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Little did I know when I was first bitten with the "Rose Bug" that roses would become a sport. They are a great source of entertainment and often provide as much physical over-exertion as any ball game, especially when you are trying to shovel enough horse manure to deeply mulch somewhere around twelve hundred bushes! But the sport I am writing about has little or nothing to do with my physical activities. I mean the fascinating ability of roses to spontaneously generate a different variety all by themselves.
"Sporting" was a new term to me years ago when I began over-indulging in my new found passion. I could hardly wait to examine sports and grow as many as I could find. I always made tracks toward the bushes of CARELESS LOVE at the Huntington Gardens hoping to see the solid, shell-pink blooms of MRS. CHARLES BELL mixed with the cerise and white striped blooms I expected to find. The striped flowers were exciting enough, but the ability of the plant to throw the odd flower as well as an entire cane of a completely different color grabbed me squarely in the whimsy.
After collecting many of the famous sports of early hybrid teas and spending many hours studying them for any changes I could detect, I began noticing how many of the other bushes often yielded unusual growths. My beloved CARELESS LOVE provided me with my first sport. I rooted a plant of MRS. CHARLES BELL from a flower stem it gave me. The bush has continued to bloom pale shell-pink ever since, just as MRS. CHARLES BELL is supposed to. A second sport of CARELESS LOVE is quite different. The leaves on one cane unfurled quite elongated compared to the traditional oval leaves on the original. They are darker green and heavily embossed. Their appearance is much like a bamboo leaf in a dark green heavy texture. When the first bloom opened I knew I had to attempt to save it. The resulting plant is not vigorous, and has demanded the best care I could provide. The bloom is of the traditional CARELESS LOVE coloring, but the shape isn't the expected cupped bloom. The outer petals are far longer than the inner and reflex downward. The inner petals are much shorter and narrower and have a tendency to stand upright and twist. The effect is of a larger, less double, striped MLLE. CECILE BRUNNER. Probably not a very viable variety, but quite interesting.
While browsing at the local nursery a few years ago, I came upon a bush of the rose PATCHWORK. All of the other canned and blooming plants were pretty with their bright sunset colors. One can contained distinctly striped blooms as their only deviation from the others. I purchased it and have enjoyed the stripes and splashes as a nice filler in a brightly colored bouquet and as a beacon in the garden.
FRED LOADS, the vermilion, semi-single shrub/floribunda sported to an orange and white striped bloom for a British gardener and was selected as the rose used by the Royal National Rose Society to advertise their Summer Festival a few years back. FESTIVAL FANFARE, the striped sport, provides my own fireworks display for the garden since being imported from Harkness in England. One small cluster of blooms on FESTIVAL FANFARE didn't conform to the expected. They resembled SPARRIESHOOP in a slightly darker shade and with a white center. It has taken several attempts to isolate the single pink blooms, but there is now a bush growing in my garden which produces the expected clusters of single to semi-single flowers, only in a candy pink rather than the orange and white stripes of FESTIVAL FANFARE or the original orange-red of FRED LOADS.
The next surprise came on the hybrid tea, JULIA'S ROSE. It threw a very tall cane, nearly six feet high, and began blooming on the top 6 inches a rich, golden mustard without any traces of pink which give JULIA'S ROSE its parchment and copper shades. The leaves, prickles and wood appear the same except for coloring. The entire plant seems to have lost a gene for red. The leaves on the sport are far bluer and the wood and prickles have a yellow pigment rather than the expected reddish tints. The shape and size of the flowers and other plant parts are all like JULIA'S ROSE.
I noticed an unusual cane on LeGrice's GREAT NEWS. This is a pansy purple floribunda with modern looking buds and an older style, very double, sometimes quartered, open bloom. The foliage is dark, blue-green with a red border and reddish prickles. The variation was a single cane which produced the expected colors on one side; with light green growth, and no red pigments, and pale lavender-pink blooms on the other. The middle blooms in the cluster were half dark purple and half pale. My thought was that the cell which divided to produce the tip growth that developed into this cluster of blooms, must have split without the red gene on the left side as the color change went straight through the cane as if it had been masked and painted. The rooted plant which resulted from the cutting is GREAT NEWS on one half and the albino sport on the other. The absence of the red pigments is quite obvious and almost looks as though two varieties were budded on a common rootstock. Both have the identical shapes of flower and all plant parts. They differ only in color.
I have been watching a small branch on LAVENDER PINOCCHIO hoping to get enough growth on it for propagation. It has changed bloom color from the coffee-lavender tones to a clear, light yellow. The plant isn't doing well and the growth of the sport is very slow. I hope to be able to nurse it into sufficient growth to be able to save the yellow version for further observation.
Yesterday afternoon, a new page in my rose sport journal was written. While inspecting the newer section of the garden, I noticed a nice bunch of buds on a new cane of the OPHELIA sport, WESTFIELD STAR. The plant parts seem proper, but the bloom isn't the usual double, high-centered white shape. The one open bloom was a fresh, beautifully shaped bright white five petaled flower. I anxiously await the next inning of the game to see if the other blooms on the cane will open as a single hybrid tea or not.
From studying Modern Roses, it's obvious that "sporting" has been a common occurrence all along. For some rose types this is the only method of variation possible due to the absence of stamen and pollen or its near total shielding from pollination by an over abundance of petals. Many of our currently popular, historically and genetically important roses are sports of other varieties. It has been theorized that viruses have caused some striped varieties in tulips and camellias, but mutation had to be relied upon in roses to produce them serendipitously. It wasn't until Ralph Moore struck upon the idea to use the old hybrid perpetual, FERDINAND PICHARD in his breeding that we actually had control over stripes.
The next time you are feeding you soul and getting lost in your roses, inspect the new growth coming along on your bushes. Compare the shape and coloring of the leaves, canes and prickles, taking note of any variations. Most will produce different tints in foliage and flowers depending on the temperatures and your feeding schedules. But, more often than you think, you may find a new variety forming on an old friend. If the color, number of petals, growth habit, quantity of prickles, shape of the blooms or leaves begin to regularly differ from the original, you just may have a sport. While not all sports are commercially viable or even an improvement on the original, they are unique and you may discover the next great rose. If you are interested, don't prune the sport off. Save it and attempt to propagate it. Instructions abound in nearly all the books currently available.
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