Friday, January 4, 2013

Sex, Trees, and the Single Parent

      The one Fig tree in  the Dog's Plot  orchard moves into the house each Winter with its   companion plant Aloe.  I occasionally harvest a few figs from the planter, but of course the Fig and the Aloe don't mate with one another….. and in fact,  Fig trees are peculiar in that each one has  sex only with itself:   the fruits develop from ingrown flowers that never open.  So,  to reproduce or recreate, the Fig tree "frigs" itself, if you will;  and you can't.
        The offspring  of a  figsexual union will be identical to the  bisexual, self-polinating parent:  a clone.
   But most  trees and people  are born of two parents, who together  had  four parents,  who had sixteen…. and so on.  As a result of having so many gene contributors, we may not even resemble either parent, but more like a mixture of the two and their general forebears, or random throwbacks to the originalbears,  including occasional freak characteristics,  creating totally newbears.

  Plant the seed of most any  Pear,  Apple, or other fruit tree…. and nobody knows what you'll get….maybe  even a genetic mutation which enables your  tree to produce apples  that looks like strawberries and  taste like bananas.     
    Yet  the seed of this tree will be just as unpredictable as that from any tree.  You will need a method other than sex to produce another Strawbannana  tree.

    Some trees can clone themselves through various forms of non-sexual reproduction.   Some, like Locust trees, send up sprouts from  traveling roots.  Apple trees will sometimes take root where bent branches touch the ground….especially if you  bury the elbow.   The resulting trees are called "Gypsies".   " Layering"  is what horticulturalists call the process  when done deliberately.  You could try  layering  your Strawbannana.

     Or…  you might  whittle a wedge on one end of a Strawbannana Apple twig, and stick it into a split Apple sapling stump, hoping for the twig and root-stock to fuse……..which may well happen if   you line up the green growing layers,  if you seal the exposed parts, if the critters don't get to it, and if a few more ifs.  "Cleft Grafting",  we call it.


   Romans developed grafting……. or maybe they stole it from the Greeks …. and  perpetuated dozens of Pear mutations by grafting.
    Then, through the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, this practice was carried on  behind cloister walls by the churchmen of Rome.  And now there may be some thought in the Vatican along the lines reproducing  priests by similar means.  Heaven knows,  medical grafters can already  attach a severed finger to the middle of your forehead.

   Be that as it may, during the sixteen hundreds   fruit varieties traveled  as grafted root stock  and rooted cuttings, through the Christian empire  into the Americas.
    French Jesuit missionaries  branching down from Canada  brought their own varieties of Apples, Cherries, Peaches, and Pears to their missions on Cayuga lake and to the Cayuga Village downhill from us at Dog's Plot.
  A hundred years on, when the Cayugas were living in European-style, stick- framed houses,    growing all these foreign fruit varieties, and maybe even  broccoli,  at peace with the English who were at war with the colonists …Washington's men marched through here, burned the village, destroyed the field crops, and cut down the orchards.
   That was the end of  those  Sweet Cherries and Peaches.
        But Apples and Pears - Pears, in particular - sprout well from stumps.

No comments: