Friday, May 27, 2016

Unfinished business: Polyscias fruticosa

So I told you a while back that the plant collection had done one thing that made me happy during the previous three months or so. This is that thing.1

A quick recap of the Polyscias saga so far:

At the end of last May, both my original Polyscias fruticosa and the plant I started from a cutting of it bloomed. I tried to pollinate the flowers, not knowing if it was self-fertile, and got berries. Started the seeds from those berries on vermiculite in late September. To my surprise, the seeds began to germinate in mid-October, and the first seed leaves were visible in early November.

And then I stopped blogging about them, but they continued to do things. Eventually it started to become a problem to keep the vermiculite moistened, so I potted up the sturdiest-looking eleven seedlings on 12 January.

I hadn't been very optimistic about the seedlings. I've never actually done this before with Polyscias, and it's not like I really need more of them. I thought the best case scenario was that I'd get five or six that I could sell at the consignment store or on Craigslist or something, ideally before they got huge.

Instead, all eleven survived. Here they are on 3 February, looking a little yellow:


In March, with all eleven still intact, it started to become apparent that something unexpected was happening. They were starting to diverge in appearance a little. Young leaves aren't necessarily representative of mature foliage, but it got my attention. 11 March:


By April, it was clear that something was up. As each new leaf appeared, the seedlings weren't all converging on a standard "Polyscias fruticosa" form like I'd expected: instead they were getting more and more distinct from one another in leaf shape, size, amount of branching, etc. And I started to get a little excited. 4 April:


By late April, it was official. Not only were they consistently different in appearance from one another, but they were distinct enough that some of the plants were individually recognizable.

Here are shots of individual leaves2 from the eleven seedlings, arranged in order of decreasing fluffiness.3

Seedling 01

Seedling 04

Seedling 05

Seedling 03

Seedling 08

Seedling 06

Seedling 11

Seedling 07

Seedling 02

Seedling 09

Seedling 10

The appearance of the individual seedlings sort of logically follows from the appearance of the leaves, so I'm not sure I actually need to show you the entire plants, but I guess in the interest of completeness, and because I have comments about a few of them, I may as well. Same order:

Seedling 01

Seedling 01 is a monster. The leaves keep getting bigger and more complicated. It's also one of the taller seedlings, though I realize you can't tell that from the photo very well, because of the angle. The veining is also a lot more prominent than on most of the other seedlings, which doesn't mean a lot, but gives the leaves a sort of striped appearance close-up. Which is sort of attractive.


Seedling 04

Seedling 04 is also producing really substantial, three-dimensional leaves, and since this photo was taken, it's also started to branch. (I think technically you can see the beginnings of the branches in this photo, down low on the stem, but they're more obvious now.)


Seedling 05


Seedling 03


Seedling 08

Seedling 08 is also very distinctive because of how narrow all the leaflets are. I don't find it especially appealing, but I can pick it out of the crowd: 08's the one that looks like a tangled mess. It's possible that it will have some redeeming feature, like being unusually durable or whatever.


Seedling 06


Seedling 11


Seedling 07


Seedling 02

Seedling 02 is either my favorite or second-favorite, along with seedling 01. Doesn't actually look that much like holly, but it nevertheless makes me think of holly.


Seedling 09

It's pulling out of it now, it looks like, but seedling 09 is the only one that's ever seemed to struggle at all; I'm not sure exactly what's wrong with it, but all the leaves suddenly developed yellow-brown spots, more or less evenly-spaced, and the leaf in front, the really yellow one, dropped off. I'm assuming that I overwatered; the spots are plausibly edema.4


Seedling 10

Seedling 10 is very short but also very thick: one of the first seedlings to start branching. The two things appear to be related. It's like there's only so much vertical growth possible, so the ones that branch tend to be short, and the ones that don't branch wind up tall. Which makes sense, though seedling 04 is both tall and branching, so it's maybe not a firm rule.

