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Botanist's Lens: Spot a Sport

Have you ever spotted any sports in your yard or other gardens? Nope, I am not talking about sports as in basketball, football or cornhole, but in the world of Botany and Horticulture a 'sport' is a totally different ball game! A 'sport' in the botany world means a 'genetic mutation;' one that has no explanation and no specific rhyme or reason for its occurrence. Sport is a chance genetic mutation and can occur on any plant, anytime.

A sport is a part of a plant, for eg., flower, leaf, buds, that shows a morphological difference than the rest of the plant. Plant morphology (the study of the plant parts) was one of my most favorite topics in botany and when you mix genetics with it, a whole new world opens up! Genetic mutations simply put, are changes in the genetic sequence and can be heritable. Now let's see how you could spot a sport!

If you have strolled through London Town's gardens when the Azaleas are in bloom, you have probably noticed some Azaleas that show a totally different flower color amongst the others. That's a sport! For eg. in the picture below you will notice that amongst the white Azalea flowers one of the flower is half pink and half white. Sometimes, a small bunch of flowers turns a different color than the original flower color of the plant, for no rhyme or reason.

Most of the Azalea sports at London Town are amongst the evergreen Azaleas, like in Satsuki Azaleas and Glen Dale Azaleas. Spotting a sport in an Azalea is exciting for plant breeders, because it gives a chance to propagate that part of the plant to replicate the sport, if it has an interesting trait.

Spotting a sport is not restricted to flowers alone. You can spot sports on leaves and buds too. For eg., plants that usually have all green leaves, sometimes show a couple of leaves with yellow or white streaks. That's a sport!

Help us spot sports when you visit London Town garden next time. If you visit us in the coming weeks, you might still be able to spot some sports in late blooming Azaleas. Mutants are fun! After all, they play a significant role in evolution. Now that's definitely my kind of sport!

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