Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Content matters...

Codonanthe devosiana --- Worth growing
Story # 82,

Content matters…

      There have been three comments about the question: Can we make a species better?
 Bringing them together here will keep the subject on track.  If you have an opinion...

"It’s great to see that Gary (and other commercial growers) are thinking like this.  Creating more grower- and market-friendly cultivars will surely lead to wider inroads of gesneriads into general horticulture!

The idea that a species can be “improved” is uncontroversial.  It is founded in the observation that any wild population of a species includes considerable variation – flowers may vary in color, plants in height, leaves in shade of green or inclusion of other colors or patterns, and so on.  In the natural world, these are the variants that under some circumstances may end up being the foundation of new species through the process of natural selection.

In the cultivated world, though, often we are seeing only a very limited sample of the variation that occurs in the wild.  In some cases, the plants we are growing descend from a single collected ancestor.  The assumption gets made that the “species” is very limited, and that progeny will all be pretty much identical.  And this is true, given the very limited gene pool for many of the species we are growing.

This is why it is so very important to recognize the importance of sampling as broad a range of the true species as possible.  Whenever we can find a new collection of, say, Sinningia pusilla, it’s important to try to bring those genes into cultivation so that we can refresh our existing collection with new vigor and potentially new characteristics. 

In some cases, this happens through identification of variant populations of species.  For instance, we now see many different forms of the wild species Sinningia speciosa in cultivation.  Modern botanical conviction is that these variants are simply that – variants of a single species.  In past days, the conviction might have been that they represent separate species even if they can successfully interbreed.  In any case, it is refreshing to see such focus on species variants.

It’s important, though, to recognize that important variations might be much more subtle than those between dramatically different forms of S. speciosa.  Creation of new more cultivation-friendly forms of Codonanthe devosiana is going to be easier if we have access to significant genetic variation within the species, even if this variation is relatively minor.  I suspect that the cultivated forms may not represent much of that diversity;  it may be that real success in this endeavor will await collection of additional forms of the species from its Brazilian home."


    Copied from Gesneriphiles, 17 Dec 2012

"Well I was going to write a response to this piece when I saw it in Mel Grice’s Gleanings last week, but like many other projects it got put to the side. It might have been tabled permanently but for the news this morning that had picked it up and run with it. On the one hand that’s a great piece of news for the gesneriad world, as it’s always good to get some free publicity on our favorite plants. On the other hand, it’s a little bit disconcerting because to my perhaps somewhat warped way of thinking, Gary’s question is answered quite simply. The answer is “No.”
Okay, to elaborate on this I think that the question is not an accurate question.I recognize that to some this may seem to be picking nits, as the saying goes. I certainly got that sort of response when I started to complain about Michael Pollan’s hit book “The Botany of Desire,” which even got picked up by PBS and made into a four part documentary – I’ve never been more unimpressed with public television in my life. But I suppose that’s another story.
The difficulty is that while I understand Gary’s interest in “improving” the species, as soon as he starts manipulating for particular traits which he thinks would be more desirable, he is working with this human selecting process, which is why we call the results “selections” and “cultivars.” The species complex which has stood the test of time with sometimes subtle and in other cases impressive variability, while admittedly still in the evolutionary process if we can step back and look at it over hundreds or thousands of generations, has worked for this species in the wild. What does that mean? It means that the species with those variations just referenced, has survived.
Larger flowers? More pink in the corolla? Quicker growth from seed to blooming plant? They may indeed all be occasionally out there in the wild, and if Gary starts sowing and growing lots and lots of these plants, and with each generation just picks his favorites and then sees with subsequent generations if those traits carry through, and then picks them again if they do, etc. etc., he may well come up with a plant that he likes better, maybe one that everyone likes better. And if with all his selfing crosses he stays within the scientific understanding of the species definition, he will perhaps technically not be doing any hybridizing. However, from the get-go he is working with selections and cultivars of this particular species, which is to a nit-picker like me entirely different from “improving the species.” It may be picky here, but if not here, the next thing you know we’ll be talking, like Michael Pollan did to the delight of millions, plants with some purpose manipulating us so that their range and in some cases specific qualities can improve over time. Picky, I know – but you get misinterpreted and in the blink of an eye the turn of a phrase changes from accurate science to good storytelling, and for those that don’t see the shift the good storytelling gets better and better and is still accurate science.
Well I’ve said enough to start this off (?) Perhaps this will start a lively discussion – or perhaps not. Good Growing – and Gary – good luck with your selection process."


     Copied from Gesneriphiles 17 Dec 2012

Cool project. I'd be interested in helping out. Have you thought of mutagenesis as a way of speeding things up?

     Copied from comments, 17 Dec 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'm World famous...

Codonanthe devosiana (formerly digna or carnosa)
Story # 81,

      I’m World famous, just nobody knows it!

      This is my attempt to think like Yogi Berra.  His best is:  “You can observe a lot by watching.”

      The Story # 79 about improving a Codonanthe species was republished by an international website: newplantsandflowers 

     Don’t know if any commercial plant breeder will find Codonanthe worth investigating.

      The clone that I have is already a legitimate commercial flowering plant for the Miniature Garden & terrarium market … just nobody knows it yet!

Monday, December 17, 2012

How can I get free of Facebook?

There is supposed to be something there but there isn't, sort of like Facebook.

