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WAY... down yonder in the paw paw patch

April 19, 2017

Our whirlwind tour coast to coast of Florida found us in Ocala in search of some of the world famous fresh water springs. Justifiably so, these springs were remarkably clean and powerful. We were on flat coastal plain topography, but we heard thrashing water from the waterwheel the ranger told us about the night before. How can there be a millhouse and waterwheel without elevation change? Sure enough there was a small waterwheel churning away at a surprisingly fast rate.  Come to find out that the springs push out 13,000,000 gallons of water out of the ground in a day’s time. The force of this water was focused though an "undercut" wheel where the water, instead of entering the top of the wheel and gravity turning the wheel, was forced through the bottom of the wheel. Instead of gravity driven this mill was powered by geological  upward force from the earth. Something I never before imagined.

 

While driving through the interior of Florida’s heartland Monica spied some showy white blooms along the edge of the forest. We stopped to investigate and it dawned on us that these flowers were either magnolias or paw paws. When I unfolded the inner petals the stamen and pistils they looked exactly like that of a paw paw. Sure enough, there was a flower that had already released its petals and there was a small cluster of green pointed fruit just starting to form, just like paw paws after they are pollinated. (It keyed out to be Asimina Reticulata

 We also found another paw paw that is a "little shorty" dwarf paw paw, but had only small buds for flowers. I saved the pollen from the A. Reticulata and a twig of the dwarf one for grafting since it wasn’t flowering. There is a good chance that it wont survive our winter. It is much better to move pollen around and cross it into a seed then trying to keep wood alive.)

 

I have already crossed the Piedmont  Asimina Parviflora with our native paw paw A. Triloba in hopes of hybridizing new creations* of fruit. Florida has at least 5 unique species of paw paw andat least one is quite endangered with less than 400 individual plants still maintaining. Any of the Florida paw paws were high on my want list for hybridizing with our paw paw, which, being America’s largest native plant holds promise for being a useful for the use by man.

 

Some species of trees like oaks grow together and are closely related enough that they hybridized readily. This makes them very adaptive to changes in the environment and is a characteristic of a generalist. With A. Parviflora and A. Triloba grafted on the same tree I have noticed that the Parviflora blooms later than the Triloba. Plants often develop differences that make it difficult for them to cross pollinate like timing, anatomy of pollen, or geography. It it aint broke why fix it? Generally speaking changes in climate happen at a tectonic pace. Slow and steady. So it doesn’t pay for a plant to be too extravagant with new genetic innovations. When man intervenes with interspecies hybridizing like I do, he is in effect speeding up evolutionary mutation. Since man can create artificial environments with his care new introductions can be coddled in cultivation where they wouldn’t have any chance in the wild. In nature mutations are created but almost all die. Every once in a while the lottery ticket pays off and the new mutation is just what was needed to for a species to translocate, adapt to climate change, or take advantage of a new resource, and become successful.

 

Climate change is in motion and there is little being done to mitigate it on a scale that will make a difference. Man’s influence is exacerbating change faster than would happen in nature normally short of a meteor or huge volcano. Would it not be prudent to hurry up plant genetics to keep pace? When we hybridize plants we stir up the genetic pot. In essence all the variations of paw paw from when the A. Triloba and A. Parviflora split apart evolutionarily have the potential to reappear. Who knows what variations were tried, succeeded or failed in the last 100,000 years and may be relevant in times fast coming? Hybridizing reveals a cross section of time. What is stashed away in nature’s attic- the seed? What new combination have never existed when these plants rejoins through sexual reproduction after being apart? I dream of a paw paw the size of a watermelon with seeds that can be easily removed with pink flesh. Is there really any limit to possibilities in this world?

 

Like the water wheel there is a lot of ways to turn it, and there are a lot of unseen forces in nature that if we only point the water wheel in the right way we can harness its unlimited potential. Breeding new varieties of oaks and other native nuts is center piece to the Acornucopia's strategy of making perennial crops more useful to man.

 

 

 *“New Creations was a term used by famous plant breeder Luther Burbank who hybridized common plants from all over the world to “educate” plants for the use of man. My research has not uncovered any reference to him working with paw paws.

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