The American Rose (Dec. 1961) pp. 4 and 23.
John James, North Royalston, Ohio

THERE is considerable interest and excitement about the "atomic energized" rose bushes and seeds now being marketed—this is something to be excited about. Gardeners have the opportunity to see the process of mutation—to watch "sports" occur in their own gardens.

Evidence of this interest was impressed upon me by the reader response to several articles I had on the subject of "sports" in the December 1960 and January 1961 issues of Popular Gardening and from the questions I'm most frequently asked, "What about these energized roses? Will they result in new varieties?"

The answer, from my own experience, is that from these irradiated or "energized" seeds and plants new and different rose varieties may result. They may, but again they may not. When they do, they will not all be desirable but they will all be different. Among them may be some excellent new roses.

After all, many of the roses we have today came to us as natural or induced "sports" or mutations. Among these are 'New Dawn,' 'The Fairy,' 'Golden Anniversary,' 'Red Radiance,' 'Thornless Beauty' and 'Summer Snow.'

Through the years, professional plant breeders have induced mutations in various ways, chemical and mechanical, to originate new varieties. More recently, radioactive isotopes have been used since the alpha, beta and gamma rays emitted are powerful mutants. But only this year have seeds and plants already exposed to radioactive isotope radiation been available in any quantity for home gardeners.

This availability leads to the possibility that the already confused ancestry of roses will be further confused and complicated. It is conceivable that in a few years a number of exceptional new varieties will appear and we will have no clue to their ancestry. To minimize this possibility of confusion, I cannot emphasize upon gardeners too strongly the importance of keeping accurate records of the irradiated plants they grow. This would be a big step in keeping some semblance of order. It may ever be necessary for ARS to set up some suggested procedures and standards, especially in regard to unmarked irradiated rose seeds. I respectfully suggest that suppliers be asked to mark the source of the seeds and not merely package them in a plain brown envelope identified only, "Atomic Energized Rose Seeds."

It is also unfortunate that the irradiated rose plants and seeds are called "atomic energized." Certainly the isotopes used are the result of a peaceful use of atomic energy. But these seeds and plants are not energized, they are irradiated. And actually, growth may be retarded in many cases and the resultant sport may be a dwarf, as such it may be entirely unsatisfactory.

Let me cite a personal experience: Following World War II, when I was discharged from the Marine Corps I was somewhat incapacitated from the effects of shrapnel, malaria and the like, so I busied myself with a series of experiments using radiation to induce mutations. At first, I collected every luminous dial clock or watch possible and scraped off the luminous material. This gave a minute quantity of radium to which I exposed the terminal buds of several roses.

My first success was an induced sport of 'Soeur Thérése.' Here was a sport having every quality a rose should not have, here was the most deformed, blackspot susceptible rose I have ever known. If ever a sport was worthless, this was. I've had others, although not quite as bad, The point is, this could also be the type of mutant you'll get from "atomic energized" roses.

However, that first mutant proved several things. Sports could be induced with relatively weak radiation applied for a sufficient duration, radialtion exposure was accumulative and could be a useful tool for the plant breeder. And it also proved that the use of radiation to originate new varieties still involved, like hybridization, a long and tedious process of trial and error and selection.

When radioactive isotopes became available in small quantities, I continued my experiments using various isotopes to irradiate a number of different plants beside roses. To date, cobalt-60 seems to be the best. I have had some excellent results, such as a sweet cherry which seems to be resistant to cherry yellows and some very good rose varieties.

But since radioactive isotopes arc dangerous to humans, they have to be handled with the utmost care and caution. Even so, I had to curb my experiments and spread them over a long period of time to avoid excessive exposure, however slight. This meant that I was not able to induce as many sports as I would like. And this minimized, somewhat, radiation's greatest advantage, that you can see results, good, bad or promising, within a matter of weeks rather than years. But let me hasten to point out it is the process of irradiation that is potentially dangerous. The already radiated plants and seeds now available are not dangerous.

Unless we set up a plan or a goal, inducing new plants for the sake of the new plants only is mere novelty. As in hybridizing, we must aim for and watch for new plants which offer some definite advantages, a new and different form and color, disease resistant, hardiness, productiveness or fragrance. A goal, or several goals, is necessary and then direct our efforts toward achieving the desired results.

In this way, radiation becomes a partner to hybridization. It will not replace it because we cannot get out of a plant what is not in it, we cannot get characteristics and traits not contained in the genes. In the simplest explanation of the process, radiation knocks out a dominant gene and allows the recessive gene to express itself. So first we have to breed into a plant the traits we want before trying to got these traits expressed in radiation induced sports.

Thus, radiation is a tool, an important aid to the plant hybridizer in his constant search for better plants. Through its use and from "atomic energized" plants and seeds, have come and will come some outstanding new originations. The home gardener has a chance to take part in this.

If you do participate, don't expect miracles every time. And do keep accurate records.