Have you got a ‘sport’ in your garden?

The reason for  writing  this article was a phone call from the owners of Pumula Lodge in Hunters Home. They have numerous protea species in their garden, all happily living on a sunny north eastern slope.  Suddenly this year, one King Protea  (Protea cynaroides) produced a pink and pure white flower on the same bush.  Both blooms were perfectly healthy, but there was a notable size difference between the two;  the pink one was much larger than the white one.  The  question was  if it was unusual for plants to produce two   different coloured flowers on the same bush. The answer was no;  it can happen for a variety of reasons.

protea-pink protea-white

What is a ‘Sport’?

‘a plant in which a single bud or offset suddenly assumes a new, and sometimes very different character from that of the rest of the plant’.~ Darwin

In botany, a sport or bud sport, traditionally called lusus, is a part of a plant (usually a woody plant, but sometimes a herb) that shows morphological differences from the rest of the plant. Sports may differ by foliage shape or colour, flowers or branch structure. Ref. Wikipidia

Sometimes a single flower bud ‘sports’ and you may get an odd coloured or shaped flower. There are many causes of mutations in plants, many of them still unknown. The inability to produce chlorophyll  in the leaf results in a white or yellow area on the leaf. It can be caused by cold temperatures, or viruses.  Sometimes an entire branch will change, and  this is how you get variegated plants. X-rays, UV radiation, and certain chemicals like colchicines are often used by plant breeders to trigger mutations resulting in new cultivars with desirable characteristics.

Plant growers see this new variation of the plant as a good commercial opportunity as the nursery industry is always looking for ‘new introductions’.  ‘Sports’ are propagated by vegetative means; eg. cuttings or tissue culture.  The plants are normally released on the market after years of trials as some ‘sports’ are not stable and revert  back to the parent plant.

Some Examples of ‘sports’

Iceberg is a white floribunda  rose cultivar bred by Kordes in Germany in 1958. Iceberg is among the world’s best known roses.   Since1958 many ‘sports’ have been discovered and the ‘new’ plants have  since been successfully introduced worldwide.

White Iceberg
White Iceberg

‘Blushing Pink Iceberg’ – A cultivar originating from Lilia Weatherly’s garden in Tasmania  in 1994 with white flowers flushed with pale pink.

Pink Iceberg
Pink Iceberg

‘Brilliant Pink Iceberg’ – a deep pink form from the same garden in Tasmania

Burgandy Iceberg
Burgandy Iceberg

‘Burgundy Iceberg’ – a sport of ‘Brilliant Pink Iceberg’ with prolific burgundy flowers.

‘Climbing Iceberg’- a climbing form discovered by Cants of Colchester in England in 1968 and available as weeping and climbing forms of Iceberg

In agriculture many cultivars of fruit are ‘sports’; a good example is the nectarine, which was developed from a peach.