When it is time to prune the hydrangeas this winter, we might take cuttings from this particular specimen, in order to grow a few copies of it. Pink and blue hydrangeas, which get fertilized accordingly (to maintain their desired colors), happen to suit the landscapes very nicely here, but a few more white hydrangeas would brighten the rich dark green of the forest splendidly.

Besides, the old fashioned simplicity and elegance of this old fashioned white mophead hydrangea seem to be more compatible with the old redwoods and other mature forest trees than the relative flashiness of modern cultivars that were popularized only in the past few decades.

Paris Daisy

P90608KNo, this is not a Paris daisy. It is a common euryops daisy, Euryops pectinatus. It is obviously related, but the flowers are bright yellow rather than clear white with yellow centers, and the foliage is darker green. It is more resilient, so became more common in landscapes as quickly as mow, blow and go ‘gardeners’ replaced real gardeners who actually know something of horticulture. There is certainly nothing wrong with it. It is just cliché.

The few remaining Paris daisies are fancier cultivars of the old fashioned traditional sort anyway. Some bloom pale pink. Some bloom pale yellow. Flowers might have fluffy centers of the same color. Foliage might be pale grayish green. Plants are more compact. The cultivar that most closely resembles the old Paris daisy has more profuse, but smaller flowers. The cultivars are all quite nice, but are not quite the same as what we remember.

The original Paris daisy, Chrysanthemum frutescens, which is now known as Argyranthemum frutescens, was the sort of flower you wore in your hair if you were going to San Francisco in the late 1960s, or according to my memory, in the very early 1970s. It looked just like the three plastic daisies in the upper right (or lower left) corner of those cool AstroTurf door mats that were so popular. Perhaps they were cliché for their time too.

Cuttings rooted in half pint mason jars on kitchen windowsills to replace older plants. Our mothers grew them in the garden, supposedly to repel the bad insects, and attract the good insects to eat the bad ones who did not take the hint. In that regard, Paris daisies were how young horticulturists learned about vegetative propagation and ‘integrated pest management’ (IPM). They were so familiar back then; but then disappeared by the 1990s.

Only recently, Brent, my colleague in the Los Angeles region who I so frequently mention (typically in a disparaging manner) found just two specimens at a nursery in Southern California, and promptly procured both. One if for his garden, and one is for mine!

Zonal Geranium

60525New and improved is not always better. Modern garden varieties of zonal geranium, Pelargonium X hortorum, with bigger, fuller and more profuse blooms, are more colorful than the relatively weedy classic varieties, but they are considerably more demanding. In fact, because they are so unhappy through winter, they are often grown as warm season annuals instead of as perennials.

They are certainly worth growing though, and are reasonably easy to propagate from cuttings. Flowers can be red, pink, white, peachy orange or almost purple. Bloom is almost continuous. Each rounded dark green leaf might be adorned with a darker halo about halfway between the center and the outer margin. Mature plants do not get much more than three feet tall, and not much wider.

Old varieties might get twice as tall, with smaller blooms, and lighter foliage.

Mellow Yellow

P90427KThis picture of a yellow Pacific Coast iris probably should have been incorporated into the Six on Saturday post earlier today. I omitted it because I was not so impressed with how the color showed up. It is really more yellow than it looks. In this picture, it looks more like a discolored version of the white Pacific Coast iris. This sort of variation, that might have been normal for old fashioned photography, is not expected of digital imagery.
It sort of reminds me of how some insects and other pollinators see flowers so differently with infrared or ultraviolet. Are infrared or ultraviolet faded in digital imagery as well? It would make sense, since there is no need for normal cameras to record colors that we can not see. Nor is there need for computer monitors to display such invisible colors. Ironically, modern technology can modify color to make that which in invisible to us visible.
Modern technology is always improving the quality of stored data, and the presentation of such stored data. Perhaps there really are ways to take pictures that record infrared and ultraviolet, although I can not imagine why there would be a use for such technology. Video is good about recording and presenting motion. Audio records and presents sound. Regardless, none of it is good enough to keep us from actually enjoying our real gardens.
Pacific Coast iris blooms in all sorts of weirdly bright colors now. Modern technology has certainly had its way with them as well. The flowers are bigger and bolder than they naturally were. The foliage is greener and fluffier. Yet, to me, the best are still those that grow wild and bloom on the coast of San Mateo County, with unassuming flowers in subdued shades of greyish blue, like faded denim.

Horridculture – Pale Clivia Syndrome

P90417Back in the good old days, Kaffir lily, Clivia miniata, which is probably most popularly known simply as ‘clivia’, bloomed with big round trusses of exclusively bright reddish orange flowers. It was such an excellent color that no one thought to change it. Flowers of feral plants that sometimes grew from seed were potentially more orange and less red, but were flashy nonetheless. There was no need, and minimal potential, for ‘improvement’.

Then the allure of the ‘rare’ happened. Yellow Kaffir lilies had previously been so rare that very few had seen them. Once the rest of us became aware of their existence, many of us wanted them, only because they were so rare. However, after seeing them, some of us came to the conclusion that they were rare because no one wanted them when the species was first introduced, and cultivars with the best color were selected and perpetuated.

Regardless, yellow Kaffir lily suddenly became a fad. Traditional bright reddish orange Kaffir lilies became passe. All the while, those subscribing to the fad seriously believed that yellow was better and more desirable than reddish orange simply because it was so very rare. All the while, yellow became increasingly popular, increasingly available . . . and no longer rare. All the while, reddish orange became unpopular, uncommon . . . and rare.

