The world loves a freak. I mean how else could you explain the popularity of Paris Hilton a Britney Spears, beside mass planetary alien abduction. Okay, I will give you that the sex tape went a long way to help push Paris to stardom, but when it is all said and done, she is a freak. And boy do we love a freak.
Nobody loves freaks more than a gardener.
Every year the horticultural industry throws literally millions of dollars are trying to find the next vegetative freak. Call it what you will… cross-breeding, controlled propagation, genetic manipulation, dumb sport luck. It all boils down to freak finding.
The goal of all this hustle and bustle is to create the latest and greatest and freakiest plant so that we gardeners can swoon over it and, of course, pay ungodly amounts of money so that we can own it and watch it die in our own gardens.
One of my favorite freak plant stories is that of the Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine. This is one that falls under dumb sport luck.
Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine is a sport. That means that through some genetic mishap, be it sci-fi radio active or just Mother Nature asleep at the wheel, part of the plant’s genetic code is mis-written and odd things happen. In the case of the Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine, it went from a nice deep green to smack you in the face chartreuse.
Now, what makes this so amazing is that this particular genetic hiccup did not happen in a lab, a nursery or even in a knowledgeable gardener’s flower bed. As a matter of fact, at this time, sweet potato were only foodstuffs. Tasty at Thanksgiving but certainly not meant for the floral arrangement.
This sport happened in a farmer’s field. One lowly little sweet potato that stood out like a sore thumb among all that dark green. And this rather observant farmer noticed it. By sheer luck, he happened to be friends with a garden designer (whose name escapes me at the moment and apparently Yahoo and Google as well).
This garden designer was just like the rest of us. He liked a freak and was not too proud to admit it. So he took this sport home and started to propagate it.
In a short time he had a tidy little supply and he thought, “Well, won’t this just be the talk of the town when I introduce it to the other garden designers.”
He was right, kind of. They laughed at him when he introduced it. Sweet Potatoes! Oh come on? You are joking right? Sweet potatoes?!? I believe one of the designer’s there even said it was as silly as someone starting a TV show about a spoiled rotten heiress and her equally spoiled friend. But I might be wrong about that.
He went home from that conference feeling just a little silly. But he didn’t stop propagating them. He knew as well as anybody (besides the other garden designers) that we gardeners like a freak.
Long and short of it, ornamental sweet potato vines are now a hanging basket staple. A garden nursery just can’t be considered a real garden nursery unless they carry some form of these vines. And each and every one of those chartreuse vines came from that one little farmer found sport.
Moral of the story, be friends with farmers. No wait, sweet potatoes are your friends. No, no… Oh screw it.
It’s a freak, okay. You like freaks. Don’t deny it. Yeah, I bet you even have the Simple Life programmed on your TiVo.
Here we are nearly a year later and I managed to find the name of the gentleman I mention who indroduced the Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine. His name was Hunter Stubbs. According to Dr. Allen Armitage on Smart Gardening, Hunter Stubbs found this sport in Raleigh, NC.