Rose Garden Oddities: Funny Buds and Phyllody
by Rich Baer, Master Rosarian Portland Rose Society
Most of the time when you go out into the garden you see what you expect to see. Beautiful foliage on strong plants topped with wonderful flowers. However, on occasion things do not work out just exactly right. As with all living systems there are always little glitches in nature and roses show some unusual oddities. One of these is called funny bud for lack of any real scientific name. There is also a physiological condition known as bent bud which is the condition when the peduncles of cut flowers suddenly collapse and the flower heads droop, but that is something else. Almost every time I see a funny bud developing in the garden, I photograph it so that I am able to think about why they happen and am able to examine them blown up on my computer screen. One of the interesting things is that there are certain roses that experience this condition much more often than others. Gemini, because it is such a good show rose is one that people often ask about because the condition ruins the possibility of the bloom being used in a rose show. First a little information about the peduncle, the part of the rose plant upon which the bloom forms. When a stem goes from vegetative to reproductive growth the usual stem is replaced by a structure known as the peduncle. As the cells at the tip of the peduncle reproduce they become all of the parts of the flower including the sepals, the petals, the stamens and pistils. By studying many many pictures of the condition of funny bud, there is one thing that seems to be almost always present. As the peduncle is developing it produces a random sepal somewhere along its length where a sepal does not normally develop. The developing cells at the tip of the peduncle produce 5 sepals which are the green structures that cover the petals in the bud. In roses, there are always five of these. But in the condition of funny bud there is often a sixth which grows from a spot along the length of the peduncle below the bloom. This is the result of a little faulty genetics in the developmental process. When the peduncle produces an extra sepal, the side on which this extra sepal is formed stops elongating as fast as the opposite side of the peduncle. This causes the peduncle to be curved, resulting in the condition of funny bud. Some strongly suggest that there is an insect that causes it, but no one has ever identified what insect that might be and there is no scaring on the peduncle which you would expect if an insect had been feeding on it. So I think we can rule that out. However if your roses are infested with rose midge the midge larvae can feed on the newly developing peduncle and cause it to bend over. However, this happens exceedingly early in development of the bud and the tiny bent bud can be observed but it never reaches blooming size. Little genetic variations occur all the time. We usually just do not see them as we do when a funny bud appears.
Last month I presented the best information about a rose garden oddity, funny bud. But that is not the only strange manifestation that you might encounter if you watch your roses closely. Here is another one that occurs in most rose gardens.
The first recorded information about this abnormality was reported by amateur botanist and poet, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. He reported on a condition where normal reproductive (floral) structures were absent in the bloom and they had been replaced by leaf like vegetative structures. It is botanical theory that all the different floral parts of a rose are actually modifications of other parts. The stamen for example is a diminished petal, or that the petal is an enlarged and modified stamen. If you are observant, there are structures in many roses that are referred to as petaloids that are a typical transition phase between the two. In open bloom roses they are often plucked out because they are a distraction from the human ideal of a beautiful rose. Another example that we could consider is that the sepal is a modified leaf and when looking at them this becomes quite an acceptable theory. The condition was first given a botanical name in 1869 by Maxwell Masters in his book devoted to plant abnormalities. He called it phyllody.
The description is: phyllody (FIL o dee) is a flower abnormality in which leaf like structures replace flower organs. These strange flowers are formed when normal plant hormones get out of balance. Growth hormones direct the differentiation of the embryological tissues at the tip of the stem into becoming the normal floral structure. In phyllody the cell differentiation is misdirected.
Despite much research done on phyllody, no disease process has ever been found to be its cause in roses. Other plants also display phyllody and disease processes are involved. One theory is that phyllody in roses it is brought on by hot weather. Whenever anybody speaks of a relative thing like hot, what exactly does that mean? Hot relative to what, the norm for the region, or hot for an average summer. Several of the pictures which accompany this article were taken this spring. If what we have had is hot, what should happen to our roses when the temperature goes into the nineties. Last summer I cannot say that I saw any more phyllody than usual. I have also read that phyllody can be caused by fertilizing roses with too much nitrogen. I believe that this is gardener theory and the average (no such thing) rose enthusiast believes that they can control every nuance of their roses growth. If you see phyllody in your garden, I would not be concerned that you have applied too much fertilizer.
What should you do if you see phyllody in your garden? Stop and enjoy nature in all of its manifestations. It truly is only a concern if it occurred to an almost winning entry in a rose show.
Pictures of some of these different manifestation of phyllody below.
ABOVE, L TO R, TOP TO BOTTOM: Typical Vegetative Center Phyllody 'Bolero'. Stem and flower emerging from Bloom Phyllody. Typical Vegetative Center Phylody 'Just Judy'. Total Confusion Phyllody. Flower Buds in Center of Bloom Phyllody. Total Confusion Phyllody 'Memphis Magic'.