Different Time Zones

P80901KIf the flower on the left is a four o’clock, is the flower on the right a five o’clock, or perhaps a three o’clock? Is one a.m. and the other p.m.? What about the flower of the same species that I featured twelve hours ago? What about those in another picture that I will share next Saturday?
Of course, only the colors are different; not the name . . . or the time.
What is odd about these two seemingly different flowers is that they are on the same plant. In fact, they are on the same stem, separated only by a few inches.
Four o’clocks can be odd that way. Individual plants typically bloom with exclusively pink, red, white, yellow or orange flowers. The shades and hues of these colors are variable, but are typically homogeneous throughout each entire plant.
Some plants bloom with flowers of one color that are spotted or variably striped with another. Their flowers are not as homogeneous as those that bloom with only one color, so some of their flowers might be uniformly one color or the other, without spots or stripes. Some plants bloom with a few different colors!
Distinctly bright pink (but not light pink) flowers seem to be the most fragrant and the least variable, typically devoid of spotting or striping. They may be more closely related to the wild species, as it would have been found in its natural range in the Andes, prior to breeding for more interesting colors. Perhaps, after enough generations, other four o’clocks would eventually revert to the same characteristically fragrant bright pink flowers, just like many varieties of nasturtium eventually revert to standard bright orange and yellow. It is hard to say now, while naturalized four o’clocks have yet to do so.



P80804KHow Italian! Red, white and green! A coastal redwood with a white albino sport (mutant growth) amongst otherwise deep green foliage Actually, it is very Californian. Coastal redwood is endemic to California with only a a few north of the border on the extreme southern coast of Oregon.
Such sports are quite rare. Back in the late 1970s, an article in World Magazine mentioned that only five of these albino ‘trees’ where known to exist. There were actually more, even back then, but others were not documented. (They were WithOut Papers – WOP.) The specimen in the picture is at a home that is about a century old, so it was known about for a very long time, although not documented.
Albino foliage is a lethal mutation. It lacks chlorophyll, so can not sustain itself. It only survives because it originates as basal watersprouts that remain attached to the original green trees that produce and then sustain it. Attempt to graft albino grown onto other green trees has been unsuccessful.
Albino growth looks pretty in pictures, and is provides striking (although very perishable) cut foliage that is even more striking with black flowers, but does not make such a nice tree. It stays shrubby at the base of the originating tree, without developing distinct trunks or substantial branches. It does not shed old foliage as efficiently as green growth does, so always looks grungy. To make matters worse, albino foliage is more sensitive to frost, so gets killed back every few years or so, and then is slow to shed the dead foliage and stems.
Coastal redwood is one of the most fascinating trees in the World. It is the tallest, and among the biggest and oldest. It is no wonder that it is the state tree of California.

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.



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.

Cultivars Are The Real Cloned Mutants

80516thumbIt is not science fiction. It involves neither ninjas nor turtles. Cultivars really are mutant plants that can only be propagated by cloning. The word ‘cultivar’ is a portmanteau (two words combined into a single word) of ‘cultivated’ and ‘variety’. Unlike other varieties of plants that can be perpetuated by seed, cultivars must be cultivated by unnatural techniques to maintain their genetic distinction.

For example, ‘Alamo Fire’ is a variety of Texas bluebonnets with maroon flowers. The original seed were collected from a few naturally occurring variants with maroon flowers, and grown into more plants with maroon flowers, which provided more seed. No seed was collected from those that bloomed blue. By repeating this process of selection a few times, the variety was developed.

The variety ‘Alamo Fire’ is now sufficiently genetically stable to perpetuate itself, which means that subsequent generations will also bloom with maroon flowers. However, a few blue flowers might bloom in any generation; and unless they are weeded out before producing seed, they will eventually dominate until the entire colony reverts from maroon back to the more genetically stable blue.

‘Meyer’ lemon is an example of a cultivar. It must be propagated vegetatively by cuttings, or perhaps grafted onto understock. In other words, it must be cloned. It is a genetically unstable hybrid of a lemon and an orange, so plants grown from their seed would be very different from the parent. Many hybrids are so genetically unstable that they are sterile, and unable to produce viable seed.

Many variegated or dwarf cultivars of all sorts of plants are not hybrids, but are mutants. It is common for some arborvitaes to produce ‘sports’, which are simply mutant growth that is somehow different from the original growth. If a sport has a desirable characteristic, such as densely compact growth, variegation, or golden foliage, it can be cloned as a cultivar. Just like ‘Meyer’ lemon, a dwarf golden arborvitae is very unlikely to produce genetically similar seedlings.


P80506Not just any sport; a witch’s broom sport! Remember the quidditch tournament of the first Harry Potter Movie? Well, it has nothing to do with that. You should not be watching such movies anyway.

This sort of ‘sport’ is merely a genetic variant growth. This particular sport happens to be known as a ‘witch’s broom’.

There is quite a variety of other sports.

Sometimes, a plant is going along minding its own business, when all of a sudden, it produces a stem with variegated leaves. Unlike the plain green leaves on the rest of the plant, the leaves on the sport are outfitted with white margins. In the wild, such a sport would probably not last long. Since it has less chlorophyll than the unvariegated foliage, it would grow slower, so would eventually be overwhelmed and shaded out by the more vigorous greener foliage. However, if someone happens to find this variegated sport, and determines that the variegation might be an attribute, it can be propagated as a new variegated cultivar of the species.

Sometimes, a plant is going along minding its own business, when all of a sudden, it produces a stem with bronzed foliage, or gold foliage, or leaves that are shaped differently from those on the rest of the plant. Perhaps new stems are more pendulous than they normally are. Sometimes, growth is more compact. It might even be rather stunted and disfigured, branching into a tuft of densely arranged twiggy stems known as a ‘witch’s broom’.

Such growth does not look like a witch’s broom for very long. As it grows, it develops into a densely shrubby mass that eventually gets too heavy to be supported. If the dense growth is appealing, it can be propagated as a new cultivar, like the dwarf Alberta spruce was reproduced from a witch’s broom sport of the common white spruce, or the pencil point juniper was reproduced from a witch’s broom sport of the common juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’).

This massive witch’s broom happens to be on a Douglas fir. It has been here for decades. It sure is ugly, but also interesting. It could be interesting enough to be reproduced.