Tuesday, April 30, 2013

(and april's where we're)

I was recently pondering a great mystery of the plant world - so I had a lot of fresh opinion on hand when a student asked me a related question.

More on my original notion another time. Here's Fiona*'s dilemma: she was thinking of planting a red-twig dogwood in a friend's partly sunny front yard. A Knowledgeable Person (highly regarded by owner of said front yard) mentioned that the newly planted street trees would cast considerable shade when they mature, so recommended a dwarf blue spruce with a reputation for unusual shade tolerance.

(Yes, I agree with you - the understory shrubby dogwood is likely to be more agreeable to shade than the blue spruce whose destiny would have been Great Height, were it not for that dwarf-causing mutation.) But here's Fiona's question: how bad should she feel about taking a chance on this dwarf conifer, and putting it at risk of Non-Thriving?

My answer is - not at all, and for at least two reasons.

Reason #1: This dwarf blue spruce is not an individual - not in the way my dog is, the way you are. The original plant had unique genetics - so unique in its dwarfness, it was selected for vegetative propagation on a massive scale. (And probably, without horticultural intervention, the original 'individual' would have led an atypically short life - but that's another matter.) Every single dwarf blue spruce with that cultivar name (which I don't know) - whether it's in a garden, or in a big-box store, or a specialty nursery - is a genetically identical clone.

Reason #2: Not only is it going to be some time before those street trees cast their eventual shade; this plant is destined for a container. Any number of things can go wrong for a container-grown plant between now and the arrival of mature-canopy shade - including plant theft, irrigation failure, getting hit by a motorbike, change of heart on the owner's part, and if you've ever done much container gardening, you can probably add to that list.

You know I could go on - but instead, perhaps you'll give me a third reason?

Of course, Fiona should do her best research and thinking and make a good plant-to-place match (always, all of us, always). But nature itself is a giant experiment - how could gardening be otherwise?

Here's an accidental Trillium (I am a lucky gardener!), busy with its own vegetative propagation project:

How cool is that - five stems, where there was once one? I'll know more about what that means underground when it goes dormant. Then, I'll be moving this plant-of-wonder into my edible, native, shady garden**, and I'd be as upset if anyone ate it (looking at you, squirrel) as I am thrilled that it found its way here. I'm not saying that asexual reproduction makes a plant any less worthy. I'm not even saying that plants doing their thing, on their own, is even cooler than people patenting plants and mastering tissue culture - although I might agree with myself, if I were saying that.

And I'm certainly not saying that good old-fashioned plant sex isn't about the coolest thing on earth. Lookie here:

Some of you just licked your lips. (You know who you are.) More on these sexy beasts come July.

Happy almost May, all! Especially for those who drop by here for knitting, food, the dog, or any of my other, um, topics, thanks for reading through the plant philosophizing. And come back prepared, as I feel another such notion coming on something fierce. For all of us, here's an April attendance bonus, from e.e. cummings.

* may or may not be her real name.

** because adding more criteria to your plant list makes choosing plants easier - not harder.  Do it.

yes is a pleasant country:
if's wintry
(my lovely)
let's open the year

both is the very weather
(not either)
my treasure,
when violets appear

love is a deeper season
than reason;
my sweet one
(and april's where we're)


Robert said...

I am intrigued by the notion of the different notions of individuality when applied to plants.

Kizz said...

Yeah, me too. I didn't realize that they were clones in a pretty strict sense of the word.

SaraGardens said...

Michael Pollan was very interesting on this topic in the apples chapter of Botany of Desire.

I think about this in regard to dividing plants Some plants can be cut in half, resulting in two identical plants. (But what does that mean about the oneness of the plant just before the cutting?)