Fool’s Flowers?

Working in the South of France with a group of master florists, I am enthralled with some of the highly unusual flowers they have brought with them. It is ranunculus season now, and I find that the varieties that fascinate me the most are all clones, like these two…

 

photos Bastiaan Vandenberg               pink clone ranunculus

Photos Bastiaan Vandenberg

 

A cloned bloom does not sound very appealing. In fact, it conjures up the idea of a Frankenflower (indeed, the orange one is shockingly strange) but in researching the topic, I found that plants and flowers have been spontaneously cloning themselves for over 100 million years. A recent study by the Center for Plant Sciences at the University of Leeds focuses on this “relatively uncommon event in which a single copy of a gene is transformed into two separate copies” so that a plant or flower can basically try out a new look (evolutionary advance) without losing the function of the original. This is why some very different plants, such as the snapdragon and the mustard plant, are actually descended from the same ancestor.

 

So plants were naturally cloning themselves in open fields millions of decades before Dolly. And why is that? In part because plants have more innovative reproductive techniques than the entire Kama Sutra (which is, after all, simply a collection of variations on the same technique…) With plants, there is sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction, hermaphroditic and cleistogamous species that basically pollinate themselves and many, many others…

 

Today, growers both small and large (some low-volume Italian growers are responsible for these two beauties) clone their flowers in the laboratory. These flowers have not germinated from seeds, but from some tissue cells taken from parent stock that develop into sprouts fed on agar-agar and plants nourished on a hydroponic drip. Apparently, plants can live for years beyond their “natural” life span on such a carefully controlled diet, producing flowers for many seasons (instead of being turned into compost after only one season).

 

Cloning does not sound very romantic, and one does wonder if clones are sounding the death knell for genetic diversity. This would be the case if growers base their crops on only a few cultivars that disease or insects could decimate. However, it is in the grower’s interest to keep all of the varieties he or she has developed in stock as part of a genetic library for future developments. As long as people continue to purchase both “traditional” and “cloned” varieties, genetic diversity should be assured–hopefully we can enjoy both flowers that bring us back to our grandmother’s garden and look forward to seasonal blossoms as unique and inspiring as a haute couture defilé in Paris…

 

Couture cloning?

Lisa

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~ by lisacwhite on April 1, 2008.

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