Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Genes on the Run

There were some fabulous patches of primroses in flower along the Northumbrian coast near Howick last weekend and amongst them were a few plants like the one below, with pink petals.
Plants like this are almost certainly the product of crosses between our native primroses and exotic cultivated species ..... perhaps between plants growing in the gardens at Howick Hall and their wild cousins on the grassy bank just above the strand line at Howick Haven, cross pollinated by a bee. Some people get very steamed-up about potential threats to our wild flora posed by occasional crosses with GM crops (not that we grow any of these in Britain yet) but there's no doubt that some cultivated, exotic plant species in gardens have been exchanging genes with some of  closely-related native wild flowers for a long time. The garden polyanthus is the product of hybridisation between primroses, cowslips and an unknown continental Primula species that contributed blue and red pigments to the mix, and when polyanthus is grown in the proximity of primroses and cowslips it exchanges genes with them. Exotic columbine (Aquilegia) species have a propensity to hybridise with our native wild columbines - now rare - so any Aquilegia vulgaris growing within bee-flight distance of a garden with cultivated Aquilegia species is potentially at risk of 'contamination'. Does it matter? I think not. I've been admiring the primroses between Cullernose point and Howick for thirty years now and there are no more pink-flowered primroses there now than when I first walked that path. They just add to the interest of this glorious coastal footpath.


  1. Thanks Phil, I read and reread. I think a bit is getting through the bone. It does make a difference to me as I wander. Prior to seeing your green flowers I'd never noticed them. Now I must have seen at least three different ones. Next step is to find out what they are. Bet you could find something fascinating in Kielder Forest!

  2. Think I agree with you Phil. Certainly makes for added interest.
    We've got some white ones round here; I guess these are the work of bees too?

  3. There are goshawk's in Kielder ... they were reintroduced and are doing rather well, which is tough on the red squirrels as they are goshawk's favourite food!

  4. Never seen white ones Keith but have heard tell of some green flowered ones in Hamsterley Forest in Durham.