PPDL Picture of the Week
May 8, 2017
Dan Egel, Botany and Plant Pathology
While on a recent family vacation, we found ourselves in
Pella, Iowa, a town that styles itself an old Dutch village complete with
windmills, clapboard homes and, of course, tulips. Having a background in botany, I was drawn to
the tulips and began taking photos when I found the one in figure 1. A quick look at figure one might seem to
indicate that a red tulip was mixed in with yellow ones. However, the photo is of a yellow tulip with
two red petals (Figure 2). So, what
The most likely explanation of the two-tone tulip is that a
mutation occurred early in the development of the plant. The mutation occurred in the
non-reproductive cells, making this a somatic mutation. That means that any seed from this plant would
lack the two-toned appearance. Other
types of somatic mutation include apples that have wedges of differing color or
green leaves with sections of white.
Readers may have heard of tulips with unusual coloration that
were famous during tulipmania in Holland in the 1600’s. The rare tulips of this period exhibited
veins of seemingly unpredictable color.
Many Dutch gardeners paid large sums of money for these tulips. Whereas
the interesting tulip I found in Pella had a mutation, we now know that the colorful
tulips of Holland in the 1600’s were caused by a virus.
The Dutch eventually decided the diseased tulips were
worthless. And I suppose the mutated
tulip I found is similarly insignificant.
Nevertheless, I plan to visit Pella next year to see if I can find any
more unusual tulips.