By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
If you’ve noticed something outside the norm in your garden, it could be the result of plant sport mutations. What are these? Read on to learn more about plant sports.
A sport in the plant world is a genetic mutation that results from a faulty chromosomal replication. The results of the mutation are a segment of the plant that is distinctly different from the parent plant in both appearance (phenotype) and genetics (genotype). The genetic change is not a result of unusual growing conditions; it is an accident, a mutation. In many cases the new trait can be handed down to the organism’s offspring.
Plant sport mutations can add flecks of white to a flower or double the amount of flowers on a stem. The climbing hybrid tea roses are sports of regular shrub form hybrid tea roses; “Climbing Peace” is a sport of “Peace.”
Flowers are not the only plants to be affected by sports. Many varieties of fruits are sports such as ‘Grand Gala’ and ‘Big Red Gala,’ which are both derived from ‘Gala’ apple varieties. The nectarine is also another example of a sport, which was developed from a peach.
The term plant sport is the variation of the whole plant, and a bud sport is the variation of only a single branch. Bud sports are also a common cause of the variegation that is seen on some plant foliage. The inability to produce chlorophyll in the leaf indicates that some mutation has occurred. The result is a white or yellow area on the leaf.
There are other characteristics that could vary from the original plant such as the size of the leaf, the form and the texture.
When a plant throws a sport, it is not usually a problem. The sport will either die out or change back to its original form. If you see something unusual with your plants and if the sport appears to have characteristics that would be desirable, it could be worth trying to root the plant to see if it continues to grow in the mutative way. The sport may be cultivated to make a new variation of the plant.
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