Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
October, 2007
Regional Report

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Double apricot hibiscus glows in the night garden.

Doubles, Anyone?

Botanists disregard them, calling double flowers no more than a "sport of nature." Gardeners disagree. Camellias, impatiens, roses, daylilies, daffodils, and other plant families produce some double flowers that we value in our gardens for their large, showy flowers. Doubles demonstrate natural examples of plant behavior that seem meant only to amuse.

The double flower was first described 2,000 years ago as a "monstrous flower," but it was not until the end of the 20th century that scientists could explain how doubles are created and why they are so rare in Nature. A complete flower has all the elements necessary for reproduction. That's important to the future generations of that plant, and for the fruit, nuts, and seeds they yield. Sepals surround and protect the bud, petals attract pollinators, stamens contain the male pollen, and pistils contain the female ovaries. Double flowers occur when the petals, stamens, and pistils mutate and "double" in on themselves.

Turns out that when this mutation sequence gets going, it can theoretically continue to infinity, producing a flower within a flower within a flower, and so on. Because doubles don't have the normal reproductive parts, they can't reproduce sexually. The double flower is sterile, so seed saving is impossible. It must be propagated from vegetative parts. No wonder they were considered rare and even trivial, and were sometimes called 'prima donnas' because they were only valuable for their looks and required such care to reproduce.

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