So now what? Why is yellow more popular than reddish orange now? Yellow is insipid and pale. Reddish orange is vibrant and bright. Furthermore, yellow is so dreadfully common. Reddish orange is quite rare. According to the previous justification for the popularity of insipid pale yellow Kaffir lily, bright reddish orange Kaffir lily should be popular now, not because they are so much more colorful and appealing, but because they are RARE!P90406++++

These are in Brent’s garden.

Horridculture – Promiscuity

 

71206Nomenclature of the botanical sort was so much simpler back when we studied it back in the 1980s. It was intended to be like that. It was how the various specie of plants were identified and classified. There were certain rules that simply made sense. After ‘family’, plants were classified into general ‘genera’, and then further classified into specific ‘specie’. Some specie were further classified into ‘varieties’ and ‘cultivars’. (Cultivars are simply ‘cultivated varieties’ that need to be perpetuated by cloning because they are too genetically unstable to be true-to-type from seed.)

The genus name is always first. The species name is always second. Because they are Latin, they should be italicized. Any variety or cultivar names are last, not italicized, and in semi-quotations.

Back in the 1980s, there were a few specie that did not quite fit into such neat classification. Intergeneric hybrids (between two parents of different genera) were designated by an ‘X’ before the genus name, such as X Fatshedera lizei, which is a hybrid between Fatsia japonica and Hedera helix. Interspecific hybrids (between twp parents of different specie) were designated by an ‘X’ before the species name, such as Platanus X acerifolia, which is a hybrid between two different specie of the same genus of Platanus. Then there are different species that hybridize freely, but are still designated as separate specie, such as Washingtonia robusta and Washingtonia filifera, but that is another story.

Nowadays, with so much weirdly promiscuous breeding, it is difficult to know what specie or even genera some of the modern varieties and cultivars fit into. Consequently, species names are often omitted, and genus names are sometimes changed. It is getting difficult to know the differences between the two formerly distinct genera of Gaillardia and Rudbekia.

What is even sillier is that all this is happening while ‘sustainability’ and gardening for ‘bees’ are such fads. Weirdly bred specie . . . or whatever they are, are likely unable produce viable seed, so are just the opposite of sustainable. They only sustain their own marketability by ensuring the need for replacement. Some make no pollen for the bees that visit the flowers expecting to find some. Some make pollen of questionable nutritional value, or serve it in complicated flowers that might be difficult for bees to navigate.

There certainly are advantages to simplicity.71129

Apologies for the delay of posting ‘Horridculture’, which is normally posted on Wednesday. I was unable to write, so advanced the article that was intended for today to Wednesday, and finished writing this rant for today.

Horridculture – Mutants


P80704Mutants are the source of many of our favorite cultivars of otherwise simpler specie. Many cultivars of plants with compact, pendulous or fastigiate (strictly vertical) growth, or variegated, bronzed, golden or otherwise abnormally colored foliage, were derived from ‘sports’, which are mutant stems that appear on otherwise normal plants. Thornless blackberries were sports of thorny cultivars. Fruitless mulberry is a sport of white mulberry. There is no shortage of mutants.

https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/cultivars-are-the-real-cloned-mutants/

https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/sport/

By nature, mutants are genetically unstable. A few can easily mutate back to their original and more genetically stable characteristics. Variegated plants are notorious for developing simple green unvariegated foliage. Because it has more chlorophyll, the unvariegated foliage grows faster, and has the potential to eventually overwhelm and replace the variegated foliage. That is why green sports should get pruned out of variegated plants.

‘President Roosevelt’ is the most popular of the few variegated rhododendrons. In nursery production, it gets pruned somewhat regularly to remove green sports. Variegated specimens are rare in landscapes because almost all revert to unvariegated foliage within only a few years.

‘Yellow Wave’ is a cultivar of New Zealand flax with pendulous yellow striped foliage. It can be seen in front of the upright greener foliage in the background. These are not two separate plants stuck together. The more vigorous green foliage is a reverting sport that should have been removed by the ‘gardener’ who is supposed to be ‘maintaining’ this landscape. The green sport is now so developed that it can not be removed without damaging the rest of the ‘Yellow Wave’ growth. It will undoubtedly be left to overwhelm and replace it. Fortunately, the upright green foliage is about as appealing as the ‘Yellow Wave’, so no one will notice the inadequacy of the maintenance. No one ever does.

Hydrangea

80711There are so many more of the fancier cultivars of hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, than there were as recently as the 1990s. Many of the pink and blue hydrangeas were interchangeable years ago. They would bloom blue if the soil was acidic. They would bloom pink if the soil was alkaline. Their color changed accordingly when planted from potting media into soil of another pH.

Most of the modern cultivars nowadays are better at one color or the other. Those that want to be rich pink or almost red might turn lavender or purple in acidic soil. Those that want to be rich blue might do the same in alkaline soil. That makes for many hues of pink, blue, lavender and purple. Most of those that bloom white always bloom white, and their foliage might be a little lighter green.

There is also much more variety in floral form than ever before, although all bloom in summer or autumn with big rounded or nearly spherical trusses of many small flowers. The deciduous leaves are about six inches long, and pleasantly lush and glossy. Modern compact cultivars stay low and dense. Larger cultivars get about six feet high and wide, with somewhat open branch structure.