Go sport fishing at your local nursery

Regular fishing, for actual fish, is quite possibly the second most boring think ever invented (First place, of course, goes without question to baseball) but sport fishing! Now THAT is something I can get behind.

By sport fishing I mean, of course, looking for sports – chance mutations – in plants. Sometimes a flower color changes, or sometimes a leaf becomes variegated, like on this lilac branch I found at a friend’s nursery a couple years ago


Nurseries are great places to go “fishing” for these sports, simply by walking down the rows of plants looking for anything odd or out of place. Sometimes they are true sports, and sometimes there has been some hanky panky… Last summer I was walking through a nursery looking at their pots of blooming Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)


And suddenly I noticed a plant that was markedly different.dianthus hybrid

Way too different to just be a sport, this was a chance hybrid with… something. What, I don’t know, Dianthus is a big, promiscuous genus, but I like it and snatched it up. The chance hybrid was pretty enough and intriguing, and after blooming it produced a healthy crop of seeds, so I grew some out. One year later, they’re blooming in all sorts of interesting ways..

One looks just like a regular Sweet William, but significantly shorter


Another is a nice red, though the flowers are a bit sparse


And this one, my favorite, has decided to pretend to be a carnation with masses of double, fragrant flowers.


I, of course, have responded by collecting many many more seeds from that original chance hybrid picked up at the nursery, and can’t wait to sow them out and see what else may show itself.

So next time you at a big nursery, take some time to go fishing for sports and hybrids… you may just find something cool.

— Joseph Tychonievich

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

2 thoughts on “Go sport fishing at your local nursery”

  1. What a great idea! Thanks for the suggestion. It gives me another “excuse” to feed my plant addiction!

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