Guest post: Hybrid vigor

The following post was written by my father, Stan Davis. He and my mother, Jane, are growing the decorations for the wedding. It was my parents who first introduced me to the joys of being outdoors and watching things grow. I will be forever grateful.

My parents, Stan and Jane

Today I planted Sunflowers for the wedding. Sunflowers need three things: a place where the deer (who love the leaves) can’t get at the growing plants; a place where they won’t shade the rest of the vegetables; and fertile soil. Given those things, they are the reliable giants of the garden. The traditional oilseed sunflowers grow huge flowers on thick stalks eight feet high. The stems are so massive that people on the dry western prairies are said to have cut and dried them to burn for winter heat.

The sunflowers I planted today are hybrids designed to be good cut flowers – “pollenless” varieties which can sit in a vase on a table without shedding large amounts of yellow pollen all over everything. I planted “Sunrich,” with a black central disk and yellow petals; “Firecracker,” described in typical sensuous seed catalog language as growing “red and gold bi-colored, pollenless flowers, with a velvet dark brown central disk;” and “Sonja,” described in this way: “golden-orange blooms with dark centres are striking when compared to the yellow shades of most sunflowers. The medium sized 10 cm diameter blooms on strong stems make Sonja durable in the garden and long lived in the vase.”

All the varieties are hybrids. Hybridizing is different from genetic engineering – you get hybrids by finding two varieties of the same flower or vegetable which each have desirable characteristics and cross-pollinating them with a paintbrush or other controlled method. Then you put a paper bag over each plant’s flowers to keep the plants from being pollinated by bees or the wind. After this low-tech procedure, the resulting seeds carry some characteristics of each parent. Often, crossing varieties that are very different leads to a strength and disease resistance called “hybrid vigor.”

Julia is a hybrid in that sense – she carries in her DNA her mother’s Welsh-English and Pennsylvania Dutch Congregational honesty, ingenuity, willingness to try new things, determination, and creativity and her father’s Eastern European Jewish adventurousness, enthusiasm, and imagination.


One response to “Guest post: Hybrid vigor

  1. I think your description of Julia’s hybrid nature is PERFECT and completely on-target. She does possess all of those wonderful qualities and so many more…

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