Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rosa ‘Awakening’

Sometime in the early twentieth century a rose seed germinated in the care of a skilled hybridist who was a leader in using the then relatively new Rosa wichurana (or as it was known back then, Rosa wichuraiana).  The seedling grew and made its very excellent qualities known: and before long it entered commerce with the name of the hybridizer, the 'Dr. W. Van Fleet' rose. It’s a huge shrub rose with one season of profuse bloom; the silvery pink flowers have the green apple scent characteristic of so many wichurana hybrids.

The rose ‘Dr. Van Fleet’ proved to be enormously popular, and was soon being propagated in numbers by many nurseries. Sometime in the late 1920's the stock of one nurseryman began to show a surprising and delightful characteristic: it rebloomed throughout the summer. These reblooming branches were themselves propagated.  When it became apparent that the rebloom was a reliable characteristic,  these reblooming plants were renamed ‘New Dawn’. It was introduced in 1930 and has the distinction of having been awarded the first plant patent in the United States.  To this day ‘New Dawn’ is widely held in high regard. For purposes of this discussion, keep in mind that ‘New Dawn’ is an outgrowth of that original seedling.

‘New Dawn’ became even more popular than ‘Dr. W. Van Fleet’, and it too underwent extensive vegetative propagation. In the 1930’s a keen eyed Czech nurseryman noticed that one of his plants produced branches with very double flowers, flowers which had more petals than the typical ‘New Dawn’.  These branches with very double flowers were propagated. When it became apparent that the extra doubleness was a fixed characteristic, the plants grown from these branches were named ‘Awakening’. That’s what you see in the image above.

The three roses ‘Dr. Van Fleet’, ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Awakening’ form a single variable clone. Perhaps you’re wondering “How can that be, they are not exactly alike, and aren’t clones exactly alike, isn’t that what the word ‘clone’ means?”

No, that’s not what it means. The word clone (in the plant science sense) was first used  in the offices of the Department of Agriculture. One of the researchers was searching for a word to describe the group (note that, the group, not the separate plants) which arises when a plant is vegetatively propagated. One of his co-workers who knew Classical Greek suggested the Greek word for ‘branch’.  In a conventional transliteration from the Greek alphabet to the Roman alphabet, this would be written clon. Those who knew Classical Greek knew that the “o” was a long “o”. But this spelling ran afoul of the bizarre rules of spelling we have in English:  most native speakers of English who did not know Classical Greek  pronounced the word the way it looks  to them, clon with a short “o” sound. Some even spelled it klon. To correct this mispronunciation, the spelling "clone" came into use: this most native speakers of English will intuitively pronounce with a long “o” sound.

As far as I know, the name of the  USDA employee who came up with the idea to use the word clone is not recorded, although its first use in a publication is known (but the author of that paper is not the person who came up with the idea of using the word ).

Now, back to the meaning of the word. First of all, in the sense intended by the early uses of the word, it referred to the group which arises when a plant is asexually propagated. The clone was the group, not the separately propagated  elements which made up the group. Note that in contemporary street talk (and, sad to say, much scientific discussion)  the elements which make up a clone in the original sense are themselves referred to as “clones”.

This metonymy in meaning is only a part of the problem. Genetics as a science barely existed when the word clone was coined for use in plant sciences. Once genetics began to gain some steam, another blunder was perpetrated: the geneticists insisted that the elements which make up a clone must be genetically identical. Although this flew in the face of centuries of empirical observation of plants subjected to extensive vegetative propagation  (for instance, the nineteenth century tulip variety ‘Murillo’ was the source of dozens of successful commercial entities, all derived by vegetative propagation of one original seedling ), the new science prevailed. It wasn’t long before the standard belief was that the elements of a clone (in the original sense of the group) were identical.

Traditional geneticists seemed to ignore the abundant evidence provided by the variations seen in plants long propagated as clones such as  grapes, tulips and apples, just to name a few. A new field of research called epigenetics attempts to explain some of these effects. Stay tuned: this one is just beginning. 

Now back to the rose itself for a moment: rose flowers produced in the cool temperatures of autumn are often the best colored roses of the year. Rose flowers produced in the summer are often a disappointment. Do we really gain all that much from roses which bloom throughout the summer? Spring bloom followed eventually by some autumnal bloom is fine with me. 

By the way, that's natural dew on the blossom shown in the image above - it's not phony dew from a spray applicator. 


flower delivery philippines said...

Lovely flower! It's so attractive. Wish I can also have that in my garden. Anyway, thanks for sharing this post. Looking forward for your next post.


Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks. I am trying to determinate a climbing rose that looks like the new rose awakening but it has less petals, the number is thirty something. Thanks to your post I get to know the history of the "clone" :-)