Today’s newsletter brings you a special deal on a Gaillardia cultivar called “Sunset Cutie”. This particular cultivar is a hybrid that was produced by crossing two different Gaillardia species and it is given the hybrid designation Gaillardia x grandiflora. “Sunset Cutie” was born from a mix of the species G. aristata (also known as the common blanket flower) and G. pulchella (also known as Indian blanket). This cross produced a new variety of blanket flower named “grandiflora” which was then selectively bred to produce “Sunset Cutie”, which was unique for its tight compact growth, higher flower count, and longer flowering period. In fact, one of the values of “Sunset Cutie” is its exceptionally long blooming period. The hybridization process also gave “Sunset Cutie” two rows of flat petals over the single row found in the parent species.
But what is a hybrid? In biology, a hybrid is the result of combining genetic material from two organisms from different species through sexual reproduction. The parent species have to be closely related (especially with regard to the number of chromosomes) or the mix of the genetic material will not produce viable offspring. When hybridization is possible, the resulting organism is often more robust, growing larger or taller than either parent. Biologists call this “hybrid vigor
With animals, hybridization often results in animals that are sterile. A common example is the cross between a male donkey and a female horse which produces a sterile mule (meaning that the mule cannot breed). Plant species, however, more easily hybridize and product fertile hybrids much more often than is seen in animals. Plants can more easily deal with multiple copies of chromosomes (called polyploidy) which makes them more successful hybridizers. In fact, many plants in existence today are actually hybrids of two other species – including some well-known plants such as the grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) and the herb peppermint (Mentha x piperita).
You can spot a plant hybrid by the multiplication sign “x” in the name. So the “Sunset Cutie” has the designation Gaillardia x grandiflora. The “Gaillardia x” portion of the name tells you that the hybrid came from two different species of the genus Gaillardia. The “grandiflora” portion of the name is the common name given to all members of this particular hybrid group. Naming gets even more complicated when you hybridize two plants that belong to different genera!
In summary, hybridization (especially in the plant world) gives us many new cultivars and varieties of plants, oftentimes with characteristics that make them more desirable than the original parent species. For example, “Sunset Cutie” has been shown to have a much longer flowering period than either of its parent species. And that makes this perennial a great choice for long-lasting garden color!