So . . . how to explain this, then. I'd never had any reason to suspect that my plant was anything other than a regular old Polyscias fruticosa, and yet a wild-type species plant, crossed with itself, shouldn't give offspring this varied, should it?

It's possible that my parent plant is a hybrid -- I don't know for sure that Polyscias species can hybridize with one another, but I don't know that they can't, and there are other species in cultivation,5 so surely someone has tried before. Searching for "polyscias hybrid" turns up pages where both words appear, but the sites all appear to be using "hybrid" interchangeably with "cultivar" or "variety;" there's no "_______ is a hybrid between P. _____ and P. ______" anywhere.

It's also possible that maybe P. fruticosa produces a lot of sports and/or is naturally variable, like Rhynchostylis gigantea, and all of them have the potential to produce variable offspring. In any case, I'm surprised, don't know how this happened, and am finding it kind of a fun puzzle.

As to whether any of them might be special enough to try to propagate on a larger scale, or patent, or whatever, well, it's still really early. They're only eight months old, and haven't even broken my heart yet,6 so let's don't go counting chickens. But I'm really interested in seedlings 01 and 02, especially 02, and I think I can safely assume that they'd propagate true from cuttings, so . . . maybe someday.

-

1 I'm also pleased to be able to report that there have been a couple other things: first, the previously-mentioned Anthurium seedling 0805 Triana Hill has opened a first bloom, and it actually is pleasant, as I had hoped. (Not wildly different from anything we've ever seen before, granted -- very similar to 0097 Colin Ambulance -- but still pretty and unusual.)
Second, the Neofinetia has bloomed again, which is less earthshaking this year than last, but I appreciate it anyway.
2 Whichever leaf was largest and newest, for each seedling.
3 A technical term. I don't have a fluffimeter (fluh-FIM-i-ter; prounouncing it "FLUF-ee-ME-ter" alerts people that you're not a real scientist) here, so I'm estimating from appearance.
(I should probably say approximate decreasing fluffiness.)
4 The spots don't show well in the photo because of the angle I had to shoot from, but I feel confident in ruling out scale or thrips, and the only thing I've seen anywhere that looked at all like this is edema. And the soil was very wet.
It took me a while to trust that the seedlings didn't have to be kept wet all the time; since they were coming from a very damp germination container, I figured they wouldn't be able to dry out at all, so I was watering a lot. Even so, seedling 09 is the only one that ever complained about it, and I've been watering more cautiously and normally since. It's replaced the dropped leaf already, and then some.
5 (The other two used as houseplants are P. guilfoylei, formerly balfouriana, and P. scutellaria; another three or so are commonly cultivated outdoors, according to Wikipedia.)
6 They will. Let's not kid ourselves. The Anthuriums have, the Schlumbergeras have. I suppose the Coffea and Spathiphyllum seedlings haven't done it yet, but only because they can't: I'm not especially emotionally invested in either group.


9 comments:

Jeane said...

That is pretty cool. I hope you continue to post about them, especially if you take cuttings or grow more from seed. I wasn't even familiar with this plant before, and I find it really interesting that the offspring could have such varied leaf shape!

Paul said...

I, too, found this interesting and, like you, would suspect that perhaps your plant is actually a hybrid. (Which I suppose if the original source of the plant grew from seed and if their plant had been open pollinated that that might be possible. Rather intriguing none the less.). Is the parent plant a Ming Aralia? If so, also surprising that none of the offspring look much like the parent.

mr_subjunctive said...

Paul:

I mean, I thought the original plant was a Ming aralia; there are pictures of it here and here.

I think seedling 05 looks more like the parent plant than any of the others.

Pat the Plant said...

"Some others appeared to form a range intermediate between
P. fruticosa and P. crispata, or P. pinnata. They may be
hybrids, although for the moment they are listed below
under the species which they most closely resemble. "

http://fshs.org/proceedings-o/1983-vol-96/161-164%20(BURCH).pdf

mr_subjunctive said...

Pat the Plant:

That link is great. Thank you!