Story # 80, OT

     Facebook sends me continuous e-mails which are intended to make me feel guilty if I don’t do something.

     Some ask me if I know these people?

     Some tell me somebody did something on Facebook?

     Some ask me to be friends with people I may or may not know?

       If I don’t do anything, are my friends mad at me or just the Facebook computer?

     I never had a Fax machine until I needed one.  I have not found a reason to need Facebook.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Can we make a species better?

Codonanthe devosiana (formerly digna)

Story # 79,
      Can we make a species better than it already is?  Is it possible to improve on a species that has survived for untold millions of years in the wild?

      I learned the original definition of a botanical ‘species’ as a plant found in nature that is uniform in it’s characteristics and comes true (identical to the parent) when self-pollinated.

      So if they are all identical then how can they be improved?  It seems that the modern day definition is not as rigid and some species are variable and in some cases can have different colored flowering forms within the species.

      The plant that I want to improve is Codonanthe digna, a small trailing plant with small bell shaped white flowers and orange berries. (The name was carnosa, then digna.  It may now be devosiana).  Well grown plants will self-branch and get a flower at every leaf axil.  It could be a commercial plant in the terrarium market if crop time could be speeded up.

      My proposal is to grow quantities of seed crops of Codonanthe and select for speed and flower size.  In every measurable step, we select the best.  Save the first to germinate and from them, the first to flower.  If flower size improves, of course, save them.  Record the times so we can see if any improvement is made in successive generations.

      Does science support this plan?  I think so.  Plants have been improved by intercrossing species within a Genius.  This is self-pollinating a species and hope for variability. In nature seed germinates at varying rates to insure survivability, so we will just select the fastest.

      Since no one has tried to improve Codonanthe digna, the story is not yet written.  But nothing can be lost in trying since all plants, fast or slow, can be sold.  If somehow flower size improves then all the observation will pay off.

      There is a pink flowered form of Codonanthe from Brazil that we are attempting to establish.  The goal there will be to select for the brightest pink.  Then cross the white with the pink and see if we get hybrid vigor and a big, bright, pink flower on a tough little trailing plant.  But that’s a different story.

Codonanthe devosiana- Pink form (formerly digna)
This story was first published in the Delaware African Violet and Gesneriad Society newsletter and then shown in Gleanings.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

So what is the goal?

Sinningia 'Li'l Georgie' in 2" pot (5 cm)
Story # 78,

 So what is the goal?

      I’ve been an opportunist in the plant business.  When I’ve seen an opening in the market for a new plant or a new size for an old plant, I’ve taken chances on there being a demand for it.

      The downside is that you can chase the market and never catch it.  The upside is that you can be progressive and be ahead of trends if you guess right.  We dropped growing market packs of annuals years before others moved into 4" pots.  The trend was that gardeners would pay more for a bigger plant for immediate flowering.

      Currently with very small production space, I’ve moved to small pots ----the Miniature Garden and Terrarium market requires the correct plants in small pots.

      I see miniature Sinningias as a worthwhile tiny specialty.

      The ultimate is one of the world’s smallest flowering house plants ---------Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’

      As described before, S. ’Li’l Georgie’ , a hybrid by Jim Steuerlein, proved to be the breakthrough that had limited the success of micro mini Sinningias.  The hybrid does not require the higher humidity of a closed container.  So now we have a flowering plant that can survive in an open Miniature Garden as well as a terrarium.

      Tissue culture is the only practical means of propagation.  Thousands can be produced.

      So the goal is:  Produce finished flowering ‘Li’l Georgie’s.  There is no competition.

      In marketing theory, this is known as a ‘New Market’.  The size of market or the number of customers is not known because no one ever had the product before.  In ‘New Markets’, it may take years before the demand can be found to absorb the supply.

      Nobody knows.

 The goal is to be the leading supplier of a very miniature flowering plant.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Buzzards are dumb but not stupid!

Baby Buzzard half grown
Story # 77, O T

 Buzzards are dumb but not stupid!

       The pair of buzzards that have nested in my barn for the last two years have hatched and raised three chicks.

      It’s been fun watching the babies outgrow their yellow baby feathers and grow rapidly through the ugly duckling stage to a full set of black wing feathers.

      One of their instincts is to go into the sun and dry their wings. 

      It probably takes some weight off and makes it easier to fly.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Park

NYC Park Rules
Story # 76,  O. T.

      This NYC Park is along the East River.  It was a nice place to sit even though its postage stamp size stretches the concept of a park.

      Of course, there are rules.  How else can you arrest someone for being stupid or annoying if you don’t tell them in advance?

      If you make trash, be sure to not search through it for anything valuable.  

      If a bird or squirrel should somehow visit this park, do not give them any food -----they may decide to come back.

      Humans are not specifically excluded, so I guess you can be there, unless it’s dark.

One person saw it.

Sinningia 'Li'l Georgie'
Story # 75, Part II

       When I was at Longwood Gardens' Plant Shop today making a delivery, I noticed that a woman had a newspaper clipping in her hand.  She was looking for Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ as shown in the Philadelphia Inquirer 8 days ago.

      Since I was stunned by that, I asked her about it.

      We were equally amazed.  She had come to Longwood because the story says that is the only place to find the plant.  And by dumb luck she met the grower.