The clue's in the name for plant cultivation

Saving the seed capsules of fruit, veg and ornamental plants has various attractions.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 16th October 2018, 12:32 pm
Save your seeds for a rose hedge. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Save your seeds for a rose hedge. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Some preserve those of poppy, teasel and love-in-a-mist for floral arrangements, others to harvest the seed and perpetuate a favourite plant the following year, yet more do it to save money.

If seeds are collected with the intention of raising an identical plant the following year, avoid disappointment by considering whether they’ll reproduce true to form.

There is often a clue in the form of a plant’s name.

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If it comprises only two words, such as berberis darwinii, berberis represents the genus or group it belongs to, and species, with a small ‘s’, confirms it’s in a natural state from the wild and will reproduce true to form.

Crataegus monogyna is the common hawthorn species so saving and germinating the haws will give you the strong plants you want for a natural garden hedge.

“Why then,” you may ask, “is there an occasional pink flowering hawthorn amongst a hedgerow of white blooms?”

The answer is that species occasionally cross-hybridise, giving rise to such differences.

When a plant has three names, which many flowering types have because of ongoing hybridisation, the third represents the variety, or more correctly, cultivar name.

This appears between single quotation marks and begins with a capital letter, such as Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’.

If it comes from a strong line, many of the resultant plants will be identical, but anticipate more variety with recently introduced cultivars.

When you buy a packet of F1 (first filial) hybrid seeds, flowers or vegetables, there is a clear indication of what the plants will look like and how they’ll perform. This is because two proven, strong plant lines have been selected to hybridise.

Knowledge of their genetic structure means that dominant features, such as colour, vigour and disease resistance, can be confidently predicted.

If you save any seed arising from the resultant plants, they are termed F2 (second generation) and those plants will vary.

Some gardeners save pea, bean, courgette (marrow) and tomato seeds that were bought under a varietal or cultivar name, and are surprised that, apart from slight variations, they reproduce true to form.

Tomato ‘Gardeners’ Delight’, broad bean ‘The Sutton’, and pea ‘Early Onward’ are examples.

One explanation for this is that each variety has come from a strong breeding line, tried by seed firms over time.