Paul said...

I found the information in that paper about them being genotypically unstable quite interesting.

Jeff Crecelius said...

There are many many variations among Polyscias in my experience. I have no idea if these are separate species or cultivars or whatever.... but for the past 30 years or so I've been collecting various versions, mostly from cuttings. I have several which have grown into substantial shrubs in the jungle that is my corner lot in Fort Lauderdale. Ranging from extremely meticulously complicated leaflets to leaves that consist of one large, single uncut nearly circular leaf..... and everything in between. I've never grown any from seed, although most (but not all) of my larger guys have flowered and fruited from time to time.

Your seedling #9 looks, so far, like what I've been told is the "wild" species type. Mine tend to be tall (6-8 ft) and single-stemmed, and even when topped they still grow tall and thin, but with multiple stems/trunks. By far the most robust growers.

Jeff Crecelius said...


(part 2):
A half-dozen or so are very similar, in what you'd call the "ming aralia" class. These tend to grow with a twisty-turny natural bonsai look. Lots of variation in leaf complication, all have an apple green leaf color. One in the front yard is almost 10 ft tall, and with the crazy branching patterns it's 4 to 6 feet wide. Two years ago I found some of these at a flea market in Central Florida that have the classic "ming" look, but with very nicely variegated leaflets. I bought all 6 that they had! So far they are all still very small. I'm assuming that they won't ever get to any great size, so I'm keeping some in pots, and have put a few into semi-shady spots in the landscape.

Another type grows very tall, has 3-5 rounded leaflets (the terminal one usually double or triple the size of the side leaflets) and comes in an all green version as well as a variegated one. These are considered "old Florida" shrubs, typically used as hedges along backyard fences, etc. Some of these around old homes have substantial trunks at ground level and tend to grow 10 ft tall or more. They get leggy after a few years, and most people cut them down to 3 or 4 feet every few years and they come back with a little more meat on their bones.

My all-time favorite is what is locally known as "chicken gizzard aralia." These grow tall (4+ feet) and erect (even more so than the "wild" species) and have very dark green, almost black, segmented leaves that are very crinkled. Each leaflet has a jagged, non-symettrical shape. Really, really cool and different look. Thriving in part shade. One of mine threw a sport that is so completely different from the parent that it's hard to believe it came from the same bush. This one has much lighter green leaves, much more segmentation to the leaves - and no crinkles - and each leaflet is oval/rounded. Once I removed that sport branch from the parent, it never has shown up again on the parent - but the sport cutting has thrived and I've propagated it and passed several along to friends. This particular sport is a tiny dwarf, throwing side shoots and forming a tiny (18") rounded shrub, which again is insanely unlike the parent.

Jeff Crecelius said...

(part 3):
From time to time the local Lowe's and Home Depot will have unusual types in tiny 3" pots in the Angel plants brand. Not sure but I believe that's a local South Florida company. I've seen them at H.Depot's all over Florida but not sure how widely distributed they are in other parts of the country.

As kind of a side note, I also have a half-dozen or so different kinds of the very similar "False Aralia" - Plerandra elegantissima (formerly called Schefflera elegantissima and Dizygotheca elegantissima). Seems as if the authorities keep renaming this group every 5 years or so. These are they guys that look like marijuana plants in the juvenile stage, but once mature their leaves become much larger and broader, resembling the classic schefflera (S. actinophylla - umbrella tree, octopus tree), but much better behaved! The common schefflera has actually become very invasive down here in the past 20 years or so - often starting out as a seedling in the crook of an existing palm tree, then assuming the classic strangler-fig routine, with roots enveloping and eventually killing the host tree. The seeds for these monsters must be spread by birds, because I'm constantly pulling seedlings out of my yard - and I don't know of any mature ones within my block at least.

All of the above are in the Araliaceae family but the only one that is invasive is the big daddy Schefflera actinophylla. Those guys do make awesome large potted trees 'up north' but are a real pest from Central Fla on down when grown outdoors.