February 3rd, 2015
Call it the “year the plants intermarried.”
2015 not only is bringing us the usual crop of new varieties, but this year is striking because we’re also going to see several all-new plant types.
That’s because breeders have moved beyond just crossing different versions of the same plant to come up with new colors into crossing plants of two different species – and even plants of different genera.
Are you ready for the Echibeckia? That’s a cross between Echninacea (coneflowers) and Rudbeckia (black-eyed susan).
Or how about the Mukgenia, a cross between Mukdenia and Bergenia?
Or how about Kalettes, a marriage of kale and Brussels sprouts?
They’re all debuting this season – and more.
The one attracting the most attention – including a mention on Good Morning America and Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central Colbert Report – is the ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’ TomTato, a grafted newcomer that attaches a cherry tomato stem to the rootstock of a potato. The result is a single plant that produces tomatoes above ground and potatoes below.
Breeders also have crossed disease-resistant New Guinea impatiens with traditional bedding impatiens to come up with a classic-looking impatiens option that solves the deadly downy mildew disease that wiped impatiens off our planting map 2 years ago.
And they’ve put together zonal geraniums with ivy geraniums to come up with impressive new hybrid geraniums that offer the best traits of both parents.
All of this – so far as I’ve been able to tell – is the result of traditional breeding techniques and not the more controversial genetic engineering.
That means these new creations are the result of taking compatible parents, interpollinating them, then watching the offspring to see if any turn out to be superior.
Sometimes that involves irradiating the plants or treating them with colchicine (a chromosome-altering plant chemical that comes from the autumn crocus plant) to get them to mate. But none of this year’s newbies are the result of gene splicing – removing genes from one organism and pasting it into the DNA of another to create something that wouldn’t/couldn’t occur in nature.