Marvin Crowder found something unique on his Mrs. G.G. Gerbing azalea bush at his Itta Bena home this spring.
The about 30-year-old azalea that has always displayed white blossoms featured a half-white, half-pink flower directly in the front and center of the bush.
“I thought it was odd,” Crowder said. “I’ve been gardening for a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Crowder is an experienced gardener and has been growing azaleas for years. On the other side of his home, he has another azalea bush called Pride of Mobile that is about 25 years old and produces dark pink flowers. Crowder noticed the flower on the G.G. Gerbing was a lighter pink than the Pride of Mobile flowers.
Crowder was curious about why the flower looked this way after years of the bush only producing white flowers.
“I wanted to know how that would happen,” he said “There was nothing on Google.”
Crowder asked a couple of people who had experience working at nurseries. One responded, “Mother Nature.”
While “Mother Nature” did play a role in the half-pink, half-white flower, Felder Rushing, a gardening author, columnist and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio, had an explanation.
Rushing said the Mrs. G.G. Gerbing azalea was discovered as a sport plant, or chance mutation, on a branch of the even older, popular pink azalea named George L. Tabor. Chance mutations can be caused by damage to a plant, such as environmental stresses. A gardener saw this mutation — a white flower on the pink Tabor azalea — and decided to propagate it, name it and introduce it to nurseries.
Rushing said years ago he grew and sold many of both azaleas when he worked at Pearson’s Nursery in Indianola.
Because of the genetics of the white G.G. Gerbing azalea, Rushing said occasionally a sport plant will revert, at least partially with a flower or twig or even a branch at a time, to its more robust parent, which is the pink George L. Tabor.
Rushing said although something like this is more common in sport plants than people notice, it is very rare to occur. It usually takes years — such as the age of Crowder’s 30-year-old bush — if it ever does happen at all.
Rushing said Crowder’s azalea may be reverting back or possibly his plant has a new mutation. He suggested that Crowder mark the branch of the flower by loosely tying a string on it and watch for another unique flower next year.
“If it blooms a new color, he can take a cutting and grow a whole new group of plants,” said Rushing.
Crowder said he does plan to try Rushing’s suggestion and is excited to see if the branch will have another pink flower next year, possibly creating a new azalea.
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