Ah, the good old days when a smoker could buy a cigar for a nickel and you really could spend only a nickel or a dime in a five-and-dime store.
When it came to gardening, it seemed that the grass was greener, the sweet corn was sweeter and the apples were redder -- or were they?
In fact, the sweet corn was never sweeter and apples were never redder than today. Genes in modern corn hybrids pump up sugar levels way beyond that of yesterday's sweet corn varieties.
And just look at the color of Red Delicious apples now. The skin is a richer red and is more completely covered with red than was the skin of the original Red Delicious, first discovered growing wild on a farm in Peru, Iowa, about 1880.
Fruits on that original Red Delicious had quite a bit of green on them with red striping from stem to calyx.
Red Delicious became redder because this variety is especially prone to undergoing slight genetic changes. If even one cell in a tree undergoes such a change, perhaps spontaneously, perhaps due to the effect of sunlight or temperature, all growth beyond that point will carry on that change. If those changed cells happened to produce apples with redder skins, bingo, there you have it: A redder Red Delicious.
All that is then needed is for an observant fruit grower to pick out that one branch bearing redder apples, cut it off and propagate it to make whole new trees producing redder apples.
Red Delicious is so prone to making "sports," as these desirable mutations are called, that 30 different sports of this variety were found within a half-century of discovery of the original tree.
This type of behavior is not limited only to apples and only to red color. Sports are responsible for seedless navel orange, red Anjour pear and White Sim carnation.
As a gardener, you can decide whether to plant a sport or an original variety. Despite the appealing color of red sports of Red Delicious, they generally lack the rich flavor of the original Red Delicious.
As a gardener, keep an eye out for sports of any plant. One day you might find an apple branch with redder -- or tastier -- fruits, a weeping cherry branch with fatter blossoms or a delphinium spire with blossoms that last a long time.
If you can discount such transitory environmental influences as fertilizer or weather, call out "Hey, sport," then start propagating your find.
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