Should There Be Blue Chrysanthemums?
According to a recent article in the New York Times, Japanese scientists have developed a blue Chrysanthemum through splicing in genes from two blue-flowering plants.
Research suggests that blue is the most popular color among people, but blue flowers are relatively rare. It turns out that a plant needs specific genetic machinery to have blue blooms. The pigments in blue flowers are actually orange, red, or purple. With certain plants the pigments undergo a chemical reaction that results in a blue flower.
The first question that comes to my mind is this: why would you want to have a blue Chrysanthemum? Yes, blue is a beautiful color (it’s one of my two favorites, along with orange). But to me, a blue Chrysanthemum is just a funny-looking Chrysanthemum, and God knows we have enough of those already.
I feel a reflexive resistance to messing with the basic forms or color range of garden plants, whether the changes result from genetic engineering or traditional breeding methods. There is a practical argument for this: evidence suggests that the more fundamentally you change a plant, the more you are likely to reduce its usefulness to pollinators.
There are also broader concerns about the impact of genetically engineered plants. I don’t know enough to have a strong opinion on that topic, though the prospect of Frankenplants makes me generally uneasy.
Which is not to say that I am a purist. My own garden has a mix of straight species and cultivars bred for a variety of attributes – disease resistance, habit, and yes, color. But these cultivars generally do not change the basic look of the species.
Admittedly, my own feelings are subjective. It boils down to a sense that radically changed plants just don’t look right. I mean, if we could have a 10′ tall climbing Daylily with double blue flowers, would that be a good thing?
And I suspect that if any flower could be blue, blue flowers would cease to seem so special or beautiful.
My argument may rest on thin topsoil, of course. So many domesticated plants, especially the ones we eat, have been radically changed over the centuries. No doubt my attitude is shaped by cultural conditioning of time and place.
So be it. Most people, myself included, react to gardens in an emotional way. What makes a garden satisfying is about feelings, not logic. And blue Chrysanthemums just don’t feel right.