Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Great Plant Makeover

Everybody seems to be getting a makeover these days, whether it's physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  How about the humble plant?  Plant breeders have been doing makeovers there for centuries - how else do you think we have all the wonderful domestic fruits, flowers and vegetables that we currently enjoy.

You know I enjoy the wild flowers of spring.  And I think I've mentioned how much I like wild strawberries.  Of course by the same token, I quite enjoy tame strawberries and since I blog about gardens, it is obvious I appreciate all the flowers that have been bred up from their humble little wild cousins.

In order to phenotypically (outward appearances) improve a plant, there must be a fair bit of genetic variability (genotype) in the original plants. Let's examine irises.  There are several types of wild irises throughout the world.  Here in North America we have the old standard blue flag.  However within populations the flowers can vary from almost white, to the darkest of purples, with every shade in between.   As well there is a wild yellow iris, that most of you who have lily ponds have probably inadvertantly introduced to your environment.  This yellow flag, while it is beautiful, can quickly become invasive in wet areas.