Monday, May 20, 2024

Leaf chimeras

Question:  In the last couple of months, on e-Bay, I saw a chimera (‘Rob’s Lucky Penny’) that had normal (not striped) flowers, but a stread of white on the sides of all of its leaves.  But, the auctioner of this plant made the point that the variegation was from chimeralism, and that the leaves wouldn’t lose their color with diet or heat.  I would like to know more about propagating these types of plants.

Answer:  Most African violets can be successfully propagated by leaf, producing plants that are genetically identical to the leaf donor.  It normally doesn’t matter which leaf is used for propagation, since all fo the cells of one leaf are genetically identical to the cells of any other.  Chimeras are different, however.  These plants have plant tissues where individual cells are genetically different from one another.  Because of this, producing plantlets identical to the donor plant is difficult by leaf cuttings.  Not every cell in every leaf is genetically the same as the plant it is removed from.

The word “chimera” has become synonymous with plants having “pinwheel”, or striped, blooms, because most of these varieties can’t be successfully propagated by leaf cuttings.  The plantlets produced usually will bloom without the pinwheel pattern to the bloom   Successful propagation is only possible by letting the plants produce “suckers”, harvesting these, then rooting them.  To encourage suckers, the plants is often decrowned (the center is removed), leaving a “stump” behind that will produce more (and likely more viable) suckers.  

In this instance, the “chimera” was a plant without pinwheel blooms, but with unusually variegated foliage that would only appear in plantlets when propagated by suckers.  “Chimera”, again, refers to the genetic properties of the plant’s cells, which determines how it must be propagated, not the bloom or foliage coloring.  When propagated by leaf cutting, the plantlets produced from ‘Rob’s Lucky Penny’ would be entirely green, with no variegation (and we’ve found this variegation to be unique in that its intensity is immune to temperature, age, or feeding).  Propagation by suckers is the only means of producing plantlets identical to the original plant.

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