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What's a sport?

  • Subject: What's a sport?
  • From: "Bill Meyer" <njhosta@hotmail.com>
  • Date: Wed, 4 Jul 2001 10:08:41 -0400

Hi Everyone,
      The recent discussion about 'June' and 'Loyalist'/ 'Fire and Ice' brings up some interesting questions. I think we need to talk about what's a sport, and what's a selection.
      Not all hosta are very homogenous in appearance. Here in America, we get used to the idea that a bottle of Pepsi or a McDonald's hamburger will taste the same no matter where or when we get it. These products are intentionally made that way, for marketing reasons. On the other hand, if you buy peaches or strawberries, you'll find that there's a big difference between the good ones and the ones that taste like newspaper. The main area that we see a range of difference in hostas is margin width. The next time you visit a nursery, look at the 'Francee' and the 'Wide Brim'. The 'Francee' margin is very consistant from leaf to leaf and plant to plant. Very rarely do you see anything that stands out as wider. Occasionally you'll see different colors appearing in the center, and these are rightly called sports. Now look at the 'Wide Brim'. They are all over the map when it comes to margin width. What's more, they seem to stabilize into clumps with the margin width they came out of the TC lab with. Some have wide margins (and given the name, these are probably the as-registered ones), and some have narrow margins. Some are in-betweens, and some have a mix of widths in the same plant. 'Wide Brim' has a wide range of margin widths.
      Probably the most interesting thing here is that the wide (or the narrow) ones can settle out and keep growing that way. If you want a nice wide-margin specimen, and you have a bunch of large multi-division plants to pick from, take one with a wide, even margin on every leaf. This plant will continue to stay wide-margined, even if you split it up and pass it around. The same applies to stable-looking narrow-margined ones. Are either of these sports? I say no, because no new tissue has appeared. Both can be found within the range of a normal batch of 'Wide Brim'. The fact that they can stabilize doesn't make them sports because they are not different genetically, just a stabilized selection from the normal range. If a new color appears on the plant, or the margin disappears, or the white moves to the center, or it turns streaked, or even if it starts putting out double flowers, it would be a sport. If there is a change in ploidy, it would also be a sport. But if the margin-width varies considerably in a plant, and you pick out one with a nice wide margin, it's a selection.
      I was at a local nursery looking at the first batch of 'Loyalist' last year. Some had small, narrow white centers, and others were all center with hardly any margin. Needless to say the ones with a lot more green grew a lot faster than the ones that were 90% white. This is probably the explanation for the pictures Luc sent. One batch was propagated from a narrow margined individual, and one from a wide-margined one, and they've settled down that way. The same sort of thing appears to be going on with 'June'. If a wide-margined one is chosen for TC, a wide-margined batch results. Neither it or the narrow-margin forms are sports, just different selections from a variable population.
      Remembering the 'Wide Brim' example, let's say that the first batch was variable in margin width. Two TC lab owners come shopping and one picks a wide-margined one and the other picks a narrow-margined one. Both take their plants home and propagate them and both forms hold fairly true. Once the original batch is gone and the new ones hit the market, we have a debate on our hands about which is the true form. We have two different-appearing strains of the same plant, and can see that they are not "identical". What we don't see is the original batch and its variability. I say they are both 'Wide Brim', just different selections of it, and that hostas are more like strawberries than McDonald's hamburgers.

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