A genetic oddity

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Chimeric flowers of Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’, also known as Canna ‘Cleopatra’

After a week of feverish preparation, Hurricane Florence has arrived in North Carolina.  Initial forecasts suggested that the storm would pass right over my garden, but according to the current track, it will follow a wide arc around our area, reserving its full fury for the coastal plain and North Carolina/South Carolina border.  So far, we’ve had nothing more than than some blustery wind and about 2 inches of rain, and the only damage has been a couple of stems of Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’ that blew over.

Which gives me a segue into a post I have been meaning to complete for most of the summer…

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Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’ is one of the more unusual plants in my garden, a genetic oddity that is widely available from commercial nurseries (often under the later synonym, Canna ‘Cleopatra’).  This heirloom Canna was first described in the late 1920s as a sport of Canna ‘Roi Humbert’, a bronze-leaved clone with large red flowers.  The sport was described as having green leaves with yellow flowers spotted with red/orange.

It’s not clear to me if the original Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’ sport was a chimera, a plant containing cells with two distinct genotypes, but chimerism seems to be its major selling point today.  The plants are a mixture of  cells of ‘Yellow King Humbert’ and cells corresponding to the original ‘Roi Humbert.’  The foliage is split into sectors of green and bronze in varying proportions.

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Each bronze leaf sector is connected to the rhizome by a strip of pigmented tissue that has grown from the chimeric meristem.  When the bronze cells extend into the inflorescence, red flowers are produced.  Green cells produce the yellow flowers.  The same inflorescence can produce both red and yellow flowers, or individual flowers can be split between the two colors.

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Red and yellow flowers on separate branches of the same inflorescence

To grow your own chimeric Canna, search for ‘Yellow King Humbert’ or ‘Cleopatra,’ but beware that Canna ‘Cleopatre’ is a completely different clone.  Also be aware that some of the ‘Yellow King Humbert’ for sale seem to be the stabilized yellow form, or a different but similar clone.  Most of the plants sold as Canna ‘Cleopatra’ do seem to be the chimera, but it is probably worth confirming before buying.  The nursery from which I obtained my plant recommends pulling up and discarding any all-green stems to retain the chimeric traits.  I’m not sure if that’s necessary, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.

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3 thoughts on “A genetic oddity

  1. I just mentioned this in regard to four o’clocks. It seems like someone else was just asking about it. I happen to like it when four o’clocks do it, but not cannas. They remind me of those Australian shepherd dogs that have one brown eye and one blue eye, that people think are so cool when they really aren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The cannas are very vibrant in colour, and beautiful. I’m glad you didn’t do badly in the storm…2inches of rain would be an enormous amount for us!

    Liked by 1 person

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