Monday, October 6, 2008

The Sport Report

First, a big thank-you goes to Dale Griep for the title of this post. Dale recently started a thread on Dave’s Garden (you know, the big online garden-chat site) about sports that had popped up this season, and since then the thread has attracted comments from respondents in at least three countries! I thought I’d post a few sports here. More will follow anon, once I find some of my older pictures on the CDs that hold my digital files from the past couple of years.

Refresher course: simply put, a sport is a part of a plant or an entire plant that is different from its parent plant. Variegated foliage (as in coleus) and flowers (such as in camellias, chrysanthemums, dianthus, and roses, among others) are probably the most commonly encountered types of sport, but growth habit (such as many dwarf conifers), fruit color (such as yellow-berried American holly), fruit taste (such as sports of the Red Delicious apple), and other differences are also the expressions of sporting. Many but not all arise from genetic mutations.

The opposite of a sport is a reversion. An all-green shoot on a variegated holly or euonymus is a reversion back to the original, non-variegated appearance of the parent.

It’s not always obvious if a given coleus is a sport or a reversion, given the mystery-shrouded history of many cultivars, as you will see.

You know the drill: picture first, then words.

Most of the foliage in this picture is typical of Duke of Swirl, a beauty that (for me) takes a while to get going but then really puts on a show. So what is that in the lower left-hand corner? That shoot looks just like Camouflage, which has in turn produced two sports (an olive green one, and another with dark red-purple leaves with a green edge) at Atlock. Or is one of those supposed sports in fact a reversion to the parent – or grandparent – of the other three? I need to get in touch with Chris Baker of Baker’s Acres in Ohio to ask him about the origin of Duke of Swirl, which he introduced to the world. Maybe then we can figure out the family tree for these four.

Mardi Gras has always been a prolific sporter at Atlock. There are two different sports (one red and one yellow/green) happening here – or is one of them a reversion to Mardi Gras’ parent? The yellow/green one looks a whole lot like Dappled Apple, which is another Baker’s Acre offering. Chris and I could get into quite a conversation!

Careless Love came to Atlock several years ago as Wine and Lime, but I eventually realized that it was the wildly variable (and very aptly named) Careless Love. The typical pattern isn’t shown in this picture – there should be roughly equal, blocky areas of wine red and chartreuse on the foliage. These shoots are obviously heading in different directions. An older plant at Atlock bears five different variations along with the so-called “typical” pattern, but which one (if any) reveals the coloration of the original? I wish we could preserve and propagate a selection with leaves that are one color on one side of the midrib and a different color on the other side, but the cells at the tip of the shoots (and the hormonal/chromosomal forces within them) apparently just won’t go along with my dream. At least so far . . .

Freckles is an oldie, almost certainly dating back many decades. Sometime along the way it sported Sedona, a superb, dark orange selection that provides a stunning backdrop for its handsome blue flowers (assuming its people can resist the urge to pinch them out!). I’ve watched stock plants of Freckles and Sedona bear shoots of each other, but this year I noticed for the first time the all-chartreuse shoots at the bottom of the plant in this picture. This picture shows a fair number of shoots (toward the bottom) that bear orange leaves with chartreuse edges and scattered splashes, which is not the typical overall "splashy" look of Freckles (toward the top). What isn’t easily seen here are a few leaves lightly washed with orange, and that’s the variant I hope to propagate successfully. Cuttings have rooted, so we’ll see what they do over the next months and years.

The leaves in the center look almost like typical Careless Love (see above), but what’s going on with the rest of this plant? What we’re looking at here is a plant labeled Gay’s Delight, which typically offers a strong brushing of purple-black on chartreuse. The shoots to the left and right come close to the normal appearance of Gay’s Delight, but there are irregular gaps in the black-purple markings. Note also the all-chartreuse shoots at the top left and the one with green spatters on red. Is this plant of Gay’s Delight trying to tell us that Careless Love arose as a sport from Gay’s Delight? Or is the reverse in fact the real story? Or did an all-chartreuse prototype, or one bearing an entirely different color pattern, give rise to both of them and others?

We coleophiles could spend plenty of time and words trying to figure out which came first, couldn’t we? Maybe someday we’ll be able to look into the cells of a given selection and know exactly from where the selection arose. Maybe not. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the visible expressions of those intriguing instabilities tucked away in those cells.

